Journalists Not Biased Against Religion, Just "Ignorant"

June 26th, 2006 5:09 PM

USA Today has an interesting article from Washington Journalism Center's Terry Mattingly.

"At times, the mood turned hostile toward the lawmakers in the stately white building behind the stage," wrote The Washington Post in its coverage of the event. Then, without explanation, the story offered this on-stage quotation from a religious broadcaster: "Let's pray that God will slay everyone in the Capitol." Clearly, the reporters didn't know about the experience that Pentecostal Christians call being "slain in the Holy Spirit," in which they believe they are transformed by a surge of God's power. The result was a journalistic train wreck...

After the funeral of Pope John Paul II, the International Herald Tribune described his vestments and added: "Tucked under his left arm was the silver staff, called the crow's ear, that he had carried in public." Actually, that ornate shepherd's staff is called a crosier (or crozier), not a "crow's ear." And did a BBC producer really write a subtitle that said "Karma Light" nuns were mourning the pope (as opposed to Carmelites)?

"Newsweek misquoted Falwell as referring to 'assault ministry.' In fact, Falwell was referring to 'a salt ministry' — a reference to Matthew 5:13, where Jesus says, 'Ye are the salt of the earth.' We regret the error."

Bias is a problem. But, in my experience, apathy and ignorance cause most of these laugh-to-keep-from-crying gaffes. It would help if newsroom executives spent more time thinking about intellectual, cultural and even spiritual diversity, in addition to focusing on gender, race and class.

It's no surprise that journalists by default assume Christians are militant crusaders, as opposed to the fundamentalist "freedom fighters" who chop off heads throughout the Mideast.