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By Their Assaults Ye Shall Know Them

February 1, 2006

Sometimes the ignorance of certain reporters regarding religious matters can be staggering…ly funny.

Powerline has the link to this report criticizing Sen. Sam Brownback for anti-gay sentiment:

"You’ll know them by their fruits," Brownback said, quoting a biblical passage from Matthew 7:19.

Rolling Stone writer Jeff Sharlet said in the story, appearing in the magazine’s current issue, that Brownback appeared to be calling gay Swedes "fruits," a derogatory term for homosexuals.

After gay and lesbian advocacy groups denounced the comments last week, Brownback issued a statement Monday saying his quote "was in no way referring to sexual orientation."

Then there’s this story that mistakenly attacked Jerry Falwell for wanting to create an "assault ministry" of skilled debaters when he meant "a salt ministry".  That’s what happens when our reporters have a low-sodium diet! Never mind that it’s entitled "Cut, Thrust and Christ". Interestingly, Liberty University’s team is ranked #1 in debate. Must be all those Modern types wielding their hegemony of fact-based meta-narratives!

Richard John Neuhaus had this piece (via Hugh) regarding the further ineptitude of religious reporters:

What prompts me to mention this today is that I’m just off the phone with a reporter from the same national paper. He’s doing a story on Pope Benedict’s new encyclical. In the course of discussing the pontificate, I referred to the pope as the bishop of Rome. “That raises an interesting point,” he said. “Is it unusual that this pope is also the bishop of Rome?” He obviously thought he was on to a new angle. Once again, I tried to be gentle. Toward the end of our talk, he said with manifest sincerity, “My job is not only to get the story right but to explain what it means.” Ah yes, he is just the fellow to explain what this pontificate and the encyclical really mean. It is poignant.

Wherever you go, you run into people who say they were disillusioned with the press when they saw how a story in which they were involved was reported. What they knew for sure had happened was grossly misrepresented. Frequently they say the reporter was biased or even malicious, and that is undoubtedly sometimes the case. But over the years of dealing with reporters–and, again, there are notable exceptions–I have been led to embrace something like an Occam’s razor with respect to journalistic distortions: Do not multiply explanations when ignorance will suffice.


I am not the first to make this argument, but if those sent to report on Religion are so inept and unqualified through lack of experience and expertise; why should we trust the War reporting by people who similarly have no qualifications to report on the military? That’s why I consider someone like Austin Bay a much better source of opinion than say, Christiane Amanpour.

I retort, you deride! Take it away, Tim!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. FecesFlinger (Timmy C) permalink
    February 1, 2006 2:02 pm

    I know I seem to be the role of explaining the “devils advocate” on Monkeydoll discussions here, but I’m going to have to fall down on the job here. I totally agree with your take on the press and religion and on what passes as expert punditry and news analysis in general.

    (I don’t have an opinion on Austin nor Chritiane, just haven’t followed either of them really)

    The blogger over at Slacktivist wrote about this exact newsweek article well, I thought when he said:

    “The [newsweek] correction above is an example of two things I’ve written about here before:

    1) Evangelicals aren’t very good at communicating with people outside the confines of their subculture; and

    2) the press tends not to understand religion, and therefore not do a very good job of reporting on it.

    These two things are mutually reinforcing.”

  2. February 2, 2006 9:15 am

    Hi Count and Tim C.,

    This concept seems to me to have broad application since it is usually true that:

    1) [Fill in the Blank] aren’t very good at communicating with people outside the confines of their subculture; and

    2) the press tends not to understand [See #1 Fill in the Blank], and therefore not do a very good job of reporting on it.
    These two things are mutually reinforcing.”

    “Entertainment” may be an exception and “Business” may cause the greatest abuses.

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