Sunday, May 3, 2009

Quote of the Day (Susan Roesgen, on Notre Dame Protestors And Barack Obama)

“Can you believe that, Wolf, they’re actually praying that God will change the heart and mind of President Obama to make him pro-life?”—CNN correspondent Susan Roesgen to Wolf Blitzer, on protestors against Notre Dame’s speaking invitation to Barack Obama, on CNN’s Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, April 10, 2009

Can you believe, Susan, that a number of viewers will think that a supposedly objective journalist such as yourself can barely conceal her condescension toward the people she covers?

Fox News gets the lion’s share of blame for amping up subjective news coverage, notably through stunts such as its overkill of the “tea parties” protesting the Obama administration’s economic policies. If Bill O’Reilly is on while I’m channel-surfing, I find myself either switching faster or lamenting that I never bought earplugs.

But Roesgen’s comment has me wondering if there might not be at least one virtue to Fox: Whatever you think of their “fair and balanced” and “we report, you decide” slogans (and, for the record, I think they’re hysterical), their in-your-face lineup leaves absolutely no doubt about where they stand.

I don’t recall Ms. Roesgen expressing disbelief about a previous Presidential visit to Notre Dame, when many students wore black armbands objecting to George W. Bush’s stand position on capital punishment. (And that was before the invasion of Iraq, when many students would have even more cause to complain about his policies.)

Doubtless, many of these previous protestors prayed that he would see the light. It’s the same belief, I might add, that civil-rights activists of all faiths shared in the dark years when they hoped that an indifferent American populace—including risk-averse Presidents—would come to see that racial prejudice and the laws propping it up were deeply wrong.

No matter what their political affiliation, however, all these protestors have acted from a common belief: that a President is open enough to moral persuasion that he can be moved. What Ms. Roesgen’s comment reveals is not simply that she doesn’t share this belief—which is her right—but that such people lie outside the range of political discourse--which is not for her to decide.

Understand me: I’m not commenting here on whether or not Notre Dame should have invited President Obama to pick up an honorary degree and speak at the school. Good, decent people on both sides of this issue have made thoughtful arguments on this that should be considered.

And that’s why Roesgen’s impromptu remark is so disturbing. She has made no secret of which side she feels is wanting. As a matter of fact, her tone suggests she’s going to enroll millions of Catholics in the Flat Earth Society.

This look-what-I’ve-discovered-on-the-far-side-of-the-moon mentality is even more blatant than the comment by the late NBC anchorman John Chancellor in the 1970s about Americans with a different kind of religious experience: “Incidentally, we have checked this out. Being ‘born again’ is not a bizarre experience or the voice of God from the mountaintop. It’s a fairly common experience known to millions of Americans—particularly if you’re Baptist.”

The fact that CNN has not taken seriously complaints about Ms. Roesgen’s statement underscores the ideological blinders that can lead the cable network as well as its admirers (such as The New York Times’ Bill Carter) to believe that it’s hewing strictly to a just-the-facts approach not shared by rivals Fox and MSNBC.

This is one of the unintended consequences, I’m afraid, of newspapers and television stations shedding staff. Religion reporters have tended to be hired later than general correspondents or more established beat reporters. Therefore, they are also among the first fired when the budget ax strikes.

All this at a time when it’s more important than ever for Americans to understand other religious viewpoints besides their own.

To be sure, the mainstream media have not always made hires in this area with any discernment. After a Washington Post listing for a religion reporter several years ago said that the ideal candidate “need not be an expert in religion,” media critic Terry Mattingly noted the improbability of a similar ad for a Supreme Court reporter not being “a legal expert.”

But at least there was a chance that with regular, constant exposure to sources, a religion reporter would be aware of facts and tone. Ms. Roesgen showed no such awareness.

This is not a good time for reporting on the nuances of religion, folks. At some point, I think it would be worthwhile for me to analyze why reporting on different aspects of spirituality has failed so dismally. But right now, I think the media could go a long way toward reconnecting with their readers by acknowledging that they have gone wrong in the first place.

Consider this: Four months ago, the Indianapolis Star said it was discontinuing its 36-year-practice of printing prayers. Its editor’s rationale—“I believe that prayer is a very personal thing and that offering prayers is something for individuals and their churches”—sounds like something we all can agree with. A prayer that’s acceptable to those across all faiths tends to be pretty thin gruel, I think.

I counted myself among the skeptics, however, when I learned that the same paper would continue to run horoscopes. Star readers might be reasonably inclined to believe that the paper’s editors find a horoscope—a listing of dubious rationality—more acceptable than any expression, no matter how watered-down, of faith.

The next time that the Star editor ponders the justification for deleting God but keeping the horoscope, he might remember the continuing relevance of Shakespeare’s line in Julius Caesar: “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in the stars but in ourselves.”

1 comment:

bjn2727 said...

AMEN brother michael!