Now, this is why CNN has a religion blog!

Don’t you just love it when Congress holds hearings on a complex topic — think the state of family farming — and the powers that be call a famous actress as a witness because, in a movie, she played a woman whose farm is in trouble?

The flip side of that is when journalists turn away from the real experts on the scene when dealing with a complex topic (or calling on people with direct, practical experience) and focus on the opinions of celebrities or the views of academics at famous institutions three time zones away from the event (think Branch Davidians in Waco) who have no real links to the topic, but their faces are famous on TV?

What we have here is a CNN weblog item that is gently poking a bit of fun — as I read it — at, well, CNN for a classic example of this syndrome. Note that this, however, is on a popular culture weblog operated by this cable kingdom.

Read it and laugh, to keep from crying:

After thousands of birds mysteriously fell out of the sky in Arkansas on New Year’s Eve, it was only natural that Anderson Cooper turned to an expert for an explanation. Enter Kirk Cameron.

The former “Growing Pains” star — a born-again Christian who has appeared in movies based on the end-of-days-themed “Left Behind” books — appeared on “Anderson Cooper 360″ to discuss whether he thought the dead birds were a sign of the apocalypse.

“Well, I first think that they ought to call a veterinarian, not me. You know, I’m not the religious-conspiracy-theorist go-to guy, particularly,” Cameron said. “But I think it’s really kind of silly to try to equate birds falling out of the sky with some kind of an end-times theory.”

Chalk it up to the public’s fascination with doomsday predictions.

“People love to find codes and signs of future events and see if they can decipher them before anybody else,” the 40-year-old actor told Cooper. “But birds falling from the sky? That has to do more with pagan mythology; the direction that the birds flew told some of the followers of some of those legends that the gods were either pleased or displeased with them.”

Actually, Cameron seems to be in on the joke, as well. So are we talking about a PUBLIC fascination with apocalyptic gossip or is this actually an insight into the minds of producers who work for Anderson Cooper, in terms of what they think of the interests of the public?

Either way, I find this a bit depressing.

Still, I immediately — as a joke — sent an email about this pop-culture item to a friend of mine at CNN with the subject line: “Now, this is why CNN has a religion blog!” Ha ha, and all that.

Then he fired back: “Good catch.”

Thus, you can now click here and gaze in wonderment.

I wrote back: “Dude! I was joking!”

This is the world that we live in, people.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • michael

    It bears repeating. This is how (sometimes even good) journalism helps to keep religion in its place in a secular society, by rendering it banal…albeit not without plenty of help.

    Meanwhile, Pope Benedict just gave a remarkable speech to the assembled diplomatic corps of 181 countries with ties to the Holy See (a remarkable thing in its own right). It was on the nature of the human being as homo religiosus and how the precarious state of religious freedom throughout the world therefore threatens what is most human in us. It is serious food for thought, at the very least. But you would never know it from watching the news or reading the papers where it remains all but invisible.

  • joye

    @Michael: All the Pope needs to do is judiciously insert the word “condoms” into his speeches. Like so:

    “A clear example of this was Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta: the centenary of her birth was celebrated at Tirana, Skopje and Pristina as well as in India, and a moving homage was paid to her not only by the Church but also by civil authorities and religious leaders, to say nothing of people of all religions. People like her show the world the extent to which the commitment born of faith is beneficial to society as a whole. Also, condoms, condoms, condoms, condoms.”

    Instant wall-to-wall news coverage!

  • Jerry

    The media has a structural problem because too many people seem to want sensationalism and celebrity journalism. Newton Minnow gave an important speech on TV in 1961 but it applies to reporting today as well. You can substitute sex, celebrity names, sensationalism and the like for the actual words to get the sad state of too much of the news business today. And, of course, no one wants to read about all the things that are trending in a positive direction outside of a few optimists.

    You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you’ll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it.”

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    “But I think it’s really kind of silly to try to equate birds falling out of the sky with some kind of an end-times theory.”

    I’d say the same thing as Kirk Cameron.

  • Julia

    Michael:

    The BBC is covering the Pope’s remarks because the Egyptian ambassador took offense and was called home.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12164696

    The Guardian is covering the Egyptian aspect of the story.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/11/pope-middle-east-christians-egypt

    The Guardian also covered the Pope asking Pakistan to scrap its blasphemy laws.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/10/pope-pakistan-repeal-blasphemy-law

    On the other hand, FOX focuses on the Pope asking parents to give their children Christian names instead of aping the celebrities.
    http://www.foxnews.com/world/2011/01/11/pope-warns-parents-giving-children-non-christian-names/

    AP & Wash Post are now covering the Egyptian angle, too.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/11/AR2011011102793.html

    Here’s John Allen’s take on the unusually harsh speech the Pope gave on Monday.

    http://ncronline.org/news/vatican/pope-rips-anti-christian-tide-major-foreign-policy-speech

  • michael

    Thank you, Julia. Some of this I had seen, especially since the news broke that Egypt was recalling its ambassador, but not all of it.

    But if you haven’t done so already, read the Pope’s remarks, then the reports, and then tell me whether any of them give a satisfactory account of what the Pope is up to in the speech. There is a lot more going on there than you would ever be able to divine from following new coverage of the aftermath. And I would include John Allen’s assessment in that. Though perhaps that’s a better discussion for Mollie’s story on religious freedom…

  • Martha

    An actor in the “Left Behind” films actually has a sensible reaction to this kind of hysteria? Wonders will never cease! Do I get the impression that the programme assumed he’d be quoting Revelation left, right and centre to demonstrate that this was indeed a sign of the end?

    The depressing question this raises is this: is this the opinion that news media have of popular religion (they’re all kooky end-timers) or is it an accurate assessment of what the public is interested in? Either choice seems unpalatable.

  • T. Stanton

    This is so awesome I can hardly breathe!

    I love the headline on the blog.

    Thanks tmatt!

  • R.S.Newark

    There’s no longer a culture, doncha get itt?


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