Now this is interesting. What we have here is the first positive review of "Blind Spot: When Journalists Don't Get Religion" that grasps the mission of the book, yet rejects our -- or to be specific, my -- proposal to address the problem. To cut to the chase, Herb Denenberg's review in The Bulletin (Philadelphia's Family Newspaper) argues that reporters in the mainstream media are so blind, dumb and biased that it is time -- you guessed it -- to kill off the idealistic concept of an "American model of the press" and move on to alternative, niche publications.
That is sooooooo not the point of the book.
But before I get to that, let's note one section of the review that does get the big picture and then I can show how that is linked to the larger issue. At this point, Denenberg is dealing with religious-liberty scholar Paul Marshall's references to media ignorance of the religious content of debates in the Middle East:
... (Some) tend to think that the objectives of al Qaida and other terrorist organizations are limited and easily satisfied by negotiation and diplomacy. But this flies in the face of the expansive objectives of the terrorists. Mr. Marshall writes, "The al Qaeda network has consistently explained and justified its actions with a narrative centered on the fall and anticipated rise of the caliphate, the restoration of shari'a (Muslim law), and the inevitable conflict between true Muslim believers and apostates and infidels destined to last until the day of judgment.
"Many journalists have, however, tended to ignore this fundamental religious dimension and instead concentrated on those terrorist statements that might fit into secular Western preconceptions about oppression, economics, freedom, and progress. One small but telling example is The New York Times reference to one Iraqi insurgent: the paper reported, 'the man's long speech is addressed to President Bush, who is called a dog at one point' In fact, the man called Bush a 'Christian dog,' a much more illuminating phrase. The religious dimension was obscured."
The media also give the impression that al Qaeda and the terrorists are after only the Christians and the Jews. Mr. Marshall shows otherwise, quoting from Osama bin Laden's "Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places."
So what are offended religious leaders, concerned journalists and consumers -- especially hardcore news junkies -- supposed to do about this bad situation?
First of all, I would argue that it is crucial to salute and praise the good journalism on this beat and there is a lot of it out there. As I always say, journalism will be improved more by people who love it than by people who hate it.
But I digress. This is where Denenberg's review calls me out, by name:
One of the authors of the book, Terry Mattingly, a nationally syndicated religion columnist for Scripps Howard News Service, writes, that editors need not hire more reporters who are religious believers, but they need to hire more journalists "who take religion seriously." I'd go much further than that solution.
The mainstream media is so overloaded with anti-religious bias (among many other kinds of bias) that it is not subject to an easy fix. From my perspective, our hope is to rely more on the alternative media and support it. Mainstream media outlets such as The New York Times, NBC, MSNBC, NPR, etc. are almost beyond repair. They are only good for boycotting, starting now.
Go to www.boycott.nyt.com, sign the boycott petition, and then cancel your subscription to The New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other mainstream media outlets that seem to be on the side of genocide and terrorism.
Now wait a minute. Who said anything about "an easy fix"? In fact, who said any thing about a "fix" of any kind?
For starters, I am not sure that this is the right goal. I agree with those be believe that the "American model of the press" -- built on standards of accuracy, fairness and balance -- is a bar that is very hard to reach in, to wax theological for a moment, this glorious yet fallen creation in which we live. But should this idealistic goal, these standards, be abandoned for a world of tiny, under-resourced, niche publications that only preach to the true believers in their choirs?
I think not. That is certainly not the message that the editors and authors hope readers get from our book. "Blind Spot" is pro-journalism, from the first page to the last. Check it out.