Time magazine didn’t mind ruffling feathers in religious America with a cover this summer that asked “Is Hell Dead?” Never mind that America is overwhelmingly Christian. Then Time found only one letter worth plucking out to feature in large, bold type from a man in Dallas: “Hell is easy to define. It would be spending eternity with evangelicals.”
That sums up the secular, liberal media attitude toward America’s Christian majority, and it explains why they find Republicans so objectionable when they make their religious faith part of their campaign for the presidency. Matthew Philbin and Erin Brown of the Media Research Center’s Culture and Media Institute have written a new report called “Baptism By Fire” that analyzes coverage of the presidential candidates and their religious faith. Does it surprise anyone that they found a huge difference in coverage of Republicans and Democrats?
In the first ten months of 2011, network morning and evening news stories mentioned the religious faith of GOP presidential challengers more than seven times as often (143 stories to 19 stories) than they had for Democratic challengers in the first ten months of 2007. They’ve been 13 times more likely to be critical of the Republicans’ religious beliefs than they were of Democrats just four years ago.
Did I mention Rev. Jeremiah Wright? In the first ten months of 2007, there were just six instances where stories challenged or negatively highlighted the faith of liberal White House hopefuls. The networks almost entirely avoided questions about Barack Obama’s upbringing in a Muslim country and his two decades of attendance of a radical Chicago church. Likewise, audiences were reassured that Hillary Clinton’s faith was important — but only as it saw her through her husband’s reckless infidelities. Primary candidates Joe Biden and Chris Dodd were never asked about their fervent voting record in favor of abortion — even partial-birth abortion — in full opposition to their Catholic faith.
But with Republicans, to listen to these reporters is to believe there was something frightening just below the surface of their statements of faith. NBCs Michael Isikoff exemplified this in July: “In a recent fundraising letter, presidential candidate Michele Bachmann touted her role helping to run a family counseling center. But a secret videotape, which raises questions about how the center treats patients who might be gay, is creating new controversy for Bachmann.”
Four years ago, the Democrats were so pro-gay that they all agreed to a debate on the gay-oriented cable channel Logo. That wasn’t a “controversy.” It’s only “controversial” when you oppose it.
Like Bachmann, Rick Perry has been punished for expressing his religion on the campaign trail. The networks were critical of his religious views in 63 percent of their mentions of faith. Shortly before announcing his candidacy for president, Perry held a rally in Houston called “The Response.” The networks put graphics on the screen asking “Is Perry Going Too Far?” Reporters like ABCs Aaron Katersky insisted “Perry’s open mix of faith and politics risks alienating even some Christian voters.”
Our media’s statement of faith begins with the bedrock belief that orthodox Christianity is both proof of rigid extremism and a serious threat to the First Amendment, never mind that the amendment explicitly protects the freedom to worship.
ABCs Katersky placed Perry and his supporters on the radical right. “The sponsor of Perry’s rally, the American Family Association, opposes homosexuality, women’s rights and religious diversity.” He’s suggesting the AFA opposes women’s right to vote? ABC also brought on leftist “Reverend” Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State to warn the country about Perry. “My simple message to him is don’t mess with the Constitution.”
In October, reporters hovered around Rick Perry pressing him to disavow a supporter’s claim that Mormons weren’t Christians, which he had already done. The media hyped that Republicans would accept a Mormon in the White House. As Fox News pointed out at the time, a Quinnipiac poll found 68 percent of Republicans are comfortable with a Mormon president, as are 64 percent of independents. Democrats are the least tolerant, at 49 percent.
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reports more than 75 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians, and 93 percent say they believe in God. But the CMI report says, “too often network reporters covering religious conservatives sound as though they’re reporting back from an encounter with remote, primitive tribes.” Network reporters need to stop sounding like “foreign correspondents” when they cover people whose faiths they don’t understand. Liberal journalists pretend they’re open-minded, but their news coverage suggests they feel they don’t need to understand the religious right. They just need to defeat them.
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