Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Doing Good With Other Peoples' Money

Senator Hillary Clinton in a speech yesterday in San Francisco:

"Many of you are well enough off that ... the tax cuts may have helped you," Sen. Clinton said. "We're saying that for America to get back on track, we're probably going to cut that short and not give it to you. We're going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good."

Give her credit for honesty. Most liberals are not this forthright about their plans for your pocketbook. My question is, though, why don't the people who always want to take money away from the rest of us just give away their own wealth instead? Hillary is very well off since her husband struck it rich with his new book and can certainly afford to donate a fat sum to the U.S. treasury.

Her party's standard-bearer, John Kerry, who has probably never worked a day in his life and is certainly not working at his current job in the U.S. Senate, is rolling in his wife's former husband's millions. They don't need all that. Why don't they just give their fortunes to the government if they want Washington to have more and let everybody else keep what they've had to work to get?

Of course, that'll never happen. It's a lot better to just rape the taxpayer.

Why the Media Underreports Religion

There is a piece in the Columbia Journalism Review by Gal Beckerman about why religion, a matter of such importance to so many in this country, and a matter which impacts so heavily upon our society, gets such paltry coverage from journalists. She writes:

However central belief and faith might be to the American populace, our news media seldom puncture the surface in their reporting on religion. The various institutions are scrutinized, sometimes with great rigor, as a former cardinal in Boston might confirm. But it generally takes scandal or spectacle to get even the large denominations on the front page. And even then, the deeper belief systems of these religions are left unexamined. The theology and faith of the believers is kept at arm's length, and the writing is clinical. The journalist glances at religious community as if staring through the glass of an ant farm, remarking on what the strange creatures are doing, but missing the motivations behind the action.

The bulk of her essay describes what most religion coverage is like and explores the reasons why the media doesn't do a better job covering it. She dismisses the possibility, rather obvious to some of us, that journalists are simply hostile to the religious world view:

[A]lmost 80 percent of journalists [have] some religious affiliation. This also confirms what journalists report anecdotally: that there is a wide range of religious belief inside newsrooms, that many reporters and their families are deeply involved with their religious communities....[So that] while a lack of empathy and literacy might very well contribute to the problem, this can't be the whole story. Not only, as the recent polls show, is it not true that reporters are too secular to get faith, but it shouldn't really matter. No religion writer would say that one has to be a believer to understand believers. And although the knowledge problem is real, more and more religion writers are specialists and could potentially be a source in the newsroom for reporters who aren't. The "secular newsroom" seems to be a myth, and the knowledge gap certainly surmountable. Something else seems to be at work here, something more systemic.

But a few paragraphs before this Beckerman had acknowledged that:

[R]eligion writers remain a tiny minority in the newsroom (there are about 200 of them working at secular newspapers). More of these journalists are coming to the job with theological training from seminaries and divinity schools, and many of them are fighting every day to get stories about faith on the front page. But with rare exceptions, such as The Dallas Morning-News, which has a weekly six-page religion section and a team of four reporters covering different aspects of belief, most papers have only one, maybe two, religion writers who can barely keep up with the hard news of religious institutions, let alone explore deeper questions of faith. Editors and owners simply do not make religion a priority, and journalists are not encouraged to make it a part of their stories.

It would seem, then, from this that a big part of the problem really is that the people who make the decisions, the people with the power, are indifferent to matters of faith however important it might be to the lowly reporters. Beckerman, however, suggests that the problem is more one of religion and journalism inhabiting to different epistemic worlds. She frames it this way:

On the one hand, there is journalism, premised on the notion of objective reality. To report is to write about what can be seen, heard, touched, smelled. Journalism is grounded in this world and embodies a belief that everything can be known. On the other hand is religion, which is fundamentally about mystery and the unknown. Faith is grounded in this notion, that we surrender ourselves to greater powers beyond our reach. How can journalism, then, welded as it is to the known world, contend with faith and belief?

But this just seems to be another way of saying that journalists, or their editors, working from a naturalistic worldview, are antipathetic toward, or simply not tuned into, religion and regard it as they might regard the horoscope page. Religion stories are a sop that they offer to the intellectually unwashed to entice them into buying a paper, but they have no intention of expending much of their resources on it.

What's the solution? Men and women tend to live out in their work what they believe to be ultimately important. Their beliefs infuse and suffuse their work and their lives. Thus religious believers, especially young people of faith, need to continue "the long march through the institutions" that has already been under way for some time. People to whom the gospel is personally crucial need to enter journalism, just as they need to enter the education profession, the profession of law, the film industry, the music industry, and everywhere their deepest beliefs can exert influence on their work and ultimately on our culture. When eventually editors and reporters are people for whom the core doctrines of religious belief are of paramount importance in their lives then matters of faith will be receive the attention they warrant.

Beckerman closes with these wise words:

By excluding faith, we miss the core of so many stories - What motivates people to act? What are the beliefs that give meaning to our lives? What ideas are we willing to live and die for? If journalism means to relay the day-to-day saga of our society, it can't continue to ignore these questions.

The CJR article is a little long, but anyone interested in media coverage of religion should read it. Thanks to Byron at Hearts and Minds for the tip.