There are several obvious things that need to be said about the rather brave opinion piece that Sarah Pulliam Bailey -- yes a former GetReligionista -- has published at The Washington Post, where she works as a full-time religion-beat professional.
First, things first: About that headline, which proclaims, "Evangelicals, your attacks on ‘the media’ are getting dangerous." Why address this open letter to evangelicals?
During my years in the Washington, D.C., area I had to look like crazy to find traditional religious believers of any stripe who still subscribed to the major newspapers in Beltway-land. For those who did, talking about the tone-deaf or biased coverage of moral and social issues produced in those newsrooms was something they let me hear about on a regular basis. Hearing D.C.-area people talk about media bias (on moral and social issues more than on politics alone) helped inspire the creation of the weblog.
So why focus on evangelical anger at mainstream news, in a year in which Gallup numbers show that distrust of the journalism establishment is at an all-time high among Americans, period?
Yes, the anger and even hate is real. I know that because of my quarter of a century of work in Christian higher education, primarily teaching journalism and mass-media studies to young evangelicals. Way too many conservative evangelicals have written off journalism -- period. That's really bad theology if one believes that all of God's creation (even journalism) is both glorious and fallen. Meanwhile, many progressive evangelicals (often in higher education) view journalism as a shallow, anti-intellectual, merely "professional" trade that is not worthy of serious attention. Both stances are deadly, if the goal is educating young people to work in the mainstream press, perhaps providing some intellectual diversity there in the process.
Still, Bailey addresses her letter to people in her own culture, which is mainstream evangelicalism. Let's look at this a bit, and then open the comments pages for dialogue. Here is the overture:
You tease about the mainstream media being “Satan’s newspaper.” When I tell you I’m a journalist, I hear your cynicism.
Listen, I was raised in an evangelical home. I know the media is supposed to be the butt of many jokes and the source of many of our problems.
For many conservatives, the phrase “fake news” is now being used to describe “liberal bias,” but fake news has real consequences. A man who was investigating a conspiracy theory about a secret child sex ring showed up at a Washington pizza place on Sunday with a rifle and fired at least one shot. Gunman Edgar Welch says he has been influenced by the book “Wild at Heart,” by John Eldredge about faith and masculinity, a popular one for some evangelicals.
The jokes aren’t funny anymore. We are living in a post-truth time of fake news and misinformation, something that should be deeply troubling to people of faith who claim to seek truth in their everyday lives.
I was raised in both a religious home and a newspaper home. My parents would pull out books for Bible study in the morning and plop them next to the local newspaper. The Bible and newspaper went together like cereal and milk. I grew up believing journalism was a noble profession because the best journalism is based on the relentless pursuit of truth.
Your quick dismissal of the entire “mainstream media” feels deeply inaccurate to me as a Christian and a journalist — at least the kind of Christianity I was raised on, where the newspaper informed how we understood the world. The act of doing journalism is a way to live out my faith, a way to search for and then reveal truth in the world around me.
I sympathize with some frustrations you have, including a lack of ideological diversity within some media outlets. Some reporters have unfortunately stepped into more advocacy-oriented journalism and we’ve seen a blurring of opinion with reporting. And yes, sometimes editors must issue corrections. But it does not make sense to replace unwise mainstream media outlets you believe you can’t trust with websites and other sources that lack any accountability.
Gallup recently reported that “trust and confidence” in media have fallen to record lows. “News has become akin to religion; it’s accepted or rejected as a matter of faith, depending on the source,” Robert Samuelson, a right-of-center columnist, recently wrote for The Washington Post.
When you are done, let me note a few things you should avoid when leaving us some comments.
First of all, you know that -- as a reporter at the Post -- Bailey is not in a position to criticize her own newsroom. Yes, if you subscribe to the Post and/or receive its daily online "push" products (in which advocacy and opinion pieces now make up about 50 percent or more of the recommended content), then you probably have strong opinions on this front. There's no need to take shots at Bailey because of these trends.
Also, it isn't surprising that her piece does not address the recent chatter at The New York Times, even in print for all to see, over its struggles to do basic journalism on religious, moral and cultural issues in the public square. Oh, and let's include the paper's amazing lack of effort in exploring the (in many cases) valid concerns of millions of working-class Democrats and other people who supported or merely voted for Donald Trump (even if that wasn't their first option for what they wanted to do on Election Day).
There is no way that Bailey could dig into the roots of "Kellerism," since Post leaders are basically supposed to act as if the Times doesn't exist. So leave that angle alone, as well.
But read it all. Then let us know what you think, in a constructive manner -- please.