As a practicing Christian, a political conservative and a professional journalist, I've long been amazed at how ignorant and uncurious my mostly intelligent and urbane colleagues are about conservatives, especially religious conservatives. Many have looked at me--their friend, despite my Catholicism and Republican Party registration--with the same slack-jawed incomprehension as elderly Southerners when they step off the tour bus in London and hear a black man speaking with a crisp British accent (I've seen this, and it's a hoot).

People like me--religious conservatives who are reasonably intelligent and sociable--aren't supposed to exist. You may recall the furor a decade ago when a Washington Post story described Christian conservatives as "largely poor, uneducated and easy to command." It's bad enough a reporter for one of the country's top newspapers made an error like that. It's staggering that it got through several layers of copy editing. For all the caterwauling about "diversity" in the media, you'd be hard-pressed to find the same uniformity of thinking in any Catholic church on Sunday as you'll find any day of the week in most American newsrooms.

True story: I once proposed a column on some now-forgotten religious theme to the then city editor of the New York Post. He looked at me like I'd lost my mind. "This is not a religious city," he said, with a straight face. As it happened, the man lived in my neighborhood. On his morning walk to the subway, he had to pass two Catholic churches, an Episcopal church, a synagogue, a mosque, an Assemblies of God Hispanic parish, and an Iglesia Bautista Hispana. He didn't see these places because he doesn't know anyone who attends them.

In the main, the men and women who bring America its news don't hate religion. In most cases, they just believe it's unimportant at best, menacing at worst. Because they don't know any religious people, they think of American religion in categories that have long been outdated.

My fellow reporters think I'm putting them on when I tell them I've been a practicing Catholic for 10 years and have only heard one sermon about abortion and none about contraception. Outside the Jewish community, Israel has no stronger supporters than among American evangelicals. That's been true for at least a generation, but the news has yet to reach American newsrooms, where there's a general assumption that these "fundamentalists" are anti-Semitic. Because journalists tend not to know religiously observant people, they see religious activity the only way they know--in terms of secular politics.

So what? Everybody knows that pro-life marchers and churches that resist gay "marriage" aren't going to get a fair shake from the newspaper. But this phenomenon is both broader and deeper than individual stories. In a media-driven society, the press sets the terms of public debate. It establishes the inescapable narrative of how society reacts to its challenges.

Anti-religious media bias also has profound implications for American politics. In an article published recently in "The Public Interest," social scientists Louis Bolce and Gerald De Maio say that journalists' parochialism blinds them to one of the biggest stories in American politics: how the Democratic Party has become a stronghold of fervent secularists, and how secularism "is just as powerful a determinant of social attitudes and voting behavior as is a religiously traditional outlook."

Among political journalists, what you might call the "official story" holds that religious conservatives bullied their way onto the American political scene with the election of Ronald Reagan, and rudely brought into the political arena the culture war that had been raging since the 1960s.

That's exactly wrong, say Bolce and De Maio, who attribute the "true origins of this conflict" to "the increased prominence of secularists within the Democratic Party, and the party's resulting antagonism toward traditional values."

Until relatively recently, both major parties were of similar mind on issues of personal morality. Then came the 1972 Democratic Convention, at which secularists--defined as agnostics, atheists, and those who seldom or never attend religious services--seized control and nominated George McGovern. Prior to that year, neither party had many secularists among its delegates. Democratic delegates were split between religious and moral traditionalists on one side, and secularists on the other. They fought over moral issues: abortion, women's rights, homosexuality, the family.

But in what Bolce and De Maio call a "secularist putsch," the non-believers triumphed, giving us what Richard Nixon mocked as the party of "acid, amnesty, and abortion," and instigating--with help from the Supreme Court on January 22, 1973--the long march of religious and moral conservatives to the GOP, which became the party of traditionalists by default.