We are glad that people are reading GetReligion -- especially working journalists. Obviously. It is also good that religious leaders click into the site from time to time, since we think that can help them understand some of the challenges that reporters and editors face. We also try to highlight the good as well as note some of the mistakes that take place on the Godbeat (or godsbeat). I had a priest tell me, back when we started, that it helps if church leaders know who the good reporters are when looking through all of those urgent telephone messages on a busy day.
One of the most media-savvy bishops I have ever covered is Archbishop Charles Chaput of the Catholic Archdiocese of Denver.
Actually, I met him when he was the Franciscan campus minister at the downtown branch of the University of Colorado (and several other schools), before he was raised to the episcopate in his late '30s. He has always been interested in mass media -- news and entertainment -- with a logical interest in youth culture. Chaput drew some attention when he discussed the film The Matrix, with its meditations on the confusion and unreality of modern life, in the context of the Columbine High School massacre.
Anyway, the archbishop's interest in journalism is frequently evident in in his newspaper columns and speeches. He is considered a pro-Rome conservative, but rare are the traditionalists who pay this much attention to trends in media and modern life. Many Catholic liberals detest him (think abortion politics), but he also makes a few conservatives nervous from time to time (think death penalty and economic issues). Catholic theology tends to shred labels.
All of this is to note that, in a new column in the Denver Catholic Register, the archbishop has praised GetReligion -- for reasons that both needle and praise mainstream journalists. Here is a sample:
Getreligion.org is one of my favorite Web sites, not because it's Catholic or pious -- it's neither -- but because it asks the right questions. ... The results aren't comforting. The evidence gathered by getreligion.org shows again and again that the press doesn't "get" religion as a story. Denver is unusual in having two major newspapers, both with capable religion coverage. But overall, major news organizations tend to cover religion poorly, predictably and too often with a negative undercurrent.
As we enter yet another election year, Catholics should remember that what we read in the newspapers, hear on the radio and see on television is often useful, but it's always a selective taste of reality. Deciding about a candidate based on the latest headlines, or about an issue based on the latest reported poll, is a recipe for trouble.
Journalists, of course, would want to debate with the archbishop about that phrase "predictably and too often" being used to describe negative coverage of religion news. That's a debate he would welcome and it would be a lively one.
When it comes to GetReligion, Chaput specifically wanted to praise Mark Stricherz for challenging mainstream journalists to dig into religious issues and debates among Democrats as well as Republicans. Click here and then here for the posts in question. As the archbishop notes, "obviously, plenty of very good people, including many religious believers, inhabit both political parties." Why not cover both stories?
Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards have all spoken quite publicly about their religious faith in recent months. Yet as Stricherz notes, the recent Iowa caucus poll supported by all four major TV networks, CNN and AP was framed in a way that presumed religion is a major factor for Republicans and not for Democrats. Maybe that's true; maybe it's not -- but we won't ever know from the poll results, because the right questions weren't asked.
Amen. So check out the archbishop's column. And we thank him for being a reader and recommending GetReligion to others. Perhaps he should bring this subject up the next time he meets with local editors and television producers?