Journalists Just Don’t Get It

The “God thing,” that is.

That’s the premise of a new book of essays titled Blind Spot: When Journalists Just Don’t Get Religion.

In a Wall Street Journal review of the book, Vincent Carroll provides a recent example of the ignorance the book addresses.

“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,” writes Carroll, who is editorial-page editor of the Rocky Mountain News. “‘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.’”

Another example, cited in an essay in the book by Jeremy Lott, was the panicked hype generated by the release of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ in 2004.

Many journalists “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,” Carroll recalls. “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.’”

Carroll’s review also discusses the flawed coverage of the death of Pope John Paul II — falsely portrayed in journalistic obituaries as a harsh, authoritarian “conservative” — and of his successor Pope Benedict XVI.

“The same conservative template was immediately imposed on Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger when he became Pope Benedict XVI,” Carroll notes. “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.”

Carroll concludes his review by noting that “God refuses to retire, not only in this country but in most of the rest of the world,” even though many journalists have concluded that modernity demands secularism.

Writes Carroll, “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.”

— Tom McFeely