Networks Ignore Faith-Based Groups in Japan Disaster Aid Coverage

An 8.9 magnitude earthquake hit Japan March 11 and the ensuing Tsunami wave delivered a devastating blow to the people, resources and economy of the U.S. ally. At this writing, a nuclear power plant there is on the verge of meltdown. As can be expected, it took a few days for the world and the American media to comprehend the complexity and gravity of the situation.

But two things were very predictable in the aftermath of a natural disaster. First, Americans have responded generously, having rallied financial, physical, emotional and spiritual support for the Japanese. Second, the network news refuses to recognize the impact that churches, faith-based groups and small non-profits have in the recovery effort.

From Friday March 11 until Tuesday, March 15, there were 11 stories about U.S. relief efforts on ABC, CBS and NBC. Many network anchors mentioned President Obama's pledge to assist the Japanese through agencies like Federal Emergency Management Agency and USAID. But not a single broadcast mentioned the work of Samaritan's Purse, Saddleback church, Salvation Army and other large faith-based groups mobilizing to help ease the suffering. Instead, the networks held government agencies like FEMA as the gold standard for relief efforts in Japan.

CBS News correspondent Whit Johnson lauded the U.S. government and its agencies for quake and tsunami relief for Japan. On the March 12 broadcast of CBS "The Early Show" Johnson highlighted the work of the "U.S. Department of Energy," "U.S. Government," "U.S. Military Effort" and "USAID" in his report. "Beyond immediate needs for water, food, shelter, and medical supplies, USAID has deployed disaster response teams, search and rescue crews, rescue dogs and equipment," Johnson reported. USAID is a government agency dedicated to helping international relief efforts.

That evening, "CBS Evening News Saturday Edition" anchor Russ Mitchell continued to sing the praises of the U.S. federal government, completely ignoring church efforts. "The U.S. and dozens of other countries immediately offered to send aid to Japan," Mitchell reported. "The Pentagon says Air Force engineering experts are heading to the area and at least six U.S. Navy ships will be prepared to help distribute supplies. The Los Angles County Search and Rescue Team is leaving for Japan tonight."

Ann Curry on the March 15 "Today" show highlighted the U.S.'s relief efforts in Japan, stating, "Since the U.S. Navy delivered supplies on Sunday, more than 90 countries have now offered aid, much of which has yet to get to the victims," Curry noted. "An early tally by the American Red Cross shows that as of Monday, $23 million in donations have been offered to help Japan."

Hyping government programs and ignoring the faith based groups was common among network broadcasts, but faith-based groups were not impossible to find.

Franklin Graham, son of famous evangelist Billy Graham, is a visible public figure and frequent media guest. Graham appeared on the Fox News show "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren" on March 14 to talk about his involvement with Samaritan's Purse. Graham told viewers that the day after the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, Samaritan's Purse had given $200,000 to local Japanese churches as they respond to the crisis. Graham is the president and CEO of Samaritan's Purse, a Biblically-based organization known for its international aid.

High-profile U.S. evangelical pastor Rick Warren sent out a tweet on Saturday that alerted his more than 263,400 followers about a website where they can donate to Japanese Disaster relief. Warren's church, Saddleback, is located in Southern California and is known as a "mega church," with nearly 20,000 members. Warren is a frequent media guest, author of the best selling book "The Purpose Driven Life" and famously hosted a debate between presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama in August 2008.

Others have wondered aloud on various cable news outlets and through web musings whether or not Americans should donate to Japanese relief efforts at all. Felix Salmon of Reuters cautioned against "earmarking funds" for Japan's relief because after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, many saw that it was "hobbling relief organizations and ensuring that they have to leave large piles of money unspent in one place while facing urgent needs in other places." According to slashdot.org, "Scams are already spreading across Facebook."

Crooks take advantage of the chaos surrounding crises, and international disasters are breeding grounds for fake charities and scams. The USAID website refers viewers to another site, interaction.com, which lists more than 25 reputable organizations through which they can make an impact for the Japanese people.

The networks are doing a disservice to their viewers and these organizations by not at least mentioning the various faith-based groups listed. Among the churches and denominations that have mobilized to give toward Japan disaster relief are the Adventists, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Baptist World Alliance, Catholic Relief Services, Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, Episcopal Relief and Development, Salvation Army, and the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

The only non-profit organization that managed to climb onto the media pedestal that belonged to Federal Government agencies was the American Red Cross. "Saturday Today" did an entire segment on the American Red Cross's efforts in Japan, dedicating 463 words to the organization. The 2 minute 22 seconds dedicated to the non-profit's work is warranted, as the Red Cross has contributed, as of March 15, $10 million in aid to the Japanese Red Cross. However, slightly less visible, but just as important groups have come alongside the celebrity-backed Red Cross in aiding the Japanese people. The networks have simply ignored them.