Media lacks fair, objective coverage of religion

The media is affecting you right now – even at this moment, as you look through this newspaper. When you read the articles, you trust that the reporter did his or her job to be as accurate and objective as possible, while still creating color and interest in the story. But how do you know that what the media is telling you is true? How do you know that journalists are not subtly inserting their own biases into their stories?

The answer is that you don’t know. And, in journalism’s defense, it’s impossible to be completely objective, because journalists are human and they have their own thoughts and opinions. But, even still, that is no excuse for the media to shrink from their duty and responsibility to try to remain as neutral as possible for the sake of giving the public correct information.

Although objectivity is supposed to be a rule of thumb for the press, often times, we, as the public, find stories that are slanted. Or sometimes, the media as a whole can give an event, a person or even a group of people an overly positive or overly negative connotation.

One way I see this manifested in today’s media is in the portrayal of religion, issues of morality and those who show strong support of religion and morality. The media tends to downplay these aspects of our cultural climate.

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the 34th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. to stand up for the dignity of human life and the end to legalized abortion with an estimated 134,000 other pro-lifers, according to the National Catholic Register. But what’s interesting is that I found this number in a Catholic newspaper, a religious publication. I found hardly anything about this very large and very significant event in the secular press. Why not? A couple days later, I saw an Associated Press headline about tens of thousands of people marching for the end of the War in Iraq. And while that is an important cause, why did the press seemingly ignore the March for Life? The March for Life has been organized for years and every year the number of people grows, especially the number of young people. That’s newsworthy.

Perhaps it’s because it’s a stance that some might find to be based on religion, which to some extent is true, but morality is morality, whether or not religion supports it. Instances like this make me wonder if the media is unwilling or afraid to cover events that challenge our culture’s moral standards.

My questioning media bias in not unfounded. Media bias is real, according to a 2005 study on quantifying media bias led by UCLA’s Tim Groseclose, a political scientist. In the article on UCLA’s news website, co-author of the study, Jeffrey Milyo, University of Missouri economist and public policy scholar said that overall, “the major media outlets are quite moderate compared to members of Congress, but even so, there is a quantifiable and significant bias in that nearly all of them lean to the left.”

And, generally speaking, the “left” tends to be more liberal in evaluating issues regarding religion and morality.

Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press and writer for the Columbia Journalism Review, wrote an article back in 2001 about the media’s inadequate coverage of religion. In his article he says, “The media have particularly low credibility in this area – even journalists themselves have doubts about their ability to cover religious issues.” He goes on to write, “a recent Public Agenda Foundation survey found 44 percent of the public saying that the media’s coverage of religion is worse than its handling of other subjects. In a separate survey, journalists concurred.”

Perhaps the media bias against issues of religion and morality stems from both lack of ability to cover religious issues as well as a lack of political diversity within the journalism field. It could also be because covering something that challenges cultural norms means taking a chance. But it can be done, and it can be done objectively.

In order for the media to remain as neutral as possible, publications need to hire an assortment of journalists who will compliment each other and keep each other in check. It’s better for the publication and it’s better for the media as a whole. Journalists should be especially determined to remain objective in covering religious and moral issues, particularly because they are so personal to the people. The media has tremendous power in our culture and reporters should not abuse their profession to insert their own political views into the public. If they want to do that, then they should become opinion columnists.

Send comments to Lauren Walter at [email protected]