"These news media don't provide trustworthy information about religious faith…"

"These news media don't provide trustworthy information about religious faith…" August 20, 2011

“In the United States, our battles over abortion, family life, same-sex ‘marriage,’ and other sensitive issues have led to ferocious public smears and legal threats not only against Catholics, but also against Mormons, evangelicals, and other religious believers.

And with relatively few exceptions, the mass media tend to cover these disputed issues with a combination of ignorance, laziness, and bias against traditional Christian belief.

We make a very serious mistake if we rely on media like the New York Times, Newsweek, CNN, or MSNBC for reliable news about religion. These news media simply don’t provide trustworthy information about religious faith — and sometimes they can’t provide it, either because of limited resources or because of their own editorial prejudices.

These are secular operations focused on making a profit. They have very little sympathy for the Catholic faith, and quite a lot of aggressive skepticism toward any religious community that claims to preach and teach God’s truth.”

Archbishop Charles Chaput, speaking at World Youth Day.

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37 responses to “"These news media don't provide trustworthy information about religious faith…"”

  1. Three cheers for Archbishop Chaput for telling the truth. But now he needs a storm of prayers to protect him from media vengeance.
    Many decades ago my father was in local politics. I grew up hearing inside stories about how the media can slander you, smear you, destroy you with spins and lies. Their secret: “For every tiny drop of ink you have in your pen to defend yourself, they have barrels of ink to pour over you for days unending.”

  2. Yessssss. That’s a Bishop¡ Their aim is to uproot us from our Creator. To destroy in us the desire of heaven. Without faith in God there is no real hope, without hope there is no resistence to evil. But we rely on God’s promise: Jesus Crist has conquer evil and opened to us the gates of heaven¡
    Thank you Lord¡

  3. I sincerely doubt any news outlet anywhere in the world is totally trustworthy. Some may try, but unfortunately the feelings of either the reporter or the owner of the paper, TV station, radio station eventually show through. Religions aren’t the only ones who have to deal with reports of news outlets.

  4. It begs the question: why on earth would anyone go anywhere else but the Church to find out information about Christ and the Church?

    Thing is, with the media focused on ratings and selling product, the byproduct of all this is that any number of specialties are left behind: science, the arts, literature, history, sociology. And in the US, a callous disinterest in happenings in other countries and cultures.

    Archbishop Chaput and his apologists think religious people and Catholics are getting picked on? Take a number, dude.

    It’s not a matter of the media being trustworthy or not. It’s a matter of competence. If I want information about Islam, I would ask a Muslim. If I want to hear about Dominicans, I’m not going to ask a Franciscan. If I want astronomy news, I ask an astronomer. If I want to know about Catholics, I’m not going to read the newspaper or watch tv.

    The aggressive skeptics line up against a lot of topics that don’t involve celebrities, politicians, stars, and fun stuff.

  5. I would tend to agree with pagansister – few are happy with how their message is transmitted by the media – many think they cut the ” other guy” a break – whomever the other guy is!

  6. HMS– And Chris Mathews and his gang on MSNBC -now including the unbiased Al Sharpton–and the what’s his name prostitute chaser on CNN–are any better than O’Reilly and Hannity????
    And why are so many people afraid of Fox presenting stories the rest of the so-called news media ignores. Fox, for example has been covering the dispute over Boeing going into SC that the Obama Admin. is trying to destroy. I’m still waiting to run across a similar story elsewhere on the cable news.
    In fact, being retired and being a former history teacher I now have had time to do a LOT of channel hopping on news cable stations and constantly see stories on FOX that the other cable news stations can’t seem to get around to–along with seeing everything covered on FOX that the other two are reporting. One independent survey by some university a while back said FOX played news stories “straighter ” than the other cable news outlets.
    And I don’t know how often FOX has raised a story that the others didn’t, but finally admitting FOX was right by eventually having to cover the story. The John Edwards sick scandal that everyone tried to hide for so long comes to mind. It was broken by a tabloid, then FOX reported on it. Finally, the other networks knew their hide-the-story- rope -a-dope wouldn’t work any longer.
    The rest of the media hates FOX because their monopoly to decide what is news, what is worthy of coverage is gone. So they try to sink FOX with ridicule that people can parrot.
    And at the Republican debate a number of candidates complained about the “Gotcha”
    questions from Fox reporters.
    When was the last time the rest of the media threw their pal Obama any kind of a “Gotcha” question instead of cream puffs.
    The more news media the better. Competition is good. No more mainstream media news monopoly even if it upsets some people.

  7. I’m just going to repeat what I said a few weeks ago when the Archbishop made the news by his transfer to Philadelphia: Chaput for our next Pope! He is so right on!

  8. With all due respect Deacon John M. Bresnahan:

    You do not know much about Chris Matthews to pass judgment his journalistic competency!

    I know a lot more about him (and his family) than you do – my brothers went to high school with them at La Salle College High School in Philadelphia.

  9. Revised:

    With all due respect Deacon John M. Bresnahan:

    You do not know much about Chris Matthews to pass judgment on his journalistic competency!

    I know a lot more about him (and his family) than you do – my brothers went to high school with them at La Salle College High School in Philadelphia.

  10. ROFL.

    Tell me, what institutions first told us Catholics about the sex abuse of minors by some priests and the bishops that let it happen?

    What institutions have uncovered the crimes against children in his future archdiocese?

    Was is the independent profit-driven media? Or the church-funded TV stations, or newspapers, or EWTN?

    To paraphrase, me thinks the (man) dost protest too much.

    Deacon Gregg, you have an interesting p.o.v. on this topic with your career as a news man. Does his view mesh with your own?

    [Drew, from my experience, the flaws in media coverage of religion have more to do with ignorance than bias. And there are so few people these days who cover religion religiously — that is, who actually know the beat and know, for example, the difference between a Roman Catholic and a Polish National Catholic. But that’s true about almost any beat. Journalists aren’t as well-rounded or well-educated as they used to be. Especially in television. Dcn. G.]

  11. HMS, I think it is very easy to judge the competency of a newsperson by watching them for a relatively short time frame. The sad part of Mathews is that he has talent, but his massively strong liberal bias gets in the way of accuracy and objectivity. He is not alone in this tendency. What I don’t like about Mathews is that he tries to pass himself off as not being in the tank for his party and his liberal beliefs. I also have little regard for him as a Catholic because of his ongoing support of a party tied to the culture of death and also a party that is anti family. Sad.

  12. I don’t understand the Archbishop’s statement at all. Real journalists are supposed to be skeptical. In addition, I recall that when John Paul II died, CNN had continuous coverage that was very respectful. In addition, I thought the media coverage of Pope Benedict’s visit to the United States was also very respectful. Is media coverage sometimes ignorant and sometimes critical? Yes but I haven’t seen any evidence of malice. Does the Archbishop think that there should only be one viewpoint expressed in the media? Isnt that totalitarianism? The strength of our democracy depends on a free and open “marketplace of ideas” – that is the basis of our First Amendment. Does the Archbishop want all our media outlets to become Fox clones?

  13. Re: Drew and Deacon Greg #11.

    I have a daughter who has been a professional journalist since graduating from the University of South Carolina’s “J” school way back over twenty years ago. Here’s my insights on all this:

    –Dcn Greg is correct; mistakes and bad information are usually a case of ignorance rather than malice.

    –Being a “Religion Editor” of any big-city newspaper (few small city newspapers can afford them) is not as easy as you might imagine. These folks are often appointed to those positions because they have an interest in religions but usually that interest is focused on the religious experiences they have had themselves.

    –For instance, for years one area paper had as their Religion Editor a lady who was a devout Roman Catholic but one whose personal devotional style was pentecostal and charismatic. She not only mixed well with Catholic sources, she was able to mix well with large independent evangelical churches as well. The problem was that she did not cover well anything in the Jewish or Islamic communities — both of which were significant portions of this paper’s subscriber base.

    –Her replacement as Religion Editor was a man who was very broad in his own religious interests. The problem was that he was a “fallen-away” Catholic who still carried some emotional baggage about his bad experiences in our church. Most of the time, he is fairly balanced but that anger does creep up from time-to-time.

  14. Why does the hierarchy so often take an “us against the world approach?” Why don’t we try to find the good in what the media do and help them to be better? It is true that we should not expect the mass media to cover our church with the same level of depth as the Catholic media…but then most diocesan newspapers are not really worth reading. Enough with the NYT bashing. Today’s article about the decline in women religious as leaders of Catholic healthcare was very sensitive and inspiring.
    We really need to find God in all things and in all places…even and especially in the world outside of our episcopal palaces.

  15. It’s the mind-numbing ignorance displayed by many media people that disturbs. For example, the other day, a couple of anchors were discussing the 103-year-old cloistered nun who was to meet Pope Benedict, and that she had not left the convent since 1927. How strange, one opined, perhaps she was agoraphobic?
    It’s not the end of the world that these folks are ignorant, or even that they have prejudices against the Church, but the thing is, they aren’t self- aware enough to refrain from writing or commenting on things outside of their understanding. It’s like someone who can’t balance their checkbook explaining the ins and outs of the economic crisis.

  16. “Why does the hierarchy so often take an ‘us against the world approach?'”

    It could be that Archbishop Chaput is playing to his base.

    But at root this is a serious issue in the Church you’re not likely to see covered in the Catholic press, and it’s why either the archbishop’s thinking is off-kilter for what the Church needs or he’s the wrong kind of bishop.

    I say this not from a sense of denigrating his commitment, smarts, or even his holiness. The Vatican II approach was one of optimism, but it wasn’t an optimism grounded in the thought that if Catholics start being nice to everybody, they will be nice to us in return. And return, to boot. That’s not the point.

    The point is to engage the non-Catholic sphere optimistically not for the personal strokes we might get, but to present the best possible face to non-believers.

    Bishops and their apologists get their own brand of positive strokes from being critical of journalists, but do they have a prayer of effecting a conversion in their local religion editor, their tv anchors and reporters, and others if the first words out of their mouth are critical?

    In a phrase: too much vinegar, not enough substance!

  17. Greta..

    I wouldn’t consider Matthews a journalist, any more than I’d consider Rachel Maddow or Bill O’Reilly or Laura Ingraham journalists. They are partisan pundits who happen to host television talk shows. They don’t report, or go out with notebooks to press conferences, or spend hours working the phones to confirm information from a variety of sources, and they certainly don’t strive to tell both sides of a story, or be fair.

    Chris Matthews worked for many years for Tip O’Neill — I think he wrote a book about him, in fact — and his bias is plainly evident. He makes no effort to hide it.

    And once again, to all concerned: when commenting, stick to the topic at hand, which is how the media treats religion — not whether or not Chris Matthews is a good Catholic.

    Dcn. G.

  18. In many cases it is not only ignorance, but outright hostility towards religion, especially Christianity and Catholicism in particular. By the way Chris Mathews said the pope is a Nazi, I may not know his family or him personally, by do know he is hostile to Orthodox Catholicism.

  19. Soon after I read this post about Archbishop Chaput’s remarks in an address on religious freedom to a group of more than 10,000 young pilgrims in Madrid, I read this excerpt from the full text of Pope Benedict XVI’s address at the WYD vigil. Unfortunately, he was not able to give the full address due to the heavy wind and rain.

    “Dear friends, may no adversity paralyze you. Be afraid neither of the world, nor of the future, nor of your weakness. The Lord has allowed you to live in this moment of history so that, by your faith, his name will continue to resound throughout the world.”

    To be fair to Archbishop Chaput, the topic of his talk was religious freedom and he may have thought that his approach was valid.

    But I found the Pope’s catechesis to be more inspirational and, ultimately, I think, more effective.

  20. I agree with HMS’ comment and, as someone who lives in the world in a very competitive and adverserial field, I find the Pope’s statement very inspirational. Jesus engaged with skeptics – He always sought to answer their questions and it seems to me used questions by skeptics as teachable moments that we still learn from today. I’m not sure the Church does enough to engage the media in a respectful and pastoral way. The Pope’s words are wonderful and worth repeating again – thanks to HMS for posting them here: “Be afraid neither of the world, nor of the future, nor of your weakness. The Lord has allowed you to live in this moment of history so that, by your faith, his name will continue to resound throughout the world.”

  21. “In many cases it is not only ignorance, but outright hostility towards religion …”

    Even in the minority of cases in which this is true, Christianity and Catholicism are not unique. Many scientists report outright hostility to their discipline. Many Americans are hostile to foreign cultures. In some circles, athletes are looked upon with distrust and suspicion. White against blacks. Catholics against Protestants. Islam and Judaism, both in religion and culture.

    The question for believers is this: how do we represent our lives and our faith in the face of hostility? We do not go on the offensive. We give witness calmly, lovingly, and with sincerity and optimism.

  22. Todd, you have expressed my thought on this subject perfectly.

    Now to some not-so-positive thoughts:

    I find the omission of FOX stations from Archbishop Chaput’s list of media biased with respect to the Catholic Church both interesting and disturbing. Does he mean to imply that the FOX stations are not “secular operations focused on making a profit” or are not biased?

    Bias can work both ways. I notice that a Catholic priest is a frequent, regular guest on the FOX News and FOX Business channels. He is a former member of the Legionaries of Christ and is now a New York diocesan priest. He is not always called on to discuss religious questions or even Catholic issues. He uses a lot of the talking points of the political bias of FOX. (Yes, I think that FOX – as well as MSNBC – have political biases. Look at the several FOX commentators who have run for office on a particular political party ticket?)

    A relative of mine said that it’s good “product placement” on the part of FOX to make it appear that the Catholic Church is behind the political and economic policies espoused on their stations.

    I find it unseemly, especially when this priest’s book is always mentioned and pictured along with his introduction.

    So what do I do? I just switch to another channel.

  23. Blaming the media and spinning persecution narratives is the tactic of every politician whose message isn’t selling. A majority of Americans (including many Catholics), simply don’t want sectarian religious groups dictating public policy or exercising some special veto over our nation’s laws.

  24. The only whiners about their media coverage are losing ball clubs and religious leaders. Catholicism is not a losing ball club so quit the whining. Todays Gospel is ‘Who do you say I am ?”

  25. Journalism has deficiencies in covering virtually all areas of culture, politics and the economy because the economic model for responsible, sober journalism is all but dead. The old-school model which demanded a sense of scrupulous fairness and intellectual rigor is simply no longer being passed down and it is not a viable career option. The values which select and groom most modern TV/blogosphere journalists are those of reality TV: who can spin maximum drama and impact.

    The solution many conservatives and partisans of various stripes too often resort to is to only read and listen to sources which confirm what they want to believe about issues. That is dangerous and self defeating because it creates a sort of feedback loop of anger and paranoia and conclusions about distorted re-tellings of fact which become completely out of touch with reality.

    A better solution is to read and listen very widely and to do with a critical, not cynical eye and ear. As a former journalist myself, I can also advise people do do some of their own reporting. The Internet makes it relatively easy to access many of the primary sources and documents involved in news stories. If the issue is that important to you, look them up and make up your own mind. I find when I go to the primary sources in controversial stories, there is usually a lot more complexity and a lot less drama than the journalists and commentators have made of it.

  26. My experience, limited largely to what I have read in the Boston newspapers, including wire service stories, is that major stories are poorly reported for a couple of reasons. One is misunderstanding arising from the reporter’s unfamiliarity with the subject, compounded by the tendency of the Church to speak in Vaticanese, which often makes the meaning difficult to grasp. Then there is the tendency to treat stories as controversies in which an opposing point of view must exist, be located, and given at least equal time.

    But the result is, whether or not there is any bias or hostility toward the Church, the secular media cannot be relied on to give a full and accurate report on Catholic matters. The result is that Catholics who rely on the secular media for information about the Church are incompletely informed at best, and don’t really know what the Church is saying.

    This is not a problem unique to the Church. I think many people who have been part of an event covered in the newspapers have seen misunderstandings on the part of reporters finding their way into the stories, if the reporters are not very familiar with the subject matter to begin with.

  27. After my father left politics, I was elected to be city councillor for my inner city ward. That was also decades ago. One of my strongest remembrances of those years was the day after a council meeting the local newspapers’ accounts were so full of errors, mistakes, and misquotes all of us councillors would frequently say to each other “Were they at the same meeting we were at???” No reporter ever did anything- like contact us or City Hall- to fact check anything from our meetings.
    Years later I wrote regularly for a daily newspaper and wrote many articles and columns. Not once was I “called out” for making a mistake or unfair spin in my info or news reporting. Why? Because anything I put on paper that might be controversial or that I was the least bit uncertain about–I double and triple-checked.
    One might ask why so many reporters are so lazy or incompetent that they constantly make mistakes that ruin people’s reputations or badly twist, spin, skew, or misrepresent what a person has said or done. Isn’t there a serious moral issue in all this that Christian media defenders regularly ignore or make excuses for.

  28. “So what do I do? I just switch to another channel.” -HMS

    If you turn Fox News off and don’t watch it, then you are hardly qualified to speak in judgement against it. That would fall under the heading of bearing false witness.

    I think the Archbishop did a great job of calling out the Catholic Bashers in the media. The NY Slimes heads the list. Read the responses to Maureen Dowd’s bigoted editorials against the Church. Nothing but pure hate towards our faith.

    [Comment edited for unacceptable and inflammatory content. Try that again, and you’ll be deleted. — Ed.]

  29. In going over some of the comments, one might ask if they bothered to actually read what Archbishop Chaput said..

    “In the United States, our battles over abortion, family life, same-sex ‘marriage,’ and other sensitive issues have led to ferocious public smears and legal threats not only against Catholics, but also against Mormons, evangelicals, and other religious believers.

    And with relatively few exceptions, the mass media tend to cover these disputed issues with a combination of ignorance, laziness, and bias against traditional Christian belief.”

    Does anyone who pays attention not agree that the media outlets he mentioned take a stand opposed to the Catholic Church on the issues of abortion, family life, same-sex marriage??? It is also noted in many studies that journalist of the MSM tend to be overwhelmingly liberal in bias and strongly lead Democratic or that the journalism schools and professors are also of the same bias in overwhelming numbers? Until Fox, the liberals dominated the media which is why the liberals and democrats hate Fox news. For decades they had their own way in presenting the ‘news.” The left leaning democrats in fact counted on having thier backside covered with this bias reporting on issues like abortion and special rights for gay behavior.

    But lets also remember that Pope Benedict took Nancy Pelosi out to the woodshed on her vatican visit to make sure she understood her position on Catholic teaching was wrong. Pope JPII and Mother Theresa also took on President Clinton for his stance on non negotiable church teaching in these areas. Thus if a media outlet actually reports there glaring issues on non negotiable church teaching, the left attacks them using their friends in the media. The left media outlets have a set of dissenting Catholics who they use to lie about Church teaching. It is also clear that Catholic teaching and the democratic party are complete opposites in regard to issues like abortion, special rights for gays, and family values. One look at the party platform and votes in congress show this to be true. While the Catholic Church leadership does not run the US government and should not do so, it does have the right and obligation to make sure that political hacks who claim to be Catholic and then vote for the exact opposite bringing those evils to legal status should be called out in their grave error and denied the sacraments as they are in serious sin. All who study canon law seriously will agree that this is the case. The Church in her desire to keep souls in the Church and with hope of redemption and forgivenss try to bend over backwards to allow them time to change their ways, repent, and sin no more. Many however have been led astray by this act of merciful kindness actually thinking it is OK to vote for abortion or gay marriage supporting politicians or for the political person to think they can be personally opposed while voting to keep it legal and support it in every way. In fact, allowing them to have this false belief is not merciful or kind any more than giving your child drug abuser free drugs as an act of mercy and love. Tough love is needed so there is no doubt of the grave sin and the impact on souls, not just your own.

  30. Another Archbishop, Timothy Dolan, gave a talk to the participants at World Youth Day. He spoke about faith as a gift from God and about what it means to keep that faith firm. The best way to maintain a strong faith, he said, is to acknowledge that it is weak.

    Here is an excerpt from this week’s Monday Newsletter sent to me in an email from the National Conference of Catechetical Leadership:

    During a question-and-answer session, one Australian pilgrim touched on what will likely be a challenge for many young people once they leave World Youth Day: how to interact with those who do not agree with the basic principles of the Catholic faith and who are, in fact, living a life averse to the church’s teachings.

    The archbishop’s answer was simply this: with love. “We can scream, we can yell, we can castigate, we can alienate, we can nag, and most of the time if we do that we lose,” he said. “Or we can be gracious, patient, loving, understanding, persistent, welcoming. And most of the time when we do that, we’re also going to lose. But less than the first one.”

  31. Ray:

    I don’t think that you are being very “fair and balanced” about me. Of course I watch FOX. (How did I know enough about their programming to print my comment?) I also watch MSNBC, CNN, PBS, and a host of other channels.

    My goal is to find out how people are thinking about issues so that I can clarify my own thinking. Sometimes I even change my mind about an issue.

  32. Archbishop Chaput has every right to speak of catholic positions being reported accurately. He missed the target by not including the more conservative news organizations and commentators. These newspeople encouraged the attacks on the labor movement that popes beginning the 1800s supported. Blessed Pope John Paul II spoke aggressively in favor of worker rights. In contrast Archbishop Chaput was markrdly silent. Conservative news stations praised the dismantling of the benefit plans to stateworkers in Wisconsin and other locales. The archbishop should have taken them to the woodshed also!!!

  33. I think there is a huge difference between News outlets taking a position contrary to the Church, and News outlets who openly attack or consistently portray Catholicism in a negavitve light. I used to love the NYT, when they stood for something. When the had columnists like Anthony Lewis, Tom Wicker and Anna Quinlen

    But somewhere along the line that changed. See for yourself how many positive columns Laurie Goodstein has written about Catholics in the past 5 years. If you are lucky, maybe one or two. Then see how many columns she has taken, nearly verbatim from SNAP press releases (fair journalism?). Maureen Dowd has been allowed to carry on a private grudge against the Church, which continues to inspire hatred of Catholics. They would never allow a Jewish or Muslim writer to do the same thing towards their religion. Nikolas Kristoff has written several Catholic bashing columns, that have included tasteless jokes about the Holy Mother. And how often have we seen negative news stories splashed across the front page during Holy Week and Christmas.

    They should be called out for it. And Catholics should stop supporting members of the media that seek to portray us negatively.

  34. If Ray read Nicholas Kristof often enough to spell his name right, he might know that Kristof (who is not a particular favorite of mine) has written several columns reporting favorably on the efforts of nuns and priests to help the poor in Africa. But I guess criticizing the blowhard bishop of Phoenix means the other columns don’t count.

  35. I was there when Archbishop Chaput spoke, and I distinctly remember that he included Fox News in his list. I wonder why it was not mentioned in the article above.

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