Normally we look at mainstream media, but I came across an essay in my church body's monthly newspaper that is worth sharing. In The Reporter, veteran foreign correspondent and former religion editor at UPI (and my friend and fellow Lutheran) Uwe Siemon-Netto looks at how the mainstream media treat Christians and, conversely, atheists. He notes Christopher Hitchens' fawning reception by CNN's Lou Dobbs, among other examples. Before we look at Uwe's piece, however, let's look at Christopher Hitchens' account of his treatment at the hands of CNN. He mentions the Dobbs show as part of a rather rose-colored account of his tour -- in support of his new atheist tome -- for the September Vanity Fair:
May 3, New York City: To the Lou Dobbs show, on CNN -- Mr. Middle America at prime time. Mr. Dobbs displays a satirical paragraph from my book, about the number of virgin births that all religions have always claimed. He tells me off-air that he quit Sunday school as a very small boy, and that he's raised all his children without religion. He lets me bang on a lot. At the end, he refers to my new American citizenship, the oath of which I swore at the Jefferson Memorial on April 13 (Mr. Jefferson's birthday, and mine). I get to try out my latest slogan, echoing what Jefferson said about the "wall of separation" between church and state: "Mr. Jefferson -- build up that wall!" Mr. Dobbs leans over and, on-camera, pins an American flag to my lapel. Patriotism and secularism in the same breath, on middle-class TV. It can be done. As I leave, Dobbs says wryly that he'll now have to deal with all the e-mails. I promise him that they will be in his favor and ask to have them forwarded. The mailbag eventually breaks about 70-30 in support, though one woman does say that she'll never tune in to CNN again.
Siemon-Netto wonders why Christians have just resigned themselves to accept such a lack of journalistic decorum. Even though the vast, vast majority of Americans are Christians, the mainstream media routinely mock and cast aspersions on their most treasured beliefs, he says:
Here is my point: So haughty have the major media become in recent decades that the beliefs and sensitivities of the vast majority of their audience no longer matter to them. This applies to many areas of the human enterprise, but is especially true in questions of faith. . . .
A dozen years ago, Peter Steinfels, then the senior religion correspondent of The New York Times, pilloried the media's failings in covering religion properly in a forum organized by Commonweal, a Catholic magazine. He explained this deficit thus: "I'll assign responsibility symmetrically to three sorts of causes -- one-third to ideological hostility; one-third to ignorance, incompetence, and insufficient resources; one-third to the inherited definitions of news, and the inherent constraints of time and space."
Ideology, ignorance, and incompetence -- these three are constituent parts of arrogance, a human property Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once defined as a synonym for stupidity. Arrogance has become the mark of a crop of college-trained journalists that emerged in the mid-1960s. The Australian-born publisher Rupert Murdoch described them disdainfully as "self-important pundits out of touch with the public taste."
But unlike so many people who complain about the obvious bias, laziness and idiocy of much of the media, Siemon-Netto lays out a multipronged plan for his Lutheran audience. He suggests that the Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod use its extensive college system to train reporters and editors in the secular journalism trade. He asks donors to fund it and laypeople to support it:
This is precisely the point where confessional Lutherans are superbly equipped to help reverse a perilous development that before long will destroy freedom and democracy because both depend on a well-informed public. We have all the tools for such an undertaking at our disposal. We have the right doctrine by which journalism must be seen as a divine vocation for the secular "left-hand" kingdom if exercised unselfishly -- meaning without hubris -- out of love for one's neighbors, in this case readers and viewers. . . .
If you say you are sick of today's media, let's go ahead and make new journalists. If they turn out to be good, they'll find employment -- and help reverse a potentially calamitous trend in our society.
It's easy to criticize but much harder to solve the problem. Siemon-Netto's proposal for the LCMS is feasible because of our extensive school system and denominational ties. Any other ideas for a comprehensive solution to a media disdainful of religion?