Last week's column on the anti-religious bias of the establishment media still didn't satisfy the need to vent about the subject.
Consider these examples of, well, at the very least insensitivity to (if not sacrilegiousness or profanation of) the deeply held beliefs of some 200 million-plus Americans. They come from samples collected by the Media Research Center for their ballots for "Best Notable Quotables of 2008: The Twenty-First Annual Awards for the Year's Worst Reporting."
-- "I'd like to tip off law enforcement to an ever larger child-abusing religious cult. Its leader also has a compound, and this guy not only operates outside the bounds of the law, but he used to be a Nazi and he wears funny hats. That's right, the Pope is coming to America…. If you have a few hundred followers, and you let some of them molest children, they call you a cult leader. If you have a billion, they call you 'Pope.' It's like, if you can't pay your mortgage, you're a deadbeat. But if you can't pay a million mortgages, you're Bear Stearns and we bail you out. And that is who the Catholic Church is: the Bear Stearns of organized pedophilia…. The Church's attitude: 'We're here, we're queer, get used to it,' which is fine. Far be it for me to criticize religion." – Bill Maher, HBO.
-- "Some princes are born in palaces. Some are born in mangers. But a few are born in the imagination, out of scraps of history and hope…. Barack Hussein Obama…won because at a very dangerous moment in the life of a still young country, more people than have ever spoken before came together to try to save it." -- Nancy Gibbs, TIME
-- Speaking of Hillary Clinton: "This woman, as we said, forged into determination and purpose her whole life. As someone said, 'No thorns, no throne; no gall, no glory; no cross, no crown'." -- Diane Sawyer, ABC, quoting a 17th Century discourse about Jesus Christ.
-- About Obama's Democratic National Convention speech: "You know, in the Bible they talk about Jesus serving the good wine last, I think the Democrats did the same." -- Chris Matthews, as MSNBC host.
Then, of course, there are the less-than "mainstream" but still influential (and respected by the establishment media) leftist press, such as this recent screed from the Nation columnist Katha Pollitt, who the Washington Post called "the best place to go for original thinking on the left": "One of the less-examined but needs to be examined issues in the religious right is their tolerance of wife-battering. Not that they approve, but they think that it's not something that women should really stand up to. There's also a strong victim-blaming streak in religious right literature about this, suggesting that wife-beating is the natural response of men whose god-given authority has been questioned."
This is all just, well… uh, nuts. There is no respect for faith, no sense of proportion, no understanding that people of faith, or at least of conservative faith, aren't utterly alien and somewhat dangerous creatures.
Conservatives ought to be accustomed to this by now. But one thing conservatives have not quite figured out is that the disconnect between establishment media and the public on matters of faith is part of a broader disconnect that could do long-term damage to the republic less by harming the faithful public than by harming the media institutions themselves.
The fault is in the media institutions that are failing, of course -- but maybe our warnings can save them from doom.
Here's what I mean: I contend that the desperate decline of print media nationwide is a result not merely of competition from the Internet and of shortened attention spans and lighter reading habits of the public, but also of a growing disgust by the public with what the newspapers and wire services offer.
As the Washington Post significantly cuts back its news staff and as the New York Times loses more and more money and as the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune (and other Tribune Co. papers) face possible bankruptcy, the tendency of conservatives is to say "good riddance." It is no coincidence, I think, that the papers having the most high-profile problems are also the papers that most often are accused of a liberal bias. The bias is so obvious and palpable that it destroys the trust the readers have in the papers, and without trust there is no good reason to read them.
The disconnect evident in the establishment media's botching of religious matters extends, quite clearly, to a disdain by the media of many other cultural aspects of "middle America" -- and middle America reciprocates by not reading the papers.
In the short run, this might be a good thing. Seeing the New York Times' Sulzberger family sweat is a sight to send warm fuzzies through conservative ranks. Seeing the Times fail would feel like sweet revenge for all the double standards, hypocrisies, and meannesses shown by the Times toward conservatives through the years.
Still, I contend the culture suffers if the newspaper industry falters or dies. All around the country, smaller papers are getting smaller -- still profiting, perhaps, unlike the big papers, but only by running thinner issues and cutting other corners, too. And as they do so, they contribute to the dumbing down of American life and to the unfortunate text-message attention-span that terribly mars today's society.
There is something about good citizenship that is far more difficult to form when there isn't a common culture that includes regular readership of common newspapers in which communities can take pride, newspapers that honestly strive for objectivity, fairness, and a good semblance of balance. And because newspapers strive for uniformity of grammatical standards, and for consistent standards of prose and accuracy, they provide a forum for solid information and for reasoned discourse that is usually not matched in the hurly-burly of blogs and websites addressed to discrete audiences and with less-than-uniform standards.
The fall of the daily newspaper is a sad part of the balkanization of the greater society, and that is definitely not a good thing. And it feeds the beast of TV punditry that further pollutes the culture with some of the effluvia noted in the examples that began this column.
In short, by disdaining middle America and middle American values and middle American faith, the establishment media drags itself down as well, becoming no longer a viable entity. That sharp institutional decline in the industry is a loss to the broader society even though an individual paper's failure might be no great tragedy.
But that's what happens when the establishment media, rather than saving its good wine, instead gives us the dregs.
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