Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review May 18, 2000/ 13 Iyar, 5760

Suzanne Fields

JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
James Glassman
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Arianna Huffington
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Debbie Schlussel
Sam Schulman
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports


Journalists and the 'new time' religion -- THE BEST NEWSPAPERMEN, so the old newsroom gag went, were the Jews, the Southerners and the Irish: the Jews for the opportunity to do good, Southerners for love of language, and the Irish for the free booze that press agents and politicians were always stuffing into the bottom drawers of newsroom desks.

Now it's politically incorrect to make jokes like that (or to bribe reporters with booze), but the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington got a gaggle of editors and reporters together the other day to talk about how religion is written about in the media and whether the reporter's religion (or lack of it) leads to bias.

The fascinating discussion was spurred by the release of a study by Robert Lichter at the Center for Media and Public Affairs, another Washington think tank. Contrary to the popular notion that religion gets short shrift in the media, the new Lichter report finds that coverage of religion has doubled since the 1980s.

One among several reasons offered is that 30 percent of the journalists surveyed say they attend religious services, up from 14 percent two decades ago.

"It's OK to be religious in progressive circles again,'' says Robert Lichter. "Now there's more of a sense that this is a normal part of life to explore because it's more a part of journalists' lives.''

Maybe. But that may be more speculation than actual fact. Sally Quinn, Washington party-giver and sometime party commentator for The Washington Post, notes that the one subject that remains taboo at Washington dinner-party tables is G-d. You won't have to drop your eyes in embarrassment because the subject of G-d never comes up.

I've found that to be mostly true among those who identify themselves as liberal, less so among conservative writers and commentators. Kenneth Woodward, religion editor of Newsweek, suggests that the boomer journalists have discovered religion because they now have adolescent children and need all the help they can get. (A conservative, so one wag says, is a liberal with a daughter in junior high school.)

The researchers of mainline media coverage of religious news looked at a random sample of 2,365 stories in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report and the three major network evening newscasts. At least two-thirds of the opinions elicited over sexual morality (abortion, homosexual clergy, divorce) had a decidedly traditional or conservative bent -- except on the subject of adultery.

Those who think Bill Clinton's scandalous behavior had little practical impact on how the public views morality will be surprised to find that the only liberalizing trend in opinions about sexual morality in the media was over adultery. It's no mystery, perhaps, that Mayor Rudy Giuliani continues to ride high in the polls after the revelations of an affair or affairs.

When the subject of extramarital sex surfaced in public life in the 1970s and 1980s, nearly 90 percent of those interviewed for stories about religion condemned it. But in the 1990s two out of five sources, or 41 percent of those interviewed, voiced toleration if not necessarily approval.

The change, according to the Lichter study, is linked directly to Bill Clinton's promiscuous behavior with Monica Lewinsky. The 31 opinions expressed in relation to White House hanky-panky exceeded the entire sum of judgments on the subject of adultery found in coverage in the preceding 29 years.

Newspapers and newsmagazines quoted many more condemnatory opinions of adultery than television reporters, who found judgments of disapproval and toleration evenly divided. (You can decide for yourself why; judging the skill and attitudes of reporters were not the purpose of the study.)

The journalists at the think-tank symposium argued over what kind of skills were required for a good religion reporter. Was a Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Muslim, or New Age butterfly better qualified than an agnostic or atheist to write about religion?

A good reporter puts bias aside, or tries to, no matter what he's covering. Unfortunately, that's not always the sensibility in newsrooms today. Over the past two decades, as pursuit of "diversity'' has become more important than pursuit of the news in many newsrooms, blacks have been hired to cover black issues, women to write about women's issues, gays to write about alternative lifestyles. This kind of segregation, it seems to me, is a little like insisting on assigning a whale to review "Moby Dick.''

Walter Lippmann, a journalist of his day, writing in the early and middle 20th Century, got it right: "As the free press develops, the paramount point is whether the journalist, like the scientist or scholar, puts truth in the first place or in the second.''



05/15/00: There's nothing like a (military) dame
05/11/00: 'The Human Stain' on campus
05/09/00: We've come a long way, Betty Friedan
05/04/00: From George Washington to Mansa Masu
05/01/00: Gore's ruthless doublespeak
04/28/00: Doing it Castro's way
04/24/00: Women's studies beget narrow minds
04/17/00: The slippery slope of anti-Semitism
04/13/00: A villain larger than life
04/10/00: When mourning becomes an economic tragedy
04/03/00: The last permissible bigotry
03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
03/13/00: Sawdust on the campaign trail
03/10/00: Campaign rhetoric of manhood
03/06/00: The Amphetamine of the People
03/02/00: Elegy for Amadou
02/29/00: With only a million, what's a poor girl to do?
02/24/00: The changing politics of change
02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
12/30/99: 'Dream catchers' for the millennium
12/27/99: In search of a candidate with strength and eloquence
12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
12/02/99: Why mom didn't make general: A reality tale
11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate