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Will GetReligion get this?

23 November 2010

It’s a commonplace that the media don’t “get” religion, and that religion reporting often consists mainly of disinformation. There’s a web site called GetReligion dedicated to that proposition, with lots of examples and comments.

Having observed the phenomenon, I decided to follow them on Twitter, and see what interesting stories came up. I then I discovered an interesting thing — they seem to be missing a great deal, and their selection of examples of media distortion is quite, well, selective. They seem, for example, to have missed this, which would seem to be one of the more outstanding examples of the genre: The Church Mouse Blog: Bishop Pete Broadbent suffers Facebook foot-in-mouth syndrome:

Bishop Pete’s comments have now been picked up by pretty much every newspaper in the UK, after having been featured in the Daily Mail in an attack piece, as well as news outlets in the US, Australia and elsewhere. Bishop Pete is in the headlines being accused of an unprovoked attack on Prince William and Kate Middleton, of being rude and of being a hypocrite. Cranmer has called on him to resign.

The bit that caused all the media stir was this:

Never underestimate the capacity of the media to descend into the most fawning deferential nonsense and to rake up trivia and irrelevance until it comes out of their every orifice. I managed to avoid the last disaster in slow motion between Big Ears and the Porcelain Doll, and hope to avoid this one too.

which was rather rude, and caused a storm of protest in the media, but — and here’s the bit that would seem to be GetReligion’s stock-in-trade — Bishop Pete also goes on to note that

It’s the gutter press. You can bet your boots they won’t quote anything I’ve said about their responsibility for persecuting the Royals. It’ll be partial quotes and out of context journalism.

Yes, that would be the same Daily Mail which described the Royal family only last week as “notoriously dysfunctional”. Interesting double standards – but what can you expect from journos?

But I searched the GetReligion site in vain for “Broadbent” and “porcelain doll”.

Perhaps GetReligion doesn’t get the media enough.

Hat-tip to: Purple Words on a Grey Background: Episcopal Foot in it.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 23 November 2010 11:00 am

    GetReligion is understandably biased towards following the American press (that’s what shows up on their doorstep every morning), and the GetReligion team is transparent about their inability to keep up adequately with religion news.

    That said, they’re generally grateful to get tips from readers, and if you haven’t sent them an email yet I’d suggest doing so.

    I do have a question, and the answer to the question may help in determining whether the British media’s handling of this story begs commentary from GetReligion: where’s the religion ghost? What’s the religious angle? The person in question is a religious figure, I get that. I also get the irony that the media is doing exactly what the bishop predicted they’d do.

    But the story seems to be about a public figure being demonized in the media for his comments about the British Royal Family. Where’s the religious angle (beyond the fact that said public figure is a bishop)?

    What about the media’s handling of the story demonstrates that they don’t “get” religion? What are they missing?

    • 23 November 2010 6:31 pm

      As one of the commenters on the Church Mous blog put it, “‘Bishop’ is a public office. The CofE is the State Church, whose Supreme Governor is the Queen and Head of State, to whom all bishops are subject. The Bishop of Willesden may hold whatever private views he wishes, but he is not entitled to make them public when such pronouncement may compromise the integrity of his office, impede the ministry of the Church, or embarrass the Queen. ”

      I’m not sure that I agree with all the sentiments expressed, but that does make it a “religious” matter.

  2. 23 November 2010 5:18 pm

    I’ve been following GetReligion for the past year. Their raison d’etre is that editors and reporters—usually Americans—are notoriously deficient in religious coverage because they dismiss religion as a relevant factor in the story.

    Which is foolish to do in the United States: About 90 percent of us believe in God, about 80 percent of us consider ourselves Christians, and about half of us consider ourselves devout. There are a disproportionate number of skeptics in the press, and their skepticism can get in the way of effective reporting. They ignore religious factors, religious causes, religious motivations, and religious details in their reporting—details that a reporter would never slack on analyzing if they were political, economic, scientific, cultural, or even sport-related.

    Religion-beat reporters know what to look for, but fewer and fewer newspapers have religion-beat reporters anymore, and just assume any reporter can reasonably cover a religion story. Consequently we have religion stories that repeat common errors, or are riddled with them. Two complaints GetReligion regularly has, you may notice, is that the Episcopal/Anglican church is regularly referred to in American stories as the second largest Christian sect in the world (when it’s Orthodoxy) and that the Womenpriests movement ordains women in the Roman Catholic Church (when it’s not recognized by the RCC at all). Nobody fact-checks these stories, and editors rarely recognize they need to.

    This being the complaint, does the reporting on Bishop Broadbent reflect this lack of recognition? If not, the good bloggers are likely going to give it a miss until a reporter misreports something. Pastors in the U.S. are shooting their mouths off all the time, and their statements rarely make GetReligion until a reporter mangles the meaning, the motivation, the context, the background, or anything that’s part of their job of covering news.

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