Journalism tip: How to tell when the Washington Post Style goddesses approve of someone


Trust me on this: If you did an afternoon talk-radio show in red zip-code land about religion news, during each and every show someone would call in and ask the same question.

Here it is, in its most blunt and simplistic form: Why do so many journalists hate religious people?

I hear it all the time, because many GetReligion readers seem convinced that your GetReligionistas think that journalists hate religion and/or religious people. That's just wrong, friends and neighbors. At the very least, it's simplistic to the point of being utter nonsense.

But since I have been answering that question for a long time, let's talk about that subject -- since that was the issue looming in the background during this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in).

First of all, many journalists are way too apathetic about all things religious to work up a hot batch of hate. You know the old saying, the opposite of love is not hate, it's apathy.

Also, in the newsrooms in which I worked, there were lots of believers of various kinds. I'm including the spiritual-but-not-religious folks, the Christmas-and-Easter people and people who grew up in one tradition (think Catholicism) and then veered over into another (think liberal Protestantism, especially the Episcopal Church). Then you had people who were ex-this or formerly-that, but now they were just "Go to church/temple with the parents when at home" cultural believers. Do some of them "hate" religion? Maybe. But that's rare.

Now, here is what is common. There are journalists who think that there are GOOD religious people and BAD religious people. The question is whether you can tell who is who when you are reading coverage produced by some of these reporters and editors.

Like what? Let's take a brief look at that Rod "The Benedict Option" Dreher profile that the Style section of The Washington Post ran the other day. Click here for my post on that.

Now, start with the headline: "Rod Dreher is the combative, oversharing blogger who speaks for today’s beleaguered Christians."

Now, as I noted in the podcast, you could talk about that headline for an hour. But pause and consider that part about my good friend Rod speaking "for today's beleaguered Christians." Does that make sense, in light of the fact that both the old-guard Religious Right folks and legions of liberal evangelicals and Catholics are so mad at him?

Now, in the story itself: Does the following sound like the Style reporter who cruised by Baton Rouge to talk with Dreher for an hour or so approved of the man's style and beliefs or not?

Dreher thrives on intellectual opposition. He emailed me, almost proudly, that a close papal adviser had denounced his book, an action he dissected in a 3,700-word post titled “Does Pope Francis oppose The Benedict Option?”
He’s also a sharer of deep personal pain, especially his rejection by his late father and sister, and subsequently by his nieces.
Each Dreher volume arrives upholstered with a subtitle  -- “Benedict’s” is “A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation” -- but they all boil down to “Rod’s search for existential meaning and harmony.”
“The whole journey of my life is trying to find a home,” he says. It’s a journey he readily shares in his posts -- as many as 10 a day. The man burps copy.

Later, there was this:

It takes all of 10 minutes for him to unload his emotional and philosophical struggles in a wannabe hipster coffee/doughnut/slider/brew house, a metaphor for the source of his existential pain and familial estrangement: He got fancy; his family did not.
We’re here because we can’t be in his home for lengthy reasons shared in emails and conversation and . . . oh, never mind.
It’s stupid loud. Coffee grinders and blaring music require Dreher to semi-yell intimate moments of extreme rejection.

Now, for some readers this would be evidence that the Style folks at the Post don't like religion or religious people.

But, hey, that's just one case. Now read this next headline and see if you sense a different tone in the coverage of another devout religious believer and activist: "This Life: For this witch, Wicca is about personal responsibility and growth."

This feature is about David Salisbury, an animal-rights pro who was raised sort-of Catholic in a complex, troubled family. He was liberated through exposure -- care of a friend's mother, who led a local coven -- to paganism. He was born again, so to speak.

So do you sense apathy or hatred in this Style page prose? This is long, but you have to catch the vibes:

... Self-possession was enough to help David ignore the objections of his stepfather, a devout Christian who opposed both David’s sexuality and his chosen religion, and the taunts of his classmates. “If you just own everything that you are, it’s really hard for bullies to pinpoint something to pick on you with,” he says.
David’s Wiccan belief that “we’re responsible for making things the way we want them to be” drove him into activism. He started his high school’s environmental protection group and led the gay-straight alliance. And instead of going right to college, he took an internship with PETA and became a vegan.
What he thought would be a semester-long deferral turned into a three-year job traveling the country to educate consumers about animal abuse in circuses. “It was probably some of my most favorite years of my whole life,” he says.
But in 2009 he moved to Washington for a job with a different advocacy organization and the chance to build a more stable social circle. He immediately found a community in the Firefly House, a Washington Wiccan group with a strong advocacy bent.
David, who has bright blue eyes and a tattoo of a broom on his left forearm, also hoped to find romance, though he knew that it might be difficult. Dating in Washington is challenging for anyone, but especially so for a gay vegan witch. “Usually people have just one weird thing they do on the side, but I had all this together,” he says.
For years, his dating life was “a mess.” On one first date, he ordered a veggie burger. The man he was with called it an “interesting choice” and then added, “Well, at least you’re not one of those all-out animal rights people. Those people are so terribly annoying.” Check, please.

What do you think? Is that ANTI-religion? Do you sense any Style staff opposition to this person's unique religious beliefs and practices?

How about one more example?

Now, this next Washington Post piece is not a Style news feature. This is an actual editorial piece by columnist David Von Drehle. The headline on this one: "Meet the Baptist church in Georgia that opened its doors to same-sex marriage."

It's interesting to note that there is a Macon, Ga., dateline on this piece, which shows an unusual among of research and commitment for an editorial. You can get the feel for what's going on in the overture.

The First Baptist Church of Christ, founded in 1826, is one of the oldest congregations in this central Georgia city. Its towering red-brick sanctuary, dedicated in 1887, occupies a hilltop between downtown and nearby Mercer University — a physical prominence that evokes the stature of the church in local history.
So it was front-page news in the Telegraph, Macon’s daily newspaper, when First Baptist called an Aug. 27 meeting of its membership to decide whether its stated policy of welcome and inclusion should extend to the celebration of same-sex marriages.
I’ll admit that my first reaction, on coming across the story, was surprise that a Baptist church in the Bible Belt reached this crossroads so soon after the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling on equality in civil marriage. Even in the digital age, church time tends to run slowly. After paying a visit, I think there’s something more to learn from this story: how to foster respect and civility even amid disagreement.

So here is a BAPTIST church that is being held out as a positive example for America -- as a whole. Clearly, this is a positive portrayal of religious faith and of a Baptist community, in the South even. Do you sense any hostility to religion there?

So, what have we learned?

We have learned that, for many journalists, there is good religion and there is bad religion. We have learned that it is simplistic to state that journalists are hostile to religion and religious believers. Correct?

See any other themes? What else did we -- in this trio of examples -- learn about journalism and religious faith?

Enjoy the podcast.

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