About a month ago, I did a post on media coverage of atheists in the military.
I voiced a few concerns about the stories by The Associated Press and the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., but thought the pieces were pretty nicely done overall.
Into the journalistic foxhole, I’d like to welcome The New York Times, which this week decided to lower the bar on coverage. In the Times’ foxhole — er, story — there are no believers in God, only atheists. The atheists’ perspective is, apparently, the only one that matters in this one-sided report.
The top of the Times story:
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. – In the military, there are more than 3,000 chaplains who minister to the spiritual and emotional needs of active duty troops, regardless of their faiths. The vast majority are Christians, a few are Jews or Muslims, one is a Buddhist. A Hindu, possibly even a Wiccan may join their ranks soon.
But an atheist?
Strange as it sounds, groups representing atheists and secular humanists are pushing for the appointment of one of their own to the chaplaincy, hoping to give voice to what they say is a large — and largely underground — population of nonbelievers in the military.
Personally, I’d prefer more concrete numbers than atheists describing themselves as a “large” population. But that lede is fine. It’s catchy and certainly makes me want to read more of the story.
The problem is that, as you keep reading, the story makes broad generalizations without any named sources or data to back them up.
For example, there’s this sweeping paragraph:
But winning the appointment of an atheist chaplain will require support from senior chaplains, a tall order. Many chaplains are skeptical: Do atheists belong to a “faith group,” a requirement for a chaplain candidate? Can they provide support to religious troops of all faiths, a fundamental responsibility for chaplains?
Exactly who are these skeptical chaplains? That’s impossible to know because the Times doesn’t quote a single chaplain. In fact, the story provides direct quotes from only three sources — all atheists.
Exactly how did the Times determine that many chaplains are skeptical? Did the reporter actually talk to any chaplains? Did the reporter rely on the atheists for this detail? Again, the story doesn’t say.
Later in the story, there’s this:
Defense Department statistics show that about 9,400 of the nation’s 1.4 million active-duty military personnel identify themselves as atheists or agnostics, making them a larger subpopulation than Jews, Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists in the military.
But atheist leaders say those numbers are an undercount because, they believe, there are many nonbelievers among the 285,000 service members who claim no religious preference on military surveys. Many chaplains dispute that interpretation, and say that most people in that group are religious, just not strongly so.
Fewer Jews in the military than atheists? That statistic surprised me. In some quick Google searching, I found some links that seemed to back up that claim and others that would refute it. I wish the Times had provided some more details and analysis of that claim.
And once again, we have many chaplains cited but exactly zero quoted. But plenty of space is given to the military atheists “who worry about being ostracized for their worldviews.”
Many readers say the Times slants its news coverage to the left. Trust me on that. Surely I don’t need to cite named sources.