Shocker? 19 percent say media “friendly” to religion

It’s always interesting to see what journalists zone in on when a new poll from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life comes out.

More recently, most outlets picked up on the subject line that Pew chose, since it was presumably the most significant item the researchers found. Most outlets covered the idea that more people say politicians are talking too much about religion. By “more,” researchers found that an increased percentage of people are saying there’s too much religion talk (38 percent) compared to 30 percent who say there has been too little and 25 percent say there’s the right amount.

The news that caught our eye, though, was that 19 percent of Americans say reporters and the news media are “friendly” toward religion. Just 38 percent of the respondents thought journalists were “neutral” while 35 percent said they were outright “unfriendly.”

You can see a split based on political identification: 11 percent of Republicans say the press is faith-friendly, compared with 24 percent of Democrats who say that same thing. On the flip side, a majority of Republicans (56 percent) saw the media as unfriendly to religion, while most Democrats and independents see the media as neutral or friendly to religion.

Poynter wrote a little teaser for the survey, suggesting reporters could be given a test.

Nittle’s piece [here] suggests the term “evangelical” is straining under the weight of groups laying claim to it. She’s right, of course, that evangelicals are not monolithic. Still, white evangelicals are a large and remarkably coherent group, culturally and politically. Maybe reporters who are friendly to religion could employ a couple of test questions to make sure they know who they’re talking to: “Do you own any Switchfoot albums released after 2007,” maybe, or “Does your youth pastor own a kilt?”

So there’s some in-depth analysis from journalism’s finest for you.

Another interesting is that among religious groups, white evangelicals (53 percent) were the most likely to say that the news media are unfriendly toward religion. Among other religious groups, half or more saw the media as neutral or friendly to religion. Those who attend church weekly (45 percent) are much more likely to see the media as unfriendly to religion than those who attend less often (29 percent).

Perhaps the sentiments expressed in the survey have something to do with the percentage of journalists who are religious and compared it to the rest of the country. From an 2008 Associated Press story:

[T]he Pew Research Center for the People and the Press reported in 2007 that 8 percent of journalists surveyed at national media outlets said they attended church or synagogue weekly. The survey also found 29 percent never attend such services, with 39 percent reporting they go a few times a year.

Pew polling of the general public found 39 percent of Americans say they attend religious services weekly.

On the bright side, while the “unfriendly” figure has been pretty consistent since 2003, friendliness has gone up by 5 percent since 2009. Still, it’s worth considering how to interpret the survey results. For instance, how are people considering “friendly” and “unfriendly”? Does it mean they think media outlets are journalistically unfair to people who are religious? What do you make of the breakdown?

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

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  • carl jacobs

    The right question to ask would be “Is the media friendly towards ‘fundamentalism?’” It’s not religion in general towards which the media is hostile. I have never noticed any media hostility to the Women Catholic Priest organization. Or the Episcopal Church and their theologically liberal ilk. Or the ‘spiritual but not religious’ First Church of Starbucks crowd. It’s religion based upon a fixed and knowable and binding revelation that inspires their animosity.


  • MJBubba

    Thanks for posting this.
    The mass media is unfriendly to anyone who makes absolute truth claims; they are entirely given over either to atheism or to postmodern universalism. More to the point, since politics is their religion, media folk see religious people who actually believe the doctrines of their faith as dangerous kooks bordering on the pathological, just like climate deniers.
    I was surprised to see that the “unfriendly” scores for media were worse than for university professors. I personally expected that this survey would have scored both groups much worse. (But then, I am in that weekly attendance group.)

  • MJBubba

    Carl, it is not just theological liberals that get treated nice by the media. Most local papers and TV news editors are entirely happy to run puff pieces about various religious charities, just so long as the good works being reported on can be reported in a way that completely avoids any discussion of the religious motivations behind them. They like good works; they just don’t want to have to seriously engage any real truth claims.

  • John M.

    Headline proposal: “19 Percent of Readers Surveyed Need to Spend More Time Reading the Howlers That Come Across GetReligion”.

    I mean, seriously, between Bill Keller and the head of the BBC, even the pretense of objectivity is being shed when it comes to covering people like me.


  • R9

    Would being fair and objective count as friendly or neutral?

  • sari

    Religion in this case translates as Christianity. The Pew questions should have been phrased as such.

  • Mike

    “…evangelicals are a large and remarkably coherent group, culturally and politically.” Hmmm. Sounds like the news media.

  • teahouse


    “Headline proposal: “19 Percent of Readers Surveyed Need to Spend More Time Reading the Howlers That Come Across GetReligion”.”

    I know you partly spoke in jest but the key to such figures involves the attitude of those questioned towards religion/s.

    Newspaper article X will be perceived as “too unfriendly” by some (those that think hightly of religion in general or the religion discussed) dand as “too friendly” by others (those that disdain religion in general or the religion discussed).

    Also, Carl Jacobs, is right: it is not “religion in general”, which is hardly a feasible concept anway, but different brands of religion. Not just “fundamentalism” but some religions are treated differently than others (consider the Dalai Lama and the Pope), some denominations are treated differently than others, and some branches cutting across denomination lines (e.g. “fundamentalism” vs. “liberal”).

  • Jeff

    About one in five Americans identify as politically liberal and about one in five are unaffiliated with any church, temple, or mosque, so it comes as no surprise to me that one and five Americans like MSM coverage of religion, since that coverage hews almost entirely to their own point of view.

  • Stan

    What shocker? Most of us should recognize the importance of the independence of the Press. Thus we want a free press to be neutral or skeptical. The term ‘friendly’ has come to mean either paid PR mercenary press or biased press drunk on kool-aid.
    So this Pew survey is reassuring that American media consumers are savvy enough to see through the mularky. Of course the study is all about religion and politics. Ironically our right of freedom of the press is harness to our right that our politics have no business making any laws about religion or showing any favor to any religion.