In response to my post suggesting that bishops appoint ombudsmen to independently monitor their actions, Andrew Barga writes, “[I]nstead of a critique, your “modest proposal” is an attempt to deflect or
parry the issues raised by Chaput. As a member of the reading public, I
would be interested in an actual answer to his challenges.”

The most extensive answer to charges like his–they’re old ones–is my book Unsecular Media: Making News of Religion in America. I don’t feel too guilty about recommending this, since you can pick up a used copy on Amazon for a mere 60 cents. For something more recent, here’s a link to my response to a critique of religion coverage by the sociologist Christian Smith that appeared in the January/February 2004 issue of Christianity
s bimonthly magazine Books and Culture, reprinted over the The Revealer.

I’ve spent the better part of two decades studying, writing about, and contributing to news coverage of religion. As in any other field of endeavor, there’s the good, the bad, and the ugly. And that means the field can be cherry-picked to make a case for hostility to one or another religious tradition, or to religion in general. But with the exception of certain cult-like groups (the Church of Scientology, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, etc.), across-the-board bias is not to be found–and certainly not against the Catholic Church.

Consider the big story that appears above the fold this morning on the front page of my local paper, the Hartford Courant. Dealing with how the church is using foreign priests to remedy the priest shortage in the U.S., it features an array of positive examples of how well these priests are doing in the Hartford archdiocese.

While linguistic and cultural problems are discussed, the reporter, Marissa Pionzio, offers not a single example of a foreign priest who didn’t work out. I’m pretty sure this was not for lack of trying, since when I talked with her a few months ago, she was looking for one. While that would have provided a better portrait of the way things are, the reader sill comes away understanding the challenges. I can’t imagine that the folks over at archdiocesan headquarters have any problem with the article, which portrays the church as a worthy institution working with some success to solve a big problem.

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