M.Z. Hemingway unloads on news coverage of 'religious liberty,' while tmatt debates one detail

What we have here, gentle readers, is a take-no-prisoner headline, care of GetReligion emeritus M. Z. Hemingway at The Federalist.

You were expecting someone else?

Dumb, Uneducated, And Eager To Deceive: Media Coverage Of Religious Liberty In A Nutshell

Oh my, and if that isn't enough, there is this rather blunt -- some would say "brutal" -- subtitle to finish the job:

Most Reporters Are Simply Too Ignorant To Handle The Job

Now, if you have not read this long and very detailed piece yet, then head right over there and do so. But as you read it I want you to look for the one very important point in this article with which I want to voice my disagreement. No. It's not the George Orwell quote. That one was on the target, methinks.

Read it? Now, let's proceed.

Here is now the piece opens. Read this part carefully, because we will come back to it in a moment.

In the aftermath of the abominable media coverage of Arizona’s religious liberty bill, an editor shared his hypothesis that journalists care about freedom of speech and of the press because they practice them. And journalists don’t care about freedom of religion because they don’t.
But one of the most interesting things about modern media’s deep hostility toward the religious, their religions, and religious liberty in general is that press freedom in America is rooted in religion.

Hold that thought. Here is the other passage that I want to make sure you see before I move on. This takes place in a detailed discussion of how the frame-game works in media bias, in part linked to -- yes -- "scare quotes." One of the stages is simply called "Opposition."

Note the key point in “Opposition,” which is that the media adopt the labels of one side in a dispute. This couldn’t be more common, which explains why “religious liberty” gets scare quoted but “same-sex marriage” does not. In most cases, the media only scare quote those things they think are highly debatable or untrue. So even though religious liberty is fairly well ensconced in the Constitution and in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and what not, it gets scare quotes. “Abortion rights,” which opponents believe is an oxymoron since no one actually has the right to take the life of another, even if the Supreme Court of the United States say otherwise? Well, missy, that’s settled law. And if you’re confused about it, you can ask the Susan G. Komen Foundation what we in the media do to people who don’t toe the line. We destroy them ... for fun.

Mollie's point is precisely the same as that made by the late David Shaw, the great (and pro-abortion rights) media critic for The Los Angeles Times. This massive piece in that newspaper -- try to imagine it being written today -- is a must bookmark for every writer who cares about the classic American model of the press.

And then, for an update:

For a particularly crafty look, here’s CNN redefining religious liberty not as “religious liberty” but as the “‘freedom’ to discriminate.” Brilliant. Even if, you know, terrifying and Orwellian. And I do mean Orwellian. Here he is on the matter:
At any given moment, there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas, which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that, or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it . . . [And] anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, whether in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.

Now, where do I disagree? Simply stated, I do not believe in the "modern media’s deep hostility toward the religious, their religions and religious liberty in general."

You see, there are religious people and religious groups that modern journalists absolutely love. Those tend to be groups whose moral theology fits naturally with Woodstock and the editorial pages of The New York Times.

Visit the typical newsroom and you will find some people who worship on any given weekend. However, paging James Davison Hunter, they are highly likely to be in "progressive" flocks, as opposed to the "orthodox." Click here to see how Hunter defined those terms.

Now, I know very few journalists who oppose religion. It's certain religious beliefs and practices that make their palms sweat. That's the thesis at the heart the book that I wrote about back in 2001, pre-GetReligion, when addressing this very topic. My headline: "The Gray Lady's gospel crusade."

The best way to explain my position, which later ended up being discussed in Jay Rosen's classic PressThink essay, "Journalism Is Itself A Religion," is to run the whole thing.

So here goes:

Dr. Warren Hern had "just finished performing an abortion for the last patient of the morning" when he heard that James Kopp had been arrested in France for the 1998 murder of a Buffalo, N.Y., abortionist.
Readers of the New York Times learned this symbolic detail in an op-ed piece entitled "Free Speech that Threatens My Life" in which Hern attacked the fiercest critics of his late-term abortion practice in Boulder, Colo. His column followed an editorial restating the paper's unwavering support for abortion rights, which underscored a page-one story about the arrest.
This three-punch combination several weeks ago indicated that the Times wanted newsmakers and opinion shapers to realize that this was more than an abortion story. This was a parable about the meaning of life and truth. An earlier profile of the anti-abortion extremist in the newspaper's Sunday magazine made that absolutely clear.
"The question of Kopp's innocence or guilt is finally less absorbing than the consequences of his search for a higher good, sure and unchanging, to sustain him in a fallen world," concluded David Samuels. "It is a shared if unspoken premise of the world that most of us inhabit that absolutes do not exist and that people who claim to have found them are crazy."
So take that, Pope John Paul II. And you too, Billy Graham.
This remarkable credo was more than a statement of one journalist's convictions, said William Proctor, a Harvard Law School graduate and former legal affairs reporter for the New York Daily News. Surely, the "world that most of us inhabit" cited by Samuels is, in fact, the culture of the New York Times and the faithful who draw inspiration from its sacred pages.
"It is rare to see a journalist openly state what so many people at the Times seem to think," said Proctor, whose book "The Gospel According to the New York Times" analyzes themes in more than 6,000 articles from the past 25 years. "But it's true. They really are convinced that the millions of people out in Middle America who believe that some things are absolutely true and some things are absolutely false are crazy and probably dangerous, to boot."
Proctor, meanwhile, is absolutely convinced that this affects the newspaper's work on moral and theological issues, ranging from abortion to education, from the rights of unpopular religious minorities to efforts to redefine controversial terms such as "marriage" and "family."

And now, the crucial issue:

But critics are wrong if they claim that the New York Times is a bastion of secularism, he stressed. In its own way, the newspaper is crusading to reform society and even to convert wayward "fundamentalists." Thus, when listing the "deadly sins" that are opposed by the Times, he deliberately did not claim that it rejects religious faith. Instead, he said the world's most influential newspaper condemns "the sin of religious certainty."
"Yet here's the irony of it all. The agenda the Times advocates is based on a set of absolute truths," said Proctor. Its leaders are "absolutely sure that the religious groups they consider intolerant and judgmental are absolutely wrong, especially traditional Roman Catholics, evangelicals and most Orthodox Jews. And they are just as convinced that the religious groups that they consider tolerant and progressive are absolutely right."
Naturally, believers in the flocks that are ignored or attacked tend to get mad and many try to ignore the Times. This is understandable, said Proctor, but precisely the opposite of what they should do. He urges the newspaper's critics to pay even closer attention to what it reports, while contrasting its coverage with a variety of other wire services and publications – across the political and cultural spectrum.
Trying to avoid the New York Times is like fighting gravity, said Proctor. It is the high church, the magisterium, for the artists, journalists and thinkers that shape popular culture.
"If people tune all that out," he said, " how are they going to know how to defend their own beliefs? People need information and they need discernment. The first part of that statement is just as important as the second part. ... What are you going to do, try to pretend that news and information don't matter?"

Some religion, you see, is good and worthy of protection.

Some religion, however, is bad. As MZ demonstrates, it's pretty easy these days to figure out who most elite mainstream journalists (but not all) think belongs in which camp. Is it possible to treat believers on both sides of these debates with respect, while quoting their beliefs accurately?

Again and again, we say "yes." The question is who is still trying to do so. Right, Bill Keller?



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