Johnny Hart's home studio in rural New York State is filled with soft jazz music and soothing natural light. Here, for more than 36 years, the cartoonist has shared life with his caveman friend, B.C. Ink pens pepper Mr. Hart's drawing table. Drawing paper carpets his floor. Characters from "B.C." and his other famous strip, "The Wizard of Id," keep company with a litany of honors, including six-time recognition by The National Cartoonist Society for Best Humor Strip of the Year.
These days, shade trees outside his window regularly wave Mr. Hart hello. Reflections of clouds dance across a 30-acre lake. And, less happily, editorial bias routinely rips at Mr. Hart's lovable characters. Even a caveman knows why: The Los Angeles Times doesn't like Mr. Hart's-or B.C.'s-brand of Christianity, and its editors are willing to suspend their "liberalism" long enough to censor it. Mr. Hart told WORLD he believes his treatment by the Times is symptomatic of the battle for America's soul, and he likes "the idea that this has gotten Christians up in arms. That's what they all need."
He doesn't overstate the case: News media hostility to Christian truth is well-established and documented, and the most recent study represents the same song, second verse. Only one percent of the 44,000 news stories done by major TV networks last year even dealt with religion, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Media Research Center in a study released this month, "Faith in a Box: Television and Religion," 1995. MRC chairman L.Brent Bozell notes that the news stories that did cover religion "regularly attacked" Christian conservatives.
In Mr. Hart's case, for four years now the Times has refused to run his strips containing tasteful, witty Christian messages about Halloween, Easter, or Christmas. (The Atlanta Constitution since January has ceased altogether running Mr. Hart's strips.) Most recently, the Times refused to run Mr. Hart's Palm Sunday strip (see pp. 14-15).
Times spokeswoman Gloria Lopez told WORLD Mr. Hart's strip isn't the only one that has been pulled. Other examples she cited include "Doonesbury" and "The Far Side." Said Ms. Lopez: "The bottom line is the editors reserve the right to edit."
One evangelical journalist interviewed by WORLD gave a different perspective; the journalist spoke on the condition that he not be identified because of justifiable concern he'd be fired in retaliation for his remarks. The journalist recalled how in one big-city newspaper editorial meeting, an allusion to Easter as a "holy day" was met with visible derision. "About 25 percent of the people in the room just broke out laughing, like this was the biggest joke they'd ever heard in their life," the journalist said.
The same journalist worked for years at The Los Angeles Times. "Basically being at the Times, and I'd say almost any newspaper if you are a Christian, it is almost like being a lone ranger. There are just very few people who really understand what you're doing. You just assume that you are going to be misunderstood.
WORLD reported March 16 on how L.A. Times editors conducted something like an inquisition of the president of the Times's Orange County edition, Judy Sweeney, after she told a local evangelical college gathering of strains she faced as a Christian working alongside unbelievers. "She's gone," the former Times journalist said.
Though the Times's Lopez told WORLD that Ms. Sweeney "has the support of her colleagues at the Los Angeles Times," the former Times journalist predicted it is only a matter of time before Ms. Sweeney is fired or resigns under fire.
It was also only a matter of time for veteran Houston Chronicle religion writer Julia Duin, an evangelical Christian who is now culture editor for The Washington Times. She recounted to WORLD that as the Chronicle's religion writer, she once tried to respectfully sensitize a superior to how "offensive" abortion was to "over a half-million" people within the Chronicle's readership. During local pro-life demonstrations, the paper had been playing up local pro-choice coverage on the front page, while giving pro-lifers page C-8. "He just lost it and he really started screaming at me," Ms. Duin recalls. Three months later, suddenly, she was fired without explanation.
An explanation was all L. A. Times Syndicate columnist Cal Thomas wanted. A couple of hours had passed, and he still was waiting for a Good Morning America travel agent to call to set up his plane reservations to New York City to appear on the show. Finally Mr. Thomas called the show's producer, who told him they had decided to "make a switch" in a scheduled interview with Mr. Thomas about homosexuality in San Francisco.
"Why?" asked Mr. Thomas, who had done the show more than eight times in the past.
"Well," replied the producer, "my senior producer was afraid you would get on and quote some Bible verses."
Just a few minutes expired, and Mr. Thomas got a call from the show's top producer. "Before I tell you what I was told you said," Mr. Thomas told the morning show executive, "I want to hear from you why I am not on the show tomorrow."
"We wanted a different mix," she told him.
"What does that mean?" he asked.
"Well, ahh ... it's too complicated. You wouldn't understand."
"Try me," Mr. Thomas replied. "English is my first language.... Did you say that the reason you didn't want me on that program was that I might quote some Bible verses?"
"Well, uh ..."
When Mr. Thomas reiterated his question, she hedged: "Well, it's not important."
"Let me tell you something," Mr. Thomas said, "It is important. You'll have every other screwball on that show.... They even mention God in a blasphemous way on some of your entertainment programs. Are you saying I can't speak well of him?"
Mr. Thomas says he's come to expect that kind of treatment-"The Lord said, 'If they persecuted me, they'll persecute you.' ... You take it as a fact of life"-and it doesn't surprise him and no longer bothers him. Indeed, he believes God calls some Christians into the mainstream media, but that doesn't mean it will be easy, nor is it likely the prevailing anti-Christian sentiment in today's newspapers and network broadcasts will substantially change.
Much like the episode with Mr. Hart and the L.A. Times, a curious double standard seemed to be held by Good Morning America toward Christianity. As pro-life stalwart Cardinal John O'Connor noted in recent Easter messages, the mainstream media seem devoted to gutting popular culture of Christian influence. No one knows that better than Cardinal O'Connor, whose outspoken pro-life activism makes him a regular target of media ire.
Bias is most clearly evident in abortion coverage. The Media Research Center's study notes: "Pro-lifers are inextricably linked to a violent, radical fringe, while abortion advocates are harassed do-gooders operating in the peaceful mainstream."
The MRC study showed that while network news in 1995 ran 142 stories about alleged violence outside abortion clinics, they ran only three about violence to women inside the clinics due to "botched" abortions and none about all the violence of the "successful" ones. Nor did they bother reporting violence by pro-abortion activists. Among the stories that never saw the light of day on any major TV newscast was the indictment of pro-abortion activist Daniel Adam Mahoney under the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances law last April for threatening to kill workers at a crisis pregnancy center. Another pro-abortion activist, Alice Hand, was arrested after threatening to blow up a Catholic church for its pro-life stance. Again, no network reported the episode; The New York Times, however, did file reports.
Focus on the Family's Public Policy Division analyzed national press coverage of the partial-birth abortion debate and issued a report indicating serious bias against the pro-life effort. Among Focus's findings: Counter to evidence, the press frequently claimed that the technique was used largely just to save a mother's life, or in cases of severely deformed unborn babies; counter to evidence, the press reported the method as largely tested and safe; counter to evidence, the press reported that, during the technique, babies were killed by the anesthesia, before having their skulls crushed and brains sucked out.
Further evidence of bias came in the form of an internal CNN directive, obtained by Focus on the Family, that was sent to CNN correspondents. It said: "Regarding the medical procedure that abortion foes call a 'partial birth abortion,' 'Partial birth abortion' is not a medical term. It is a phrase used by abortion foes and is as loaded in the abortion debate as the term 'pro-life.' Best way to describe this rarely-performed procedure is 'a type of late term abortion.' Doctors call it an 'intact D and E.'"
Some worldview instructions are transmitted secretly; others very publicly. In 1984, when Baltimore Sun political correspondent Fred Barnes raised the religion issue, he received his reprimand immediately. On stage, presidential candidates Walter Mondale and Ronald Reagan stood behind their respective podiums, and Mr. Barnes asked each of them:
"Do you consider yourself a born-again Christian and what role does your faith play in your decision-making?" Spectators behind Mr. Barnes hissed; in the next few days, he received piles of mail, mostly from people who were hostile to the idea of Christianity ever being mentioned in public, let alone in a political context.
Providentially, a number of talk-show hosts asked Mr. Barnes to be a guest and one of the shows was The McLaughlin Group. The guest appearance led to a permanent gig. In 1985 Mr. Barnes left newspaper reporting to join The New Republic, and today he is executive editor of The Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine.
Mr. Barnes was hissed for asking a question about faith, but the powers of the press are applauding homosexuals who have not only come out of the closet but are on parade. Back in June, 1994, when Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby wrote that a Gay Pride Day was filled with boasting of "carnal desire" and questioned "whether the essence of our selves is merely the total of our thirsts and desires," about 13 homosexual Globe journalists protested to the Globe's top brass: "We think some of his statements violate the Globe's policies on the treatment of minorities." To his boss's credit, the accusations were dismissed. But Mr. Jacoby couldn't help noting later in The Lambda Report on Homosexuality: "For a group of 13 journalists-some of whom are critics paid to make judgments about other people and their works-to attack a fellow journalist for expressing his opinion is shocking." He added that the gays' expressed goal of promoting "'an environment where individual dignity is respected' is stunningly hypocritical."
Nowhere was the hypocrisy more evident than at last October's gathering of the 1,200-member National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. Among those making donations and/or sending recruiters: Knight-Ridder, Gannett, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Miami Herald, Scripps Howard, Hearst Newspapers, NBC News, and CBS News. The group's president and founder, Leroy Aarons, a former L.A. Times and Washington Post editor, exclaimed at the fifth annual meeting: "So much has changed in the last five years. Many of us are out now in our newsrooms [and] fighting publicly and courageously ... educating our non-gay counterparts to understand the complexities and the nuances of the gay and lesbian community." After the national press masters gay "nuances," maybe it can move on to evangelical "complexities."
A 1995 poll by the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press showed that only four percent of the national media think "homosexuality should be discouraged in society." Moreover, the MRC reports that, in 1995, 59 evening news shows and 48 morning shows were devoted to almost completely positive portrayals of the gay lifestyle.
Perhaps it took a caveman with convictions to reawaken Christians to challenge the prevailing anti-Christian sentiment of America's newsrooms-whether it's at the L.A. Times or elsewhere. Whatever the case, the war stories from the files of Christian media professionals can be summed up in the blunt assessment of The Weekly Standard's Mr. Barnes: "The media is basically hostile to Christianity."
On this score, Johnny Hart's not surprised his strips are creating waves. "I think it's God, really. Because he's orchestrating all this. He's a little early for me, because I'm not totally prepared.... This is like a firestorm almost."
Still, B.C.'s best friend says he has no plans to pull out of the L.A. Times, which, by the way, relented and ran late the B.C. Palm Sunday strip, as well as the Good Friday and Easter panels, albeit on the religion page. No, says Mr. Hart, with trademark impishness, "I think I'd kind of like to hang around. If we take the strip away from them, they win the victory. If we hang in there, they are just simply exposing themselves. They are showing the world what they are."
All this, of course, could be avoided if "they" would just admit up front "what they are." Yet they continue to pretend worldview doesn't matter, that they can report the news "objectively."
And the issue is not journalistic affirmative action for Christians. The experience of these media professionals shows that quality Christian journalists can be hired in the mainstream press and, once there, have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; yet experience shows that they often get snagged-or get the hook-when they embark on the pursuit of truth. At other times, they just get plain tired of always being the newsroom misfit. In the cases of Julia Duin, Fred Barnes, and Cal Thomas, all three have moved into roles that allow them more freedom to seek truth-Mr. Thomas as a commentator, Mr. Barnes at the conservative Weekly Standard, and Ms. Duin at the philosophically friendly Washington Times.
It will always be important to have Christians pitching their tents inside hostile territory; maybe just as significant to the future of American journalism is the chance to demonstrate an alternative model. That's how it has been throughout the history of American journalism: A self-satisfied elite has come under challenge from peasants with pens-or, in more recent history, PCs. Christian journalism, which dominated the American press until 1840, gave way to the liberal theology of Horace Greeley and his disciples. Their oxymoronic sense of an objective but essentially godless reality in turn gave way to the anything-radical-goes subjectivity that now dominates the most influential publications and programs. Will that in turn be succeeded by a new birth of Bible-based journalism? Just look for the caveman's drawings on the walls.