Monday, March 02, 2009

Missing the mark

According to a recent poll, only 54 percent of Christians in the UK feel that the media reports their religion accurately.

How would you respond to a poll like this? Do you feel misrepresented in the news media?

J. Michael Parker expressed this concern in an article from Zenit. He wrote, "There is no doubt that many secular reporters and editors are ignorant of religion in general and Catholicism in particular. One of the best examples was on the front page of the New York Times during Pope John Paul II's lying-in-state. It referred to his pastoral staff as a "crow's ear" rather than a crosier."

I am currently reading through a very valuable book, Blind Spot: When Journalists Don't Get Religion, which examines how the news media interprets and reports on stories with religious elements. This essay collection analyzes the media's coverage of recent major news events and is a great resource to learn how, when it comes to religion, the news media can miss the mark – and why it matters.

Like Parker, Blind Spot offers an example to illustrate how religion can be misreported by the media:

"In the heat of the 2000 election, then-Governor George W. Bush of Texas made an off-the-cuff statement that we ought to take the log out of our own eye before calling attention to the speck in the eye of our neighbor. 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."

This example, along with Parker's, demonstrates that the media fails to capture the whole picture when they either dismiss or misunderstand the religious elements of a story. As I read through this book, I plan to share my observations and commentary on this blog. I encourage your feedback and dialogue along the way!

<a href="">Is Christianity accurately/fairly represented by the media?</a> <a href="">BuzzDash polls</a>


Michelle said...

Well, I think it would be hard for a journalist to understand "religion" and know how to report on it if they have no faith themselves. And it seems that more and more, journalists are covering stories from a biased point of view which means if they are not Christians, they will have a hard time covering a religious story from any point of view other than their own or from their own stereotype. I agree that the media stereotypes Christians and Christianity in general, but unfortunately we have to agree that some of that is our fault in the way some Christians present themselves when they are in the media spotlight.

Anonymous said...

All stories are covered with bias. Universities train teachers who are biased. They pass that bias to their students. Those students graduate and grow up to express their bias in the way they work and do their jobs, including journalism. I don't think journalists are any more biased than anyone else; they are simply expressing their opinions; it's just that their audience is a little wider than a coffee shop table like the rest of us.

This blog is just as biased ... just a different worldview than some other journalists. I'm just grateful for journalists who are awake enough to see that they have a worldview that affects everything they say and don't pretend to be unbiased.

Are journalists biased against Christians? Sure, but they are just as biased against Jainism, Scientology and a lot of other religions they don't really understand.

Jill said...

I think that this journalism blind spot, particularly in the excerpt given from the book, likely also has much to do with the widespread Biblical illiteracy that is increasing in North America. As a university student, this is something I have witnessed a lot in my classes. I think 50 years ago way more people would have understood that reference in a second. Nowadays, most people don't have even a very basic knowledge of the Bible.