May 7, 2005


Stations Of The Cross: How evangelical Christians are creating an alternative universe of faith-based news (Mariah Blake, May/June 2005, Columbia Journalism Review)

To many people — especially in blue-state America — God, news, and politics may seem an odd cocktail. But it’s this mix that fuels much of CBN’s programming. [...]

As Christian broadcasting has grown, pulpit-based ministries have largely given way to a robust programming mix that includes music, movies, sitcoms, reality shows, and cartoons. But the largest constellation may be news and talk shows. Christian public affairs programming exploded after September 11, and again in the run-up to the 2004 presidential election. And this growth shows no signs of flagging.

Evangelical news looks and sounds much like its secular counterpart, but it homes in on issues of concern to believers and filters events through a conservative lens. In some cases this simply means giving greater weight to the conservative side of the ledger than most media do. In other instances, it amounts to disguising a partisan agenda as news. Likewise, most guests on Christian political talk shows are drawn from a fixed pool of culture warriors and Republican politicians. Even those shows that focus on non-political topics — such as finance, health, or family issues — often weave in political messages. Many evangelical programs and networks are, in fact, linked to conservative Christian political or legal organizations, which use broadcasts to help generate funding and mobilize their base supporters, who are tuning in en masse. Ninety-six percent of evangelicals consume some form of Christian media each month, according to the Barna Research Group.

Given their content and their reach, it’s likely that Christian broadcasters have helped drive phenomena that have recently confounded much of the public and the mainstream media — including the surge in “value voters” and the drive to sustain Terri Schiavo’s life, a story that was incubated in evangelical media three years before it hit the mainstream. Nor has evangelical media’s influence escaped the notice of those who stroll the halls of power. They’ve been courted by the likes of Rupert Murdoch, Mel Gibson, and George W. Bush. All the while, they’ve remained hidden in plain sight — a powerful but largely unnoticed force shaping American politics and culture. [...]

Evangelical networks focus a great deal of attention on stories involving persecution of the faithful. They have, for instance, kept a close eye on the conflicts that have rocked Sudan, including its Darfur region. Government-backed militias there have been marauding villages, driving millions of black Africans, many of them Christians, from their homes. More than 200,000 people have died as a result. Mainstream coverage has been sparse, given the conflict’s human toll.

Darfur is a good example because it is a situation where very nearly only the Christian Right has demonstrated any concern about what's going on there.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 7, 2005 9:02 AM

Flip the politicial labels and find equivalent names and terms, and the description given would fit NPR perfectly.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at May 7, 2005 1:46 PM

Christianity sells--it's user-friendly, the original good news. This is why the cultural reaction to it is always violently oppressive. Islam, various Amerinds, the Japanese, the Boxers, Leninism, Nazism, Vietnam, Dafur, it goes on and on. Opponents of Christianity never fight fair, never allow a marketplace of ideas. Freedom enables Christianity. Information technology enables Christianity. We should not be surprised when secularists conplain about Christian media

Posted by: Lou Gots at May 7, 2005 3:52 PM

The Boxers, generally low class Chinese, did not kill Christians because it was user-friendly good news, but because Christianity was a symbol and element of European colonial aggression. Probably the same thing for some Vietnamese as well. Likewise the Tokugawa Shogunate in Japan suspected Christians of sympathizing with a foreign power and they did not want to end up like Moctezuma. And how often were any of the various American Indians in a position to savagely oppress Christians?

Honestly, ever since Constantine wedded the Church, Christianity has not performed well in terms of fighting fair in a marketplace of free ideas as well.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at May 9, 2005 1:20 PM