Thursday, June 29, 2006

More on religious cluelessness in the Press 
Here's a couple of passages from Father Richard John Neuhaus in First Things: the Journal of Religion, Culture and Public Life:

An eager young thing with a national paper was interviewing me about yet another instance of political corruption. “Is this something new?” she asked. “No,” I said, “it’s been around ever since that unfortunate afternoon in the garden.” There was a long pause and then she asked, “What garden was that?” It was touching.

"uneducated," indeed. And this is from a national.

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?”

Actually, I believe historically, they practice what is known as "telecommunion."

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.

Touching, indeed. Our national media is sending innocent kids out to write serious stories on religion when the only thing their fund of information equips them to write is stories along the lines of "So what's the deal with the Pope's funny hat?"

And even then they'd need a backgrounder.

You gonna cover the fish? I don't think it's unreasonable to expect reporters to learn to swim.

Obviously, you're going to have glitches and mistakes here and there. But when journalism pros make excuses for their ignorance - when they wave away atrocious reporting on a rally as if the bad reporting is somehow the fault of the participants - and when editors and reporters, collectively, are not only utterly clueless about religious communities, but are in abject denial about how ill-informed they are (when somehow a liberal education and four year degree didn't imbue one national reporter with the cultural knowledge to comprehend a reference to the Garden of Eden), then there aren't going to be any meaningful improvements made.

The republic is not well-served by lousy quality control such as this. And it is not well-served by the cultural inbreeding that dominates our newsrooms, and makes Pauline Kael syndrome possible.

For those not in the know, Pauline Kael was a longtime film critic in New York. When Nixon slaughtered McGovern in the most lopsided, decisive election in living memory in 1972, Kael, touchingly, said "How can this be? I don't know a single person who voted for him!"

The fact that such an inbred, monolithic, homogenous culture is even possible in a national news organization ought to be a mark of shame for the big-city journalist community. It should have been corrected long ago.

You'd still have the occasional munchkin asking "What garden was that?" But the errors would be a lot less likely to see print.

Assault ministry, indeed.

More here, and a modest proposal:

I propose, for starters, that from now on editors assign religion stories only to reporters who know religion just as well as their publication's political reporters know politics and their sports reporters know sports.

Sounds reasonable to me.

But wait! Plukasiak thinks it's not a journalist's responsibility to "take special steps" in order learn the language and terminology of his beat!

I guess we're going to have to have a good purging of the ranks before we're intellectually equipped to take that little measure.

I'm not mocking simple inexperience, vemrion. And notice I'm not naming names - the experts rolling their eyes at the doe-eyed dorks calling them up from the nation's newsrooms are mercifully keeping the names of the reporters involved to themselves.

Rather, I'm mocking the willful embrace of ignorance and inexperience - which is itself rooted in the atrocious cultural skewing evident in newsroom demographics.

Splash, out


One of the biggest fallacies that saves the press time and again is the stubborn conviction that in areas where you are not an expert, they can't be as bad as the area where you are an expert and can tell exactly how bad that they are.

Yes they are that bad. No it's not just in your field of expertise.
You'd think, for the sake of being "multicultural", they would seek to know and understand those different than themselves.... But who am I kidding?
Ignorant. Arrogant. And proud of both -- the mark of the Bigot.
"And the quarterback steps up to the plate and punts a three point touchdown over the left field backboard!"
Every time I read something in the paper that's appallingly ignorant on subjects I do know something about... I wonder how I can trust the articles on subjects I don't know much about.
I wish I could say that the problem you are referring to is just a problem with religion, or for that matter just with journalists.

I've seen this same problem with the salesforce for a company I used to work for. The head of the divion was so pumped about getting the salesforce out to the customer, that the salepersons were never educated into the products or the terminology required for the marketplace. This resulted in some mighty puzzled questions and answers, lack of confidence by the customer and eventually the demise of the division.

But those stories about the guys in the "colorful costumes and pointy hats" always make your eyes roll.
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