by Max Brantley
When's the last time you saw or heard a progressive religious leader quoted in media (particularly Fox News)? In Arkansas, think how much more often you hear from the Family Council, schismatic Episcopalians, etc., than from clergy of a different stripe. They do exist, you know.
In order to begin to assess how the news media paint the picture of religion in America today, this study measured the extent to which religious leaders, both conservative and progressive, are quoted, mentioned, and interviewed in the news media.
Among the study's key findings:
Despite the fact most religious Americans are moderate or progressive, in the news media it is overwhelmingly conservative leaders who are presented as the voice of religion. This represents a particularly meaningful distortion since progressive religious leaders tend to focus on different issues and offer an entirely different perspective than their conservative counterparts.
UPDATE: Appeals Court Judge Wendell Griffen adds some commentary.
Thanks for the blog post on religion in the news. Your post reminded me about the media response to the way black religious groups were ignored after we separately issued statements opposing the planned invasion of Iraq in 2003. The National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. unanimously adopted a resolution during its January 2003 midwinter session in Nashville, TN opposing the planned war in Iraq. Bishop Gilbert Patterson (recently deceased), then the leader of the Church of God in Christ and someone who had been friendly with the Bush administration, separately expressed his opposition to the planned invasion. Although the NBCUSA and COGIC groups are the two largest bodies of black Christians in the nation, their respective pronouncements were ignored by mainstream media.
Similarly, the NBCUSA issued a statement, through its president (Rev. William J. Shaw of Philadelphia, PA), opposing the nomination of Alberto Gonzales to be Attorney General of the United States. The statement made explicit mention of the fact that Gonzales had been a key player in the administration's controversial "torture" memo about handling detainees in the war on terror. Again, the media ignored the statement.
In January 2005, all four black Baptist national bodies held a historic gathering at Opryland in Tennessee, marking the first time black Baptists had jointly met for official purposes since a schism occurred in 1915. At the end of that meeting, the leaders of those bodies issued a joint statement expressing opposition to the war in Iraq, among other things. I am attaching a copy of that statement for your information. Although the meeting was attended by national press representatives, only the Chicago Tribune reported the joint statement.
On January 25, 2007, the NBCUSA again unanimously adopted a resolution on Iraq during its midwinter meeting in Birmingham, Alabama. This resolution called for an immediate phased withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq. The NBCUSA is the nation's largest black religious body, with 7.5 million members.
I cite these examples as a way of commending you for your post, and to remind you and your readers that Bill Moyers (a white Baptist) has correctly criticized the media for enabling the entire war propaganda effort put forth by the Bush administration. In taking the positions I have mentioned, black religious organizations have not acted out of political partisanship, but out of our conviction that the issues of peace, justice, and fairness cannot be held captive by political or even national interests. However, the media have been more interested in the views of Falwell, Dobson, Robertson, etc. than in the views of anyone else, or even everyone else in religious life.