Skip to comments.Reporter's Ignorance, Prejudice Paint Misleading World Picture
Posted on 01/07/2009 9:54:16 AM PST by jazusamo
A book titled "Blind Spot: When Journalists Dont Get Religion" is important because it shows that most of our journalists simply do not understand religion, fail to take it seriously, or let their anti-religion bias get in the way of their reporting. As a result, they give us an erroneous and incomplete picture of the world.
The author of the forward, Michael Gerson, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, makes the point with what he says is a small matter that raises a big issue. During the 2000 election, then-Gov. George W. Bush made an off-the-cuff statement that we ought to take the log out of our own eye before paying attention to the speck in the eye of our neighbor.
Mr. Gerson writes, The New York Times reported the remark as a minor gaffe what it termed an interesting variation on the saying about the pot and the kettle. The reporter actually a fine and balanced journalist did not recognize the biblical reference. Neither did his editors. And this, of course, was not an obscure biblical reference. Not only is it found in the red letters of the New Testament, it is taken from the Sermon on the Mount. Greater ignorance hath no journalist.
This is a good example because it illustrates the biblical illiteracy of journalists. But it says something else that is more important the common belief among journalists that any reference in the public square to religion is somehow offensive, what Mr. Gerson calls a violation of the truce of tolerance. This can lead to indifference and even avoidance of religion in journalism and that leads to bad journalism.
In Mr. Gersons view this leads to missing the greatest stories of our times for three reasons:
1. First, the religion-blind journalist misses one of the great sources of reform and hope in America. Quakerism and 19th century evangelicalism led to the abolition of slavery. African-American Christianity was one of the main movers of the civil rights movement. And religion is still relevant in the reform movement of our times: the pro-life movement, antiwar activism, concern for global poverty, disease, sexual trafficking and genocide and religious persecution.
2. If blind to religion, journalists will miss important trends of the time. There are all kinds of theological and historical debates now going on within Islam that impact one of the great trends and threats of our time. We lack high-quality coverage of Islam that we need to understand what is going on in the world. Another trend is the movement of Christianity to the global south. This is creating new religious alliance s reaching across the globe, but it is also exposing fault lines of conflict between Christianity and Islam in the center of Africa.
3. This same religion-blind journalist will fail to understand the most important philosophic and moral convictions of America. Mr. Gerson cites the incredible ignorance of a Canadian newspaper that viewed President Bushs claim that God wants people to be free as evidence of a resurgence of American extremism. He did not understand that this is the extremism of the Declaration of Independence, of Abraham Lincoln, and of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Mr. Gerson notes that journalists who fail to understand religion will fail to understand the world by not understanding the creeds that guide people through life. He quotes G.K. Chesterton, who once called secularism, a taboo of tact or convention whereby we are free to say that a man does this or that because of his nationality or his profession, or his place of residence, or his hobby, but not because of the creed about the very cosmos in which he lives. Mr. Chesterton was ahead of his time, but he describes the typical mainstream journalist perfectly.
The classic example of religious ignorance is The New York Times reporting on the Islamist terrorist attack in Mumbai, India. They said during the attack on the Jewish Center there was an unlikely target and it is not known if the Jewish center was strategically chosen.
It is hard to believe that such colossal journalistic ignorance can be found so readily not only at The New York Times but through so much of the mainstream media. This requires total ignorance of the reporter as well as a platoon of editors. And it leads me to think I explain too much of the Times reporting as bias and prejudice, perhaps not giving due credit to its seemingly unbounded supply of stupidity and ignorance.
As you read this new book, you are confronted with a long parade of examples of journalistic failure in reporting on religion. The editors of the volume include some of the nations leading authorities on religious persecution: Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert, and Roberta Green Ahmanson. The first two I have often quoted in this column when discussing persecution of Christians around the world.
Ive often wondered why the mainstream media neglects to report on the worldwide persecution of Christians and this valuable volume provides one part of the explanation. This is the classic example of journalistic failure, religious persecution, and disastrous consequences all wrapped into one.
An alliance of religious groups including conservative evangelicals, the Catholic Church and Jewish groups managed to get legislation designed to bring American foreign policy into the fight against religious persecution. Four important pieces of legislation were passed as a result of the work of this alliance: The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, the Sudan Peace Act of 2002, the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004. This was a great human rights achievement of historic significance. Every single act should have been the subject of major stories.
Vincent Carroll, writing in the Wall Street Journal (Dec. 22) put this journalistic failure into perspective:
Not only was this story underplayed in the press it was often miscast as merely a crusade of Christian conservatives and reported with patronizing, skeptical references in their claims as if the persecution of Christians abroad was a matter of debate. Too many journalists apparently have trouble treating with respect any movement in which Christian conservatives provide what Mr. Hertzke calls crucial grass-roots muscle. Allen Hertzke contributed to this book. He is a professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma.
One of the most interesting and important chapters in the book is on Religion and Terrorism: Misreading al Qaeda by Paul Marshall. In this chapter, he shows that by eliminating the religious dimension, the media plunge us into a black hole of misunderstanding of terrorism and its agents.
For example, some tend to think that the objectives of al Qaida and other terrorist organizations are limited and easily satisfied by negotiation and diplomacy. But this flies in the face of the expansive objectives of the terrorists. Mr. Marshall writes, The al Qaeda network has consistently explained and justified its actions with a narrative centered on the fall and anticipated rise of the caliphate, the restoration of sharia [Muslim law], and the inevitable conflict between true Muslim believers and apostates and infidels destined to last until the day of judgment.
Many journalists have, however, tended to ignore this fundamental religious dimension and instead concentrated on those terrorist statements that might fit into secular Western preconceptions about oppression, economics, freedom, and progress. One small but telling example is The New York Times reference to one Iraqi insurgent: the paper reported, the mans long speech is addressed to President Bush, who is called a dog at one point In fact, the man called Bush a Christian dog, a much more illuminating phrase. The religious dimension was obscured.
The media also give the impression that al Qaeda and the terrorists are after only the Christians and the Jews. Mr. Marshall shows otherwise, quoting from Osama bin Ladens Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places. Mr. Marshall writes:
It also expounded on what it claims is worldwide war against Islam waged by Indian Hindus; Burmese Buddhists; Russian, Ethiopian, and Eritrean Orthodox; and above all, Zionist Jews, with crusader Americans leading the cabal.
Another media misconception concerns the nature of the war waged by al-Qaida and many other terrorist groups. Mr. bin Laden reemphasized his view of the war after 9/11:
This war is fundamentally religious Those who try to cover this crystal clear fact, which the entire world has admitted, are deceiving the Islamic nation. This war is fundamentally religious Under no circumstances should we forget this enmity between us and the infidels. For, the enmity is based on creed The unequivocal truth is that Bush has carried the cross and raised its banner high.
He makes it clear there is a religious struggle between Islam and the infidels and that struggle will continue until judgment day. He also makes it clear if you are an infidel you better watch out.
What is true for al Qaeda is also true for Hamas, says Lela Gilbert. Hamas is also a radical Muslim organization. The Hamas Charter (1988) says, in Article 7, the Hamas has been looking forward to implement Allahs promise whatever time it might take. The prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said: The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him! To pretend, or to refuse to report, that the war Hamas has relentlessly waged against Israel launching thousands of rockets into civilian areas in recent yearsis not a religious war is absurd.
What is the solution for this journalistic failure? One of the authors of the book, Terry Mattingly, a nationally syndicated religion columnist for Scripps Howard News Service, writes, that editors need not hire more reporters who are religious believers, but they need to hire more journalists who take religion seriously. Id go much further than that solution.
The mainstream media is so overloaded with anti-religious bias (among many other kinds of bias) that it is not subject to an easy fix. From my perspective, our hope is to rely more on the alternative media and support it. Mainstream media outlets such as The New York Times, NBC, MSNBC, NPR, etc. are almost beyond repair. They are only good for boycotting, starting now.
Go to www.boycott.nyt.com, sign the boycott petition, and then cancel your subscription to The New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other mainstream media outlets that seem to be on the side of genocide and terrorism.
Perhaps the best advice to journalists come in a chapter titled Getting it Right, which quotes Martin Marty of the University of Chicago. He says there was a time when journalists had to ask, What is religion news? But then says, In the wake of Sept. 11, is there any news today that is not religion news?
He adds, The horizons of religion and the news have touched and we all have to realize that.
Whether we like it or not, religion is a powerful and central force in our world and the media better wake up to that reality.
Herb Denenberg is a former Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner, Pennsylvania Public Utility Commissioner, and professor at the Wharton School. He is a longtime Philadelphia journalist and consumer advocate. He is also a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of the Sciences. His column appears daily in The Bulletin. You can reach him at email@example.com.
They give you the story as they want you understand it.
Here's an idea......give me JUST the facts & I'LL MAKE UP MY OWN MIND!
Talk about a lethal cocktail:
One part liberal bias
Two parts anti-Christian bias
Now add three parts ignorance, stupidity, and vapidity
What do you get? Today's "mainstream" journalist...
Exactly! A shame there's not many journalists left.
You summed it up well, “fake but accurate.”
Checking out that link Jaz.
And Amen flycatcher.
With all due respect, I think you posit far too much credit to the average mainstream journalist. There certainly are rarified pockets of deceit that attack America as you say -- I'm thinking of the editorial boards of certain big-name newspapers and magazines -- but the average liberal-leaning journalist of today is anything but brilliant.
How do I know this? I'm a journalist by trade myself, and through the years I've discovered that the new breed of college-educated journalists are stupefyingly uneducated and ignorant about a wide range of subjects -- notably political science and history. However, your point is well taken: these ignorant journalism-school grads are the foot soldiers in the culture war, which is being led (as you rightly say) by Academia, Hollywood, and certain publishers.
I say to keep hope, and here is why: Nearly every young skull of mush out of college that I've encountered professionally listens (or pretends to listen) when I explain to them that their job is not to make the news, but report it. After a while they seem to "get it." My record isn't perfect by any means, but on many occasions I've been able to transform a "hopeless" college lib into a true philosophical conservative.
And perhaps that's the best way to change the paradigm: one college grad at a time on the professional level.
” . . . when I explain to them that their job is not to make the news, but report it.”
That is one of the biggest problems with journalists today. They try to make the news about them, rather than the story. It sickens me when I see TV reporters spending more time glorifying their own presence in a war zone than reporting the story.
Also, the reports from New Orleans during Katrina were so ridiculous, including Geraldo saving the woman trapped in her house, then DRAGGING her poor poodle as they walked into the sunset.
Instead of reporting the news (and opposing views involved) their goals are to “make a difference.”
Of course you are correct that every new generation brings hope.
Their education in American history, economics, and our Constituion is lacking, dangerously so, imo.
Thanks for all you do to help on that front.
Btw, Russell Kirk’s, “The American Cause”, was recently recommended to me, it sounds like it would be a good book for our young people too.
From National Review:
“Larry Arnn, the heroic president of the indispensable Hillsdale College, argues persuasively in the December edition of Imprimis that our citizenry has lost touch with the art of constitutionalism. The rot of our public schools and the systematic excoriation of the “dead white men” who established this republic have indeed severed the mystic chords of memory that once bound Americans to those of the past. Reestablishing these ties will take work, but there is a book that can do just that: Russell Kirk’s The American Cause. There is perhaps no book that so succinctly and accessibly explains and defines our roots and our purpose.”