Luke Russert on snark, journalism, faith and easy targets

Let’s start the day with a quick thought from Luke Russert of NBC News, who recently sat down with David Brody of The Christian Broadcasting Network — the rather rare reporter in the Christian television world who often talks with real, live national leaders and thinkers.

Russert, of course, is the son of the late Tim Russert of Meet The Press fame, who an outspoken Catholic and quite respected by activists and leaders on both sides of American politics. Why? He was a veteran Democrat who had some understanding of the beliefs of blue-collar workers, labor-union members, Midwestern Catholics and other members of the old Democratic Party coalition that included some room for moral conservatives.

Thus, Tim Russert was known for occasionally stating the obvious truth that others declined to voice.

So, let’s let this exchange with the young Russert speak for itself:

DAVID BRODY: Do you believe the media, or if not so much the media, writ large, the much larger population has some sort of bias against whether it be a strong conservative evangelical or maybe a strong Catholic, whatever it happens to be, you know, people of faith. It just seems that if you wear it on your sleeve too much you can get bit to a degree.

LUKE RUSSERT: I think that’s absolutely accurate and I think the current world in which we live in, specifically with the American media, snark is valued. And it’s very easy to come after people of faith no matter what they’re religion is — Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu. That you’re sort of tagged with this label of being puritanical and not understanding of others or of different viewpoints and I think that’s kind of, it’s lazy, number one, and I think it’s just something that just feeds the snickering masses if you will in that regard. …

For me, I think issues of faith are very complex. When you cover them as a journalist, you simply can’t I feel stereotype somebody as fitting into a box, because if you go out and talk to journalists, it’s “oh, evangelicals, that means die-hard Republicans, red-meat Republicans.” What is a huge issue for evangelicals? Climate change, right? Taking care of the Earth God gave us.

Same thing for Catholics. “You’re a practicing Catholic. That must mean you hate gay marriage and you hate people who’ve had abortions.” Well, what else? You’re also opposed to the death penalty. You’re a Catholic, and you’re also trying very much to alleviate people out of poverty. So too much, I believe, folks try and stereotype in these boxes when people wear their faith on their sleeve. And I’m always very, very cautious of that. That, alright, when Rick Santorum goes out there, wears Catholicism on his sleeve, he absolutely should be pushed with questions about contraception, about gay marriage, but also should be pushed with questions about poverty, about education, things of that level. And the same with evangelicals.

I would also add that it helps, from time to time, to ask people on the left side of the political and cultural aisle precisely the same questions (yes, including the one about the death penalty).

Now, it would be easy for GetReligion readers to focus on one or two details in Russert’s remarks (all evangelicals are pumped up about climate change, for example) and miss the larger point.

Constructive discussion, please. Please stick to the core journalism issue.

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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.

  • James G.

    In my view, good, healthy television political coverage died with Tim Russert. He was the gold standard, and right now we have mostly tinfoil. Russert wasn’t just a good journalist, he was a good man. If Luke aspires to the same excellence and fairness (and toughness), more power to him.

    • tmatt

      And your comment on what Luke had to say?

      • James G.

        I thought he was correct about snark, and feeding “the snickering masses”, and correct to point out that the pigeon-holing and stereotyping misses the greater complexities of evangelical and Catholic beliefs. The problem is, as long as snark and stereotyping are what play to the peanut gallery, complexities and deeper questions only get in the way…as seen in his remarks on abortion and the death penalty.

  • http://www.mikehickerson.com Micheal Hickerson

    tmatt, I would echo your point. For example, it’s good for Russert to suggest that Santorum be pushed with questions about poverty, but shouldn’t, say, Joe Biden or Nancy Pelosi (to name two well-known Catholics on the left) be pushed with questions about abortion and contraception?

    Personally, I think journalists need to pay a lot more attention to the particular beliefs of the people they’re covering. Stereotyping, of course, is bad, but a journalist’s knowledge of the religious beliefs of a person they’re covering should be more fine-grained than “evangelical” or “Catholic.”

    • James G.

      Agreed. Especially in the case of Pelosi, who is known to jump into such topics voluntarily, even to the point of giving advice to the pope…

  • cvg

    I think one of the larger problems being confronted is the dogma that because beliefs are flexible they are open to all sorts of bigoted attacks which are not accepted against natural tendencies and traits. Thus people have a greater tendency to accept negative stereotyping of red-necks and the openly religious because “these people” can easily change views.

    It is almost as if people have an inner pressure towards bigotry and stereotyping that needs some kind of release…

    I’d also add the scientific work on these biases is decently developed. Here is one metric http://www.moralfoundations.org The nice thing about such metrics is they highlight how different segments of the population are best probed. (See this set of self-quizzes to reveal some of your biases as stacked against the general population http://www.exploringmyreligion.org )

  • Darren Blair

    It’s not just the media that pigeon-holes; all too often, everyday people will hear that a person belongs to a particular religious group and will start stereotyping the person just off of that. For example, you should see the surprised looks I get when I tell people that I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (re: Mormons). Although there is a surprisingly large Mormon population in my area, between the media and the local ministers there are a lot of misconceptions going around about what it means to be a member of the church.

    As I noted in the bit with the Times – http://www.patheos.com/blogs/getreligion/2013/10/logic-what-are-they-teaching-at-nytimes-copy-desk/ – not everybody goes so far as to actually take a look at things. They’ll just go “Close enough” or “I heard _____” and leave it at that.

    This is a large part of the reason why the church began the “I’m A
    Mormon” campaign a year or so back: to remind everyone that the
    stereotypes in place aren’t accurate. (Sadly, an ex-Mormon group responded by producing some rather mean-spirited and even downright hateful parodies, partially blunting the effort.)

    It’s also a large part of the reason why Romney faced such an uphill battle in 2012: various media outlets (like ABC, the BBC, and Current TV) were too busy flooding the airwaves and the internet with inaccurate information and wild claims about Romney and his faith in the hopes of getting the next big scoop to actually take half a second and make sure that they got their facts straight.

    It’s to the point now that I’m wondering if “Intro To World Religions” shouldn’t be a mandatory course for anyone seeking a degree in journalism.

  • mochalite

    I think that, as you have pointed out several times in your columns over the years, journalists are afraid of people of faith. What they fear, they mock … especially people who commit to live their faith wholly and place God above power. Modern society in general can’t handle that, because its only concept of real power is the state. So, when faith tracks with a political viewpoint, journalists can understand it. When faith supersedes politics, journalists just freak out and hide behind mockery.

  • James Stagg

    tmatt, I’m confused this in your lead paragraph
    “the rather rare reporter in the Christian television world who often talks with real, live national leaders and thinkers.”

    You do watch Raymond Arroyo, right?


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