Features

Well-intended failure

National | An elite journalist reinforces the stereotypes that he sets out to dismiss

Issue: "Truth or CAIR," March 22, 2003

A COLUMN HEADLINED "GOD, Satan, and the Media" in The New York Times is almost certain to get attention. The Times rarely names God or Satan in its headlines, and adding "media" to the mix must have sent journalists into apoplexy. What is going on here?

Columnist Nicholas D. Kristof takes his colleagues in the elite media to the woodshed in his March 4 column, accusing "nearly all of us" in the news business of being "completely out of touch with a group that includes 46 percent of Americans." That group is America's evangelical Christians, and Mr. Kristof calls upon journalists to understand evangelicals' growing clout and stop sneering at conservative Christians.

"Evangelicals have moved from the fringe to the mainstream," Mr. Kristof notes, pointing to the influence of evangelicals in the Bush administration. He explains that President Bush cannot be understood "without acknowledging the centrality of his faith," warning that the president may be driven by a "messianic vision" to remake the Middle East.

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And that's not all. Mr. Kristof goes on to castigate journalists for mocking the faith of conservative Christians, accusing liberal journalists of showing "more intellectual curiosity about the religion of Afghanistan than that of Alabama, and more interest in reading the Upanishads than in reading the Book of Revelation."

Don't get the wrong idea. Mr. Kristof is not happy to see evangelicals grow in influence. "I tend to disagree with evangelicals on almost everything," he insists, "and I see no problem with aggressively pointing out the dismal consequences of this increasing religious influence." He just wants his liberal colleagues to discard their "sneering tone about conservative Christianity itself." It's completely understandable to Mr. Kristof that journalists would be "filled with outrage at evangelical-backed policies," but mockery is unacceptable.

Gee, thanks.

Every few years, it seems, the secular elite rediscovers evangelicals and then treats conservative Christians like National Geographic announcing the discovery of an exotic new tribe. These people are actually very interesting to watch, the secularists explain, but just don't let them get close to public policy and influence. They look dangerous.

Mr. Kristof, a Phi Beta Kappa Harvard graduate, also earned a law degree at Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship and has spent his professional career at the Times. He suggests that since the national news media "are generally reflective of the intellectual elite," their dismissal of evangelicals is understandable. While warning his colleagues not to sneer, Mr. Kristof casually explains that they should not expect to find evangelicals among the educated elite.

The Times columnist obviously intends to encourage fellow journalists to pay more attention to conservative Christians and to be nice, all the while pointing out the danger of evangelical influence. This is at least an improvement upon The Washington Post's Michael Weisskopf, who infamously once dismissed evangelicals as "largely poor, uneducated, and easy to command."

In Bias, his bestselling exposŽ, veteran CBS newsman Bernard Goldberg explains that religious people are "especially juicy targets" of condescending journalists because, as numerous surveys document, journalists "are not especially religious themselves." While disagreeing with Mr. Goldberg on almost every other claim, liberal journalist Eric Alterman suggests that Mr. Goldberg is on target with this accusation. "Politically speaking, the Republicans are the party of evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, and the Democrats are the party of secularists," Mr. Alterman reports. "Journalists are far more comfortable with the latter; indeed they consider their position to be the 'normal' one. Indeed it is so normal, it does not occur to anyone to point it out."

Well, elite journalists may take secularism to be normal, but that just demonstrates how distant they are from Main Street America-the country outside the elite schools, clubs, and newsrooms where reporters and editors decide what "normal" is.

Some evangelicals see the Kristof column as a step forward. After all, his column asks fellow journalists to show conservative Christians some respect. But it's hard to see how Mr. Kristof's approach is anything but a well-intended failure. He ends up reinforcing all the stereotypes he starts out to dismiss.

Nevertheless, his column is noteworthy because such an influential journalist is now on the record in The New York Times accusing his colleagues of being "completely out of touch" with evangelical Christians. But when it comes to this kind of bias, America's elite journalists and news executives are not only out of touch-they're also out of excuses.

R. Albert Mohler Jr.
R. Albert Mohler Jr.

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