Two minor media incidents yesterday made me wonder if some of the problems we see with how religion news is covered relates simply to language differences. The first came about in a panel discussion about whether Hurricane Sandy had any political implications. (By the way, see if you can find any ghosts in this New York Times video "Lights Out In Rockaway" about the rough situation those in Queens continue to face a week after the storm hit. The folks in the video say that FEMA and the Red Cross have been AWOL, but I noticed that some relief workers had shirts indicating they were part of religious relief efforts.) Anyway, on Meet The Press, "Today" show host Savannah Guthrie was speculating that the hurricane would help President Obama reach out to independent voters as opposed to the base voters he'd previously targeted:
“This is a campaign built to turn out the base of the party. And here was a moment, handed to him seemingly from above, where he could look like that strong, independent, steady in a storm, very appealing to the middle-of-the-road voters. And I might add to unmarried women voters who are going to be very key in this election.”
See? Secular reporters talk about theodicy, too! They just talk about it a little differently. Sandy killed 110 people, left millions without power, destroyed homes and untold property. But God (or, er, something "from above") can bring good things out of it, too ... such as help to President Obama's re-election campaign. It does make me wonder if or how Guthrie covered the Senate candidate's comments suggesting that even those lives conceived in rape are valuable to God.
Anyway, the other minor incident I came across was the powerful BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith's remarks when he linked to a perfectly typical BuzzFeed article (They tend to hype everything for maximum page views. It works. And yes, the headline is a joke about their style.) about religious outreach by the Romney campaign. The relevant portion for our purposes:
Reed emphasized that it was the religious duty of Christians to cast their ballots, saying the "Bible clearly teaches" that there is an obligation to take part in their government.
“We believe being registered to vote, being educated, and going to the polls is part of our witness as believers, because we are dual citizens," Reed said, referring to the "Kingdom of Heaven" and the United States.
Ben Smith tweeted out a link with the line:
Hard to imagine a rabbi or imam telling his flock, as Ralph Reed does here, that they are "dual citizens"
Well, as you can imagine, his 112,699 followers had a bit of fun with it. For instance:
@BrentSirota: It's Philippians 3:20. Why would a rabbi or imam make reference to that?
Smith retweeted some of the responses he got and further explained:
I guess it struck me in the context of the frequent accusations that Jews have dual loyalties. Not the concept, just the phrase.
And that led to more interaction:
@JayCostTWS: Read Augustine's City of God.
It is a great suggestion that reporters read City of God if they want to understand this concept. But Smith surprised me by responding:
Went to a hs called Trinity and read City of God in college. No excuse at all :(
I know it's what we should all do, but it's nice to see a journalist who is not defensive and takes correction and admits error.
It's also interesting that one could have some familiarity with these concepts and still forget them while on the politics beat. Just a good reminder for us all that our own obsessions and frameworks might not be universally shared.