Culture > Books

Journalistic pretension

Books | Books for the places where most reporters are blind

Issue: "The Obama era," Feb. 14, 2009

I've been a fan of columnist Peggy Noonan, but her latest book, Patriotic Grace (HarperCollins, 2008), seems almost like a parody of her earlier, sprightly work. She gives ominous warnings, emits long sighs, and altogether seems self-consciously writing not for a particular week or year but for posterity. Her decline is too bad, because Noonan (once a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan) knows more about the importance of religion than many other journalists do.

That may not be saying much, though, as Blind Spot: When Journalists Don't Get Religion (Oxford University Press, 2009, edited by Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert, and Roberta Green Ahmanson) shows. Chapters show that ignorance has consequences: Misreporting led Americans to see the Ayatollah Khomeini as a liberator rather than a tyrant, and leads many today to think of al-Qaeda as anti-American when it's more anti-Christian. Other chapters report how most reporters missed everything from the religious influence in Indira Gandhi's assassination to the nature of the current faith-based human-rights drive.

Blind Spot raises a basic question: Is the blindness correctable by a newsroom resolve to take religion seriously, or is that like maintaining a lily-white newsroom and training white journalists to take forays into black communities-an approach many publications dismissed as inadequate? Since press blindness is one reason for the declining circulations of standard newspapers and newsmagazines, Blind Spot should be required reading for journalists and journalism professors who hope to respond not only to technological changes but to cultural ones as well.

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Of course, not only non-Christians have blind spots. As Michael Horton argues in Christless Christianity (Baker, 2008), many evangelical churches are blind to the gospel teaching that the crucial question is not "What would Jesus do?" but "What has Jesus done?" Sure, the Bible shows us how to live, but if we mine it for moralism instead of for its teaching about Christ's finished work on the cross, we're on the way to glorifying ourselves instead of God.

Few reporters understand that. Few also get why atheistic evolutionists, 150 years after Darwin's breakthrough, are increasingly desperate in their attempts to explain the origins of life. How To Be an Intellectually Fulfilled Atheist (or Not), by William Dembski and Jonathan Wells (ISI Books, 2008), shows that intelligent design explains the high-tech engineering of the cell and materialism cannot. Why the Universe Is the Way It Is, by Hugh Ross (Baker, 2008), explains succinctly why arguments often proffered in opposition to God as creator of life on Earth-for example, why is mankind on the outskirts of the universe?-are truly arguments for it. Either of these books would make a good present for journalists with blind spots concerning evolution.

A history to learn

By Marvin Olasky

Some people think that designating February as Black History Month is unnecessary, but the website Supreme Dicta recently ran student responses to an Advanced Placement test question about the 15th Amendment 
to the U.S. Constitution, which stipulates that people of all races have the right to vote. Some of the answers: "African Americans turned to alternate forms of political participation such as the creation of the AARP. . . . Congress passed the 1/3 act. Each African American vote counted for a 1/3 vote. . . . Some African Americans joined the mafia as a result of John Crow laws. . . . African American voting booths were not as nice as white voting booths.

"One answer included a protest: "Literary tests administered to African American voters were a lot like this exam." No, the racially biased literacy tests were much worse, and standard U.S. history textbooks usually explain the basics of the 15th Amendment and attempts by bigots to get around it. And here are the titles of several books reviewed in WORLD in recent years that are particularly good reading this month: Clifton Taulbert, Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored; Booker T. Washington, Up from Slavery; John Perry, Unshakable Faith (a biography of Washington and George Washington Carver); James McBride, The Color of Water.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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