Problems with today’s press? Religion is No. 1

After a busy Pascha weekend, I need to jump back into the tmatt file of guilt for a moment or two.

You just know, with a single glance at the title on this essay, that dozens of GetReligion readers were going to clutch the mice to the side of their keyboards and forward this piece to us quicker than you can say, “The press … just doesn’t get religion.”

It helps that the byline — Carl M. Cannon — belongs to a man known as a top-rank White House correspondent. In other words, he gets politics which means that, among elite journalists, he’s important enough to opine on other lesser topics — like religion.

And then, of course, there was that headline:

The Problem With the Press, Part 1: Religion

Cannon opens with the by now well-established reality that journalism — primarily the advertizing wing of the enterprise — is in crisis. If the advertising doesn’t work then the whole business model doesn’t work. And then, from that sobering note, Cannon leaps straight to this point (with a time reference that suggests Dr. Kermit Gosnell, and perhaps one M.Z. Hemingway, are on his mind):

… (C)overage of religion in the mainstream media — and of the faith-tinged issue of abortion — has revealed that our journalism model is also broken. Most dispiriting of all, the recent coverage suggests that economic pressures are making the problem worse.

Despite the presence of the occasional pious Catholic, observant Jew, or devout Protestant, American newsrooms have long been highly secular places. This is as it should be for a mass circulation audience in a pluralistic society. But political and cultural polarization in the past generation has exacerbated the great spiritual divide between journalists and those we cover.

Although the number fluctuates, some 40 percent of the American people describe themselves as evangelical Christians. Yet in traditional U.S. news organizations, print or broadcast, such believers are a rarity. The news coverage tends to reflect this disconnect. Evangelicals are often dismissed, particularly in political reporting, as exotic; or, worse, as a menace to civil society.

Traditionally, the people covering religion knew what they were talking about, at least. And presumably, they exerted a leavening influence inside their newsrooms. But Biblical literacy isn’t necessarily a requirement for that beat anymore; meanwhile, newsroom budget cuts have decimated the ranks of the nation’s religion writers.

What’s he talking about?

Well, there was a whole “Gong Show” of mistakes linked to Western Holy Week and the arrival of Pope Francis. Some of those punch lines made it into GetReligion posts, naturally. At one point, Cannon noted, The New York Times made three theological and historical errors in one 27-word sentence.

At some point, the non-serious media began mocking the serious media and things started going in circles.

Like this:

Inadvertently providing his own comic relief, a couple of days later radio host Don Imus claimed in an exchange with liberal columnist Kirsten Powers that “hundreds of gospels” were written, including one by Judas. “There’s an indication there,” Imus added, “that Jesus may have been gay.”

Imus’ oddball theories were passed along by an unskeptical Huffington Post — notwithstanding the fact that the two theologians it consulted dismissed the notion. HuffPo also identified Powers as a “conservative,” apparently on the basis of her part-time gig as a Fox News commentator.

A minor mistake, to be sure. Or was it? In the days ahead, Kirsten Powers would be at the heart of an intramural fight in journalism, one that would reveal the limitations of our secularism. This was a heated debate over the coverage — or dearth of coverage — of the murder trial of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell. And this time the stakes were life and death.

From there, Cannon moved on to Problem No. 2 — abortion coverage itself.

Here’s my question: Is Carl M. Cannon now officially a GetReligion reader? Also, GetReligion readers, which issue do you think is hotter right now in the mainstream press — abortion or gay rights?

Print Friendly

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.

  • Opinionated Catholic

    I wonder do Catholic Colleges and the numerous other Colleges associated with Faith communities and Churches that have journalism students see or saw the problem? I know one can be very secular of course and attend one of these places. But it does seem if these colleges would have had an effect in the news rooms of having better coverage of Faith and not had such a polarized environment

    • Steve

      Other questions would be: what happens to the graduates of those programs? Do they gravitate to certain segments of journalism, find a place in MSM, go into advertising, or leave their majors behind and become English teachers? Do they keep the faith they presumably had when they entered college?

  • Jerry

    This case is certainly a classic example of something which is causing some soul searching and that’s all to the good. There’s a big test coming up: the verdict. I think many will be watching very closely to see how that’s reported especially by those who might dislike the result.

    About which is hotter: abortion or gay rights, I have no opinion. I’m not glued to the coverage of either issue. I’m much more interested in the ferment in the Islamic world with the war between the extremists and the moderate Muslims and with the ongoing coverage of Pope Francis. In the USA, there’s the generational change with how religion and spirituality are viewed by successive generations. In the long term I suspect those are much more significant than the current pitched battle over abortion and the rolling acceptance of gay marriage.

  • boinkie

    As a doc I must be aware of the culture of my patients. The press however is unable to recognize that their basic philosophical outlook is not held by everyone: And this goes beyond gay marriage and abortion.

    This not only lets them ignore America’s “christians” but allows them to ignore why Chinese Confucians and African traditonalists and many Native American tribes might see things differently when it comes to abortion or gay behavior

  • Pingback: Problems with today's press? Religion is No. 1 – Patheos | okysekopam


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X