People of genuine, life-controlling Christian faith had been little more than a curious sideshow for major mainstream media until these evangelical believers had a clear impact on a presidential election. Now, the industry is beginning to ask why there is such a disconnect between media and faith.
In a good Shoptalk column in Editor and Publisher, the trade publication turns to Dale Buss, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who has written a forthcoming biography on James Dobson, to explain the divide.
Perhaps this episode ultimately will help editors, reporters, and their publications by spawning a new determination to understand and even appeal to this increasingly important constituency. Or maybe they’ll keep allowing a large group of highly aware and engaged citizens to keep slipping out of their circulation base.
It isn’t that newspapers generally fail to cover religion per se. They can even excel when dealing with institutions of faith, as some newspapers did in covering child abuse by Catholic priests. But U.S. newspapers aren’t so good at covering the worldview, lifestyles, and everyday existence of the 25% to 30% of Americans who describe themselves as evangelicals.Sometimes this shortcoming manifests itself as bias or outright malice, other times in sins of omission or ignorance. In any event, 72% of all evangelicals now feel the mass media are hostile to their moral and spiritual values, according to Barna Research Group, the foremost authority on contemporary evangelical opinion.
The articles sites eight types of failures:
o Settling for artificial “balance”
o Dissing the faithful
o Separating “religion” from life
o Confusing the gospel:
o Missing big stories
o Lacking religious literacy
o Misinterpreting the First Amendment
o Keeping conservatives out:
I believe it will take substantial changes in the MSM, including a transformation of hiring practices—an affirmative action of sorts. Media leaders must recognize that evangelicals have been systematically excluded from influential positions far more in recent years than blacks, women, or any other group. Doesn’t it tell you something that Nicholas Kristof at the NY Times could write in 2003 that he couldn’t “think of a single evangelical working for a major news organization”? Sure sounds like rank discrimination to me. Correcting that travesty will be a necessary step in changing the way media report on evangelicals, and how evangelicals make their media choices.