Here's a safe prediction for 2014: Look for another year with tough culture wars cases -- whether from courthouses in Utah or your local Christian university or parachurch ministry -- rolling toward the church-state crossroads at the U.S. Supreme Court.
If that's the case, journalists will continue to face a numbing barrage of stories in which they will be challenged to accurately and fairly report the views of activists on both the religious left and Religious Right.
With that in mind, consider this interesting Quora.com comment by elite columnist Nicholas Kristof, in response to this question: "What is the culture like at The New York Times?"
Things start rather slowly, before candor strikes:
There isn't really a simple answer to this question, because the culture of the Times varies by section and even time of day. In my part of the building, where the opinion columnists have their offices, it tends to be a bit more relaxed, even sleepy, while the metro desk at deadline on a big story will be frenetic and full of electricity. When I started at The Times in 1984, it was mostly male, and we wore jacket and ties; there was plenty of smoking and drinking. These days, the dress code is much more casual, and somewhat more earnest; not a lot of whiskey bottles hidden around today. There are also lots of women, which means there's less of a locker room atmosphere. ...
But what about the word "culture" as in, well, you know what?
People sometimes ask if everybody is liberal politically, but I'd say that journalists define themselves less by where they are on the political spectrum and more as skeptics providing oversight to whoever is in power.
Classic answer. How many Americans still accept that, when looking Times coverage of, well, you know, certain issues?
I would say, though, that while there is a range of ideology from liberal to conservative on political and fiscal issues, on social issues most journalists (everywhere,not just at The Times) tend to have an urban bias: They are more likely to be for gun control and gay marriage than the general public, and much more likely to believe in evolution. They are also less likely to have served in the military or to have working class backgrounds.
That's more like it. Now, what is the religious, the doctrinal content (even strictly secular beliefs have doctrinal implications) of an "urban bias"? Is that essentially saying that elite urbanites find it easier to embrace doctrinally liberal forms of religion, as opposed to those who believe in transcendent, eternal doctrines?
... Critics are wrong if they claim that the New York Times is a bastion of secularism, he stressed. In its own way, the newspaper is crusading to reform society and even to convert wayward “fundamentalists.” Thus, when listing the “deadly sins” that are opposed by the Times, he deliberately did not claim that it rejects religious faith. Instead, he said the world’s most influential newspaper condemns “the sin of religious certainty.”
“Yet here’s the irony of it all. The agenda the Times advocates is based on a set of absolute truths,” said Proctor. Its leaders are “absolutely sure that the religious groups they consider intolerant and judgmental are absolutely wrong, especially traditional Roman Catholics, evangelicals and most Orthodox Jews. And they are just as convinced that the religious groups that they consider tolerant and progressive are absolutely right.”
Is that statement compatible with Kristof's view of his newsroom's culture?
And (you knew this was coming), is it compatible with the views of former Times editor Bill Keller, expressed in those remarkable public remarks days after left the editor's desk?
“We’re liberal in the sense that ... liberal arts schools are liberal,” Keller noted, during a recent dialogue recorded at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum. “We’re an urban newspaper. ...
Keller continued: “We are liberal in the sense that we are open-minded, sort of tolerant, urban. Our wedding page includes -- and did even before New York had a gay marriage law -- included gay unions. So we’re liberal in that sense of the word, I guess. Socially liberal.”
Asked directly if the Times slants its coverage to favor “Democrats and liberals,” he added: “Aside from the liberal values, sort of social values thing that I talked about, no, I don’t think that it does.”
So, once again, how does this elite, urban, cultural bias -- it seems to be universally acknowledged in discussions of the The Times these days -- affect coverage of religious/moral issues such as, well, sex, salvation, marriage, abortion, religious liberty, health-care mandates, euthanasia, gay rights, cloning and a few other "cultural" news stories?
Just asking. Again. Have a nice year.