In a couple of recent posts (here and here), we highlighted holy ghosts in media coverage of Walter Scott's police shooting death in South Carolina.
As we pointed out, the faith of Scott's parents was impossible to miss in major network interviews, even as those asking the questions seemed intent on ignoring the religion angle.
Host Todd Wilken and I discussed the coverage in this week's episode of "Crossroads," the GetReligion podcast. Click here to tune in.
During that discussion, I mentioned a comment that tmatt made on one of my previous posts. Tmatt pointed to a classic quote from Peter Jennings, the late ABC anchor, about the media's blind spot in such cases. The setting was a 1993 conference on religion and the news at Columbia University in New York.
The anchorman tried to blend in, but a circle formed around him during a break. It was easy to explain why he was there, he said. There is a chasm of faith between most journalists and the people they cover day after day. Six months later, I called him and asked to continue to conversation.
Anyone who has watched television, said Jennings, has seen camera crews descend after disasters. Inevitably, a reporter confronts a survivor and asks: "How did you get through this terrible experience?" As often as not, a survivor replies: "I don't know. I just prayed. Without God's help, I don't think I could have made it."
What follows, explained Jennings, is an awkward silence. "Then reporters ask another question that, even if they don't come right out and say it, goes something like this: 'Now that's very nice. But what REALLY got you through this?' "
For most viewers, he said, that tense pause symbolizes the gap between journalists and, statistically speaking, most Americans. This is not a gap that is in the interest of journalists who worry – with good cause – about the future of the news.