Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


TMatt & Neroulias on Godbeat as therapy

posted by Rod Dreher

Terry Mattingly at Get Religion has his say about yesterday’s hot thread in these parts. Excerpt:

In this new essay, Rosen connects some of the same dots. One of his central points is that most journalists hold in contempt people they consider “true believers.” Thus, most reporters and editors believe that they are seeking out “moderate” voices or, I would argue, they are seeking to amplify voices that they consider “moderate.”
And the impact on religion coverage? I cannot tell you how many times I have heard journalists make statements that sound something like this: “Oh, I didn’t interview (insert name of relevant religious leader), because my editor said that we don’t need to give extremists like that a platform.” But what, I add, if this priest, or imam, or rabbi, or preacher is actually a key figure in the story? What if many of their claims are accurate, in terms of the history and doctrine of their faith?” At this point, journalists often shrug their shoulders or roll their eyes.

Nicole Neroulias, the religion reporter and Beliefnet blogger whose opinion I criticized yesterday, joins the thread over at GetRel. She writes:

Thanks for posting about this. I wanted to respond to Rod Dreher’s blog, but I thought it would be inappropriate to join the comments over there, and I’m waiting for my copy of “God Is Not One” before blogging about it further at Belief Beat.
In the meantime, to clarify: I have no problem covering religious conflict (or any conflict – I covered crime for years), including points of view that could hardly be considered “moderate.” What I was trying to convey, in that quick aside on my Belief Beat post, is that the concept that different religions have fundamental differences isn’t news to me, or presumably anyone else who reads a newspaper, lives in a diverse community, has an interfaith family, etc.
In my experience, it’s often the interfaith stories that reveal the complexities of this beat, beyond the usual conflicts (which, as I noted in the original post, do get plenty of coverage), while also providing some good old-fashioned man-bites-dog news appeal. Furthermore, if the concern is whether this point of view contributes to media bias/blandness, keep in mind that “conflict” stories are frequently framed as us-vs.-them scenarios: an inaccurate generalization at best, a dangerous mistake at worst, on the religion beat.
But, your mileage may vary, especially for journalists who work in different forms of media or for religious vs. secular press.

Again, I want to dispute a couple of Neroulias’s points. I think she assumes far too much, e.g., “the concept that different religions have fundamental differences isn’t news to me, or presumably anyone else who reads a newspaper,” etc. If Neroulias is asking, “Do most people understand there’s a difference between Judaism and Christianity, and between Buddhism and Islam?”, the answer is bound to be yes. The question, though, is whether or not there are any essential differences — and what to make of them? I’m a fairly well-informed generalist on religion, and I’m learning a lot from Steve Prothero’s book about the essential differences between the major world religions. I’m just guessing, but I’d bet cash money that nine out of 10 people you’d pull off the street couldn’t give you even a basically articulate answer if asked to explain the key theological differences between Catholicism and Protestantism (obvious things like, “Catholicism has a pope” don’t count). In fact, as sociologist Christian Smith’s research has shown, younger Americans from all religious traditions have little or no sense of fundamental differences among their faiths, or why any of this matters.
My sense is that religious conflict makes journalists nervous, so they instinctively report from the irenic and ameliorative point of view — and, as Rosen says, marginalize those that they deem as immoderate, whether or not those sources have good arguments for their positions. The theory, consciously entertained or not, seems to be: People hate each other because of religious difference, therefore if we downplay or ignore religious difference, people won’t hate each other. That may be true, but it’s not journalism.
I also object to this:

Furthermore, if the concern is whether this point of view contributes to media bias/blandness, keep in mind that “conflict” stories are frequently framed as us-vs.-them scenarios: an inaccurate generalization at best, a dangerous mistake at worst, on the religion beat.

Are they really? “Frequently?” Can we see some examples? What does “us vs. them” mean in this case? Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t recall reading stories in the mainstream media that openly take sides in religious controversies, and try to rally one side against another. I think Neroulias is projecting. When I was at the Dallas Morning News, I had more than a few go-rounds with various reporters on staff about their disinclination to write about this or that substantive example of Islamic extremism in the community. I maintained then, and still maintain, that if the same stories I highlighted had involved Christian churches, they would have been in the newspaper, because they were news. I like and respect my reporter friends there, but I was convinced that these stories were ignored by our newsroom because editors and/or reporters feared that to write them would be to contribute to an us-vs.-them atmosphere they assumed was in the community. These guys are professional journalists, and never would have written a story in an “us-vs.them” way. My guess — and it’s only that – is that they (or their editors) concluded that whatever they wrote, people would see it as “us-vs.-them,” and make judgments of which these reporters disapproved. So the stories never got written. I would like anyone to post examples of stories from mainstream newspapers or broadcasts that frame religious conflict as “us-vs.them.” Not only does it not happen “frequently,” but I don’t think it happens much at all.
Again, I’m willing to be shown that I’m wrong.



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Al-Dhariyat

posted June 17, 2010 at 5:44 pm


I would agree that most religion stories are not explicitly “us vs them”. In order to ameliorate the feelings of the minority religious (especially muslims), the press stays away from almost any story that talks about differences in a substantive way.
I honestly don’t know that the press is a proper vehicle anymore for conveying these sorts of meaningful stories. Soundbite culture does that to us; people (and I’ll include myself from time to time) want the quick story and the quick, non-explosive conclusion. I’d be willing to bet that the length of newspaper/newsmagazine articles has decreased substantially over time.
It’s when I want more in-depth analysis that I turn to other forms of media than the nightly news… actually, The Daily Show and Colbert Report are my nightly news now. hah.
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Broken Yogi

posted June 17, 2010 at 5:59 pm


I think you’re basically right on all counts. The only thing I’d add as a qualifier is the general rule that all reporting sucks. And by that I mean that if you have any expertise in a field, and you read media reports on that field, you find huge discrepencies and fallacies that get laddled out with seeming disregard for reality. Since you happen to have expertise in the field of religion, you notice how bad the media is at reporting religious stories. The sad truth is that the media is bad at reporting almost every kind of story, on almost every kind of beat, we just don’t notice it so much when it isn’t in a field we have much expertise in. Sure, there’s some basic sense of journalistic responsibility that manages to keep things from being sheerly awful at all times, but it virtually never rises to the level of actually telling us the straight truth about things, because reporters generally don’t have the expertise in the field they are writing about to know what the straight truth is. Nor do they really desire to gain that expertise in most cases. So they try to avoid writing stories which require much in the way of technical skill, or which would expose their lack of same. So we get mediocre stories with boilerplate narratives that generally just confirm some kind of conventional wisdom the reporter can feel relatively safe about. Unfortunately, it’s not just religion which gets this treatment.
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American Muslim

posted June 17, 2010 at 6:27 pm

Indy

posted June 17, 2010 at 6:55 pm


I only read the first two sentences of the blog post. What stopped me? “One of his central points is that most journalists hold in contempt people they consider ‘true believers.’”
I am so over hearing everything explained by people having “contempt” for other people. Start off with that all too convenient framing, and I’m gone, man. (I know those weren’t your words). Dude may have had something worthwhile to say about reporters and religion but he lost me by playing the contempt card. And I usually read everything you post, not matter whom you quote. Next!



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meh

posted June 17, 2010 at 9:31 pm


Rod: “In fact, as sociologist Christian Smith’s research has shown, younger Americans from all religious traditions have little or no sense of fundamental differences among their faiths, or why any of this matters.”
Well, if younger Americans have little or no sense of fundamental differences among their faiths, in what sense does it matter?
Rod:”People hate each other because of religious difference, therefore if we downplay or ignore religious difference, people won’t hate each other. That may be true, but it’s not journalism.”
Hey, let me try that: People hate each other because of racial difference, therefore if we downplay or ignore racial difference, people won’t hate each other. That may be true, but it’s not journalism.



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Michael C

posted June 18, 2010 at 6:00 am


I have two words for you Rod
Bill Donohue



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GrantL

posted June 18, 2010 at 10:59 am


Meh, it matters because what people believe informs their decisions which dictates how they behave.
If younger people don’t perceive differences between religions, that’s news and it matters because there are differences. Why don’t they see differences? Is it plain ignorance, is it that they reject the supernatural woo-woo? What is going on there and how does that, or how doesn’t impact what decisions they make.
To your point where you replace religion with race, I think you miss Rod’s point. Avoiding discussing religions as the are because religious differences might upset people (which it does) is bad journalism. Rod is exactly correct. As a journalist, it is manifestly not my job to ignore the facts in order to “keep the peace.” Even if that could be done, which I seriously doubt, it wold be a false “peace” manufactured by hiding the truth.
As I noted in the previous posting on this issue, this speaks to something Chomsky says in Manufacturing Consent – that reporters internalize the values of the profession and then don’t think about them. If part of those values is avoiding what could be perceived as religious conflicts in favor of “we all believe the same thing” pap, then that is what gets done. Not out of spite or ignorance, but out of an industry standard.
My job is to report what goes on in my community, my province and my country. Part of that reporting means showing how we are alike and how we are different. Religion is a part of that, for good or ill. Frankly, a reporter who want to understand his or her community, that reporter MUST understand the religious life of that community. One need not be believer in any of it to recognize this.



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GrantL

posted June 18, 2010 at 12:51 pm


I’ll give you a recent example of how this trend of not taking religious seriously can undermine reporting.
This week, a father and his son were sentenced to life for killing his daughter in Toronto. They are a muslim family and the teenaged girl refused to wear the muslim traditional dress or obey the muslim rules her father wanted, including an arranged marriage. In response, with the help of his son, he killed her. They strangled her in an “honour killing.”
The National Post covered the trial but never mentions in a very lengthy and detailed story that the murder had everything to do with this family’s (and the community of which they are part) religious beliefs. This girl was murdered for disobeying her father, who believed his authority is an order from god. The family and some of their friends defend the murder to this day. Others say she deserved to have a violent punishment but not death. (nice people) and the mother wanted her daughters legs and arms broken, but not killed.
Now, you have to ask, why doesn’t the paper point out the plain as day connection between religion and this girl’s murder? Well because there are far more muslims who would never ever kill their children over something like this, but they would also get upset and claim they were being tarred with the same brush, so it doesn’t get mentioned. So here we have part of Canada’s Muslim community saying killing this girl was good, or at least should have been beaten, and others saying this is a gross misuse of their faith. Well guess what? THATS A STORY. Why do some muslims think its ok, and others are horrified by it? What is going on within the Muslim community itself? Is this an issue that gets talked about and so on.
But it doesn’t get told specifically to avoid some people getting upset. It’s par for the course these days and its just bad journalism.



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Mont D. Law

posted June 18, 2010 at 2:02 pm


The National Post covered the trial but never mentions in a very lengthy and detailed story that the murder had everything to do with this family’s (and the community of which they are part) religious beliefs
This statement is verifiability false. The last line of the National Post story on the sentencing reads:
“Parvez’s murder gained international attention after classmates at Applewood Heights Secondary School claimed that the girl had clashed with her devout Muslim family about her refusal to wear traditional clothes, including the hijab — the Islamic headscarf worn by some Muslim women.”
And headlines from several other National Post stories:
Girl, 16, dies after hijab dispute with father
Father, brother sentenced to life in prison for ‘honour’ killing
Rise in Canadian ‘honour killings’ should not be ignored: expert
Canada should expect rise in honour killings, expert says
These are all news stories not opinion pieces. Make any point you want but make them without the hogwash and bunkum.
Some men in all groups kill their wives and daughters and girlfriends because they won’t do what they are told. Most of them offer some justification – South Asians (not just Muslims) often offer a religious justification. So what – it’s just a variation of she brought it on herself, which pretty standard as justifications go.



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Peter

posted June 18, 2010 at 3:18 pm


The whole “no one writes about honor killings” is the Mark Steyn/Muslim extremist menace crowd meme of the week, ably disputed by Conor Friedersdorf
http://www.theatlantic.com/special-report/ideas/archive/2010/06/american-newspapers-and-honor-killings/58292/



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meh

posted June 20, 2010 at 11:09 am


GrantL, yeah, when it comes to younger Americans (or Canadians) with a sense of fundamental difference in their faith, then it matters.
My second point I probably should have put in a separate post because it comes across the opposite way from how I meant it. I’m running with (and agreeing with) Rod’s premise that journalists should report on religious difference, and I think journalists should report on racial difference too.



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Marian

posted June 20, 2010 at 3:10 pm


Re: important differences between religions–obviously, that depends on what one considers “important.” If you don’t believe that adopting one religion rather than another affects your chances in the afterlife, OR that the afterlife, whatever it is, matters, you may focus on how religious choices affect your behavior or your socioeconomic potential in THIS life, which you may find a lot more “important.” And so on.



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Siarlys Jenkins

posted June 22, 2010 at 12:05 am


We have a limited number of choices here. In the “good old days” religion was a true community affair. EVERYONE worshipped the same gods, and if any individual missed even one little ritual, followed by anyone in the community suffering some little damage or pain, whoever skipped their daily devotionals or taboos was painfully executed, by the entire community, to propitiate the gods. Even Jewish tradition, in the first five books, is full of this attitude.
When the king of some pagan tribe became a Christian, everyone in the tribe became a Christian. If the king became an Arian Christian, everyone in the tribe became an Arian Christian. Ditto if the king became an Athanasian Christian.
Then we became more cosmopolitan. Puritans fled from Anglicans, who settled in Massachusetts anyway. Quakers were so persistent, the Puritans stopped whipping and hanging them. Quakers in Maryland found common cause with Roman Catholics, in the face of Anglicans and Puritans. Lutherans showed up. Puritans became Unitarians, some of them. Freedom Moravians showed up, so did Jews.
Somehow, we found the difference DIDN’T MATTER as far as common CITIZENSHIP went, which was a big difference from the “good old days.” Still, German Lutheran immigrants strictly forbade their children to play with the children of German Catholic immigrants, and vice versa. Why? Because they’re going to hell, they don’t believe in the true faith. We don’t associate with those people. These days, we generally do, and I call that progress.
So, what does it mean that the differences matter???
I know Rod doesn’t advocate that we need to refight the Thirty Years War, or go back to generally killing anyone who believes differently than we do. So, perhaps it simply means, it is very important to ME to believe and practice exactly the faith I have committed myself to, because I believe that MY salvation depends upon it. Or, perhaps it means that because I love you, I will try to convince you to join my church, because I fear you will not be saved unless you do, but, because we live in a diverse civil society, I will be nice to you about it? Or, as Gerard Nadal said to a Southern Baptist minister on one of his better days, “we can have a good laugh about the small stuff when we get to the other side.”
In my seldom humble opinion, THE important thing to know about the Roman Catholic church is that they follow orders from the Pope. I don’t much care about salvation by faith vs. good works, each has its place, but I care a lot that Luther broke the temporal power of the Papacy, THANK GOD!
As for the question of honor killings, let’s keep it simple. If I smuggle a bottle of whiskey into Saudi Arabia, the local authorities have the right to detain me, subject me to fifty lashes or whatever the penalty is, and expel me from the country. Did they violate my freedom of religion? No, the law in their country is no alcohol, I entered their country, I broke the law. Anyone, no matter what their religion, who comes to the USA, or Canada, or a lot of other places, and kills their daughter over some point of honor, goes to prison for life. If I want whiskey (I don’t), I won’t live in Saudi Arabia. If I want to subject my daughter to honor killing (I don’t), I won’t live in the USA.
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