Monday, July 2, 2007

Why "JPF Notes & Comment" Exists

Ever wonder why news reports about religion never seem to reflect your point of view?

Then take a look at Media Matters for America’s report, released in May, called Left Behind: The Skewed Representation of Religion in Major News Media. (You can download a copy <here>.)

Left Behind’s basic findings are these:

• While 90% of Americans identify themselves as being religious, only 22% belong to religious groups identified as leading America’s right-wing “culture war” against abortion and gay rights.

• Yet, when Media Matters studied religious leaders quoted, mentioned or interviewed in major newspaper and television reports between November 3, 2004 and December 31, 2006, conservative religious personalities were cited 2.8 times as often as were progressive religious personalities.

• Television networks, cable news channels and Public Broadcasting quoted conservative religious figures 3.8 times as often as progressive religious figures.

• Major newspapers — those in the Nexis database’s “major newspapers” grouping — highlighted conservative religious spokespeople 2.7 times as often as progressive religious spokespeople.

Media Matters’ report concludes:

Despite the fact that most religious Americans are moderate or progressive, in the news media it is overwhelmingly conservative leaders who are presented as the voice of religion. This represents a particularly meaningful distortion since progressive religious leaders tend to focus on different issues and offer an entirely different perspective than their conservative counterparts.
Moreover, the reported noted:

... the distorted picture allows a vocal minority to exercise an outsized influence on the issues and politicians that shape the direction of the country. The second disservice is in the opportunity cost of neglecting to offer a more accurate picture of religiosity and its effects on political views: More than eight in 10 Americans, consistently across every religious tradition, agree that too many leaders use religion to talk about abortion and gay rights, but don't talk about more important things like loving your neighbor and caring for the poor.
Adam Simms

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