Would it be newsworthy if a U.S. Senator claimed in a public address that American taxpayer dollars are being used in a war against Christian believers in -- to pick one key region -- the Holy Land? Apparently not, since Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) made that claim yesterday at the Faith and Freedom Conference and the media has all but ignored it. As James Hohmann of Politico reports:
“There is a war on Christianity, not just from liberal elites here at home, but worldwide,” he said. “And your government, or more correctly, you, the taxpayer, are funding it.”
Why the silence?
Imagine if a senator -- a potential candidate for president, in fact -- had claimed we were funding a war on Islam, or Hinduism, or Judaism. Would that not be a front-page story? Why then the difference when it comes to Christianity?
Part of the reason, I suspect, is because few journalists understood what Sen. Paul is even talking about. The socially conservative Christians at the conference knew what he meant, but that is because they read alternative media sources. Religious media outlets mention persecution of Christians around the globe nearly every week, though such stories rarely find their way into mainstream news stories. Even when, earlier this month, the Vatican claimed that 100,000 Christians are killed annually because of their faith, no major media seemed interested enough to do a follow-up on the assertion.
Perhaps some journalists thought that by reporting on Sen. Paul’s statement they would be required to explain the context. But they needn’t have worried about that. Here, for example, is the entire mention by the Associated Press in their 900+ word article titled, “GOP leader says 'a war on Christianity' is funded by taxpayers”:
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul told the group that there is a "war on Christianity, not just from liberal elites here at home, but worldwide." He argued that American should not send foreign aid to countries across the Middle East that persecute Christians.
Am I missing something? Is Sen. Paul’s statement so uncontroversial that it’s not really newsworthy? Is the “war on Christianity” such a well-understood phenomenon that it doesn’t need elaboration?
In politics we often hear about “dog whistles” and “code words” -- political messaging that uses language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has a different or more specific resonance for a targeted subgroup. Most of the time the claims about code words are products of some opposing pundit’s imagination. In this case, though, Paul really is using dog whistle language to a convey a message.
Those who only read mainstream media will not be able to understand since they likely never hear about the global "war on Christianity," even when the topic is discussed in major government reports, in Vatican statements and in documents from human rights groups.