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Dieu est un problème

Posté le Mardi 23 décembre 2008 par Sittingbull

God Is a Problem, Sources Say

How secular newsrooms handle stories with a religious component.

VINCENT CARROLL
book12_dv_20081221161449.jpg
In a jarring misreading of the Islamist mentality, the New York Times last month described a Jewish center in Mumbai, India, as the « unlikely target » of the terrorists who attacked various locations there. « It is not known if the Jewish center was strategically chosen, » the Times went on to declare, « or if it was an accidental hostage scene. »

Paul Marshall would not be surprised by such stunningly naïve statements. In « Blind Spot: When Journalists Don’t Get Religion » — a collection of essays that he edited with Lela Gilbert and Roberta Green Ahmanson — he notes that similar assertions have been common in the coverage of Islamic terrorism. The book’s contributors explore all sorts of news stories with a religious component — Islamic and otherwise — showing where reporters have veered off course and discussing the reasons why.

Despite 9/11 and dozens of equally pitiless massacres, some journalists, Mr. Marshall says, are reluctant to accept the « fundamental religious dimension » of jihadist motives. Such journalists concentrate on « terrorist statements that might fit into secular Western preconceptions about oppression, economics, freedom and progress. » When terrorists murdered Christian workers while sparing Muslims in the offices of a Karachi charity in 2002, Mr. Marshall observes, « CNN International contented itself with the opinion that there was ‘no indication of a motive.’ Would it have said the same if armed men had invaded a multiracial center, separated the black people from the white people, then methodically killed all the blacks and spared all the whites? »

But surely journalists do a better job at stories in their own backyards. Actually, no. According to the evidence in « Blind Spot, » the coverage is often worse. Jeremy Lott reminds us, for example, of the media hysteria in 2004 that greeted the release of the movie « The Passion of the Christ. » Never mind that director Mel Gibson seemed to confirm the worst suspicions of his critics two years later when he spouted anti-Semitic drivel after an arrest for drunken driving. The contempt of journalists was hardly reserved for the director alone. Many confidently predicted that, if by some chance this violent rendition of Jesus’ death found an audience, it would unleash a surge in anti-Semitic bigotry or even an orgy of violence. Such forecasts appear delusional in retrospect. They were possible, Mr. Lott maintains, because of « a troubling willingness by journalists to believe the worst of religious would-be moviegoers. »

 

Blind Spot
Edited by Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert and Roberta Green Ahmanson
(Oxford, 220 pages, $19.95)

The chasm between a profoundly secular media and their audience was also unmistakable upon the death in 2005 of John Paul II. Although the pope’s international legacy was treated with respect in most post-mortems — reporters could hardly miss his role in the fall of communism — his influence within the church was described in decidedly less flattering terms.  » ‘Disciplinarian’ was often used, » Amy Welborn tells us, « as was ‘authoritarian’ and even ‘monarchical.’  »

Most journalists apparently believed that the « only Catholics dissatisfied with his pontificate were those advocating women’s ordination or changing Church positions on abortion or homosexuality, » yet the pope took positions and made appointments that bothered traditionalists, too. Indeed, the most notable excommunication of his papacy was of the « deeply traditionalist archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. » In some respects, Ms. Welborn argues, conservative Catholics may have been even more frustrated by John Paul’s papacy than liberals.

The same conservative template was immediately imposed on Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger when he became Pope Benedict XVI. The gentle, complex intellectual the public has grown to know over the past three years was variously described as « polarizing, » « hard line » and, in an oft-repeated phrase, « God’s Rottweiler » because of his Vatican role, as cardinal, in protecting church doctrine and disciplining theologians.

No less revealing has been coverage of the faith-based effort to deploy U.S. foreign policy on behalf of victims of persecution. An alliance that included conservative evangelicals, the Catholic Church, Jewish groups and a variety of other organizations prodded Congress into passing four watershed measures: the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, the Sudan Peace Act of 2002 and the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004. « Any one of these initiatives is a major story, » Allen D. Hertzke writes, « but together they represent the most important human rights movement since the end of the cold war. »

Not only was this story underplayed in the press; it was often miscast as merely a crusade of Christian conservatives and reported with patronizing, skeptical references to their claims — as if the persecution of Christians abroad was a matter of debate. Too many journalists apparently have trouble treating with respect any movement in which Christian conservatives provide what Mr. Hertzke calls « crucial grass-roots muscle. »

Such attitudes no doubt explain the media’s double standard in the coverage of the 2004 presidential election. As C. Danielle Vinson and James L. Guth observe: « The Bush campaign in evangelical churches was portrayed as unusual and certainly questionable, whereas [John] Kerry’s outreach through black churches was seen as routine. » Ms. Vinson and Mr. Guth maintain that « the most significant problem is not media bias but media ignorance, » but their own evidence suggests that the problem is equal parts of both.

Many journalists, it would seem, equate modernity with secularism. Yet God refuses to retire, not only in this country but in most of the rest of the world. Terry Mattingly offers a prescription for better coverage: « Editors do not need to try to hire more reporters who are religious believers, » he says, but they do need to hire more journalists « who take religion seriously, reporters who know, or are willing to learn to hear the music. » At a time of newsroom cutbacks, such advice may fall on barren soil. If so, the news media will continue to miss a vast dimension of mankind’s story.

Mr. Carroll is editorial-page editor of the Rocky Mountain News.

Sittingbull @ 13:42
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