On one level, Peggy Noonan's column this morning in The Wall Street Journal is not about religion news coverage. In fact, it isn't about religion, at least not directly. It's about politics. Her thesis is that modern Americans expect their politicians to be living, breathing reference-system computers, able to respond with grace and accuracy on a mind-zapping array of issues. It's an impossible task.
That's what the column is about.
But here is what hit me, as I read one of those Noonan-esque blitzes of words, issues and images -- what percentage of the issues that haunt our non-naked public square are rooted, to one degree or another, in issues of religion, morality and culture? Check them off as you read the following from Noonan's column:
We are asking our politicians, our senators and congressmen, to make judgments, decisions and policy on: stem cell research, SDI, Nato composition, G-8 agreements, the history and state of play of judicial and legislative actions regarding press freedoms, the history of Sunni-Shiites tensions, Kurds, tax rates, federal spending, hurricane prediction and response, the building of a library annex in Missoula, the most recent thinking on when human life begins, including the thinking of the theologians of antiquity on when the soul enters the body, chemical weaponry, the Supreme Court, U.S.-North Korean relations, bioethics, cloning, public college curriculums, India-Pakistan relations, the enduring Muslim-Hindu conflict, the constitutional implications of McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform, Homeland security, Securities and Exchange Commission authority, energy policy, environmental policy, nuclear proliferation, global warming, the stability of Venezuela's Chavez regime and its implications for U.S. oil prices, the future of Cuba after Castro, progress in gender bias as suggested by comparisons of the number of girls who pursued college-track studies in American public high schools circa 1950 to those on a college-track today, outsourcing, immigration, the comparative efficacy of charter and magnet schools, land use, Kelo, health care, HMO's, what to do with victims of child abuse, the history of marriage, the nature and origin of homosexuality, V-chips, foreign competition in the making of computer chips, fat levels in potato chips, national policy on the humanities, U.N. reform, and privacy law.
And that was just this week.
I would note that Noonan has left out many other moral and cultural issues that dominate American life and center on mass media and popular culture -- issues that frame, define and, at times, drown out our political discussions. But that's another issue, for another time.
If politicians struggle to stay up to date on all of these issues, so do the journalists who cover them. This is one reason that GetReligion is, well, almost asking modern journalists to do the impossible when it comes to spotting and defining all of the various religious ghosts that haunt public life. How can anyone cover all of this?
Well, this is why we have -- to quote Martin Marty again -- moved past the age of the solo religion writer.
Don't get me wrong, having a trained, experienced, talented religion writer is very important. But, today, the whole newsroom needs a plan of action for handling religion news. Religion is a factor in many, many news beats. And, yes, newsrooms need to think of this as a diversity issue. The issues are diverse. Newsrooms need to respond to that reality.
End of sermon. Peggy, thanks for the summary.
P.S. Here is my all-time favorite Noonan blitz of information and images, drawn from her classic column about the "Culture of Death," written immediately after the Columbine High School massacre.
Your child is an intelligent little fish. He swims in deep water. Waves of sound and sight, of thought and fact, come invisibly through that water, like radar; they go through him again and again, from this direction and that. The sound from the television is a wave, and the sound from the radio; the headlines on the newsstand, on the magazines, on the ad on the bus as it whizzes by -- all are waves. The fish -- your child--is bombarded and barely knows it. But the waves contain words like this, which I'll limit to only one source, the news:
. . . was found strangled and is believed to have been sexually molested . . . had her breast implants removed . . . took the stand to say the killer was smiling the day the show aired . . . said the procedure is, in fact, legal infanticide . . . is thought to be connected to earlier sexual activity among teens . . . court battle over who owns the frozen sperm . . . contains songs that call for dominating and even imprisoning women . . . died of lethal injection . . . had threatened to kill her children . . . said that he turned and said, "You better put some ice on that" . . . had asked Kevorkian for help in killing himself . . . protested the game, which they said has gone beyond violence to sadism . . . showed no remorse . . . which is about a wager over whether he could sleep with another student . . . which is about her attempts to balance three lovers and a watchful fiance . . .
This is the ocean in which our children swim. This is the sound of our culture.