Religious Leaders Call for Balanced Debate
Progressive Religious Leaders Call for a Balanced Representation of Religion in the Media
WASHINGTON - MAY 29 - Media Matters for America, along with Faith in Public Life and progressive religious leaders from throughout the country, held a press conference today to discuss "Left Behind: The Skewed Representation of Religion in the Major News Media," a new report documenting the overrepresentation of conservative religious figures in the major news media. Media Matters, a progressive media watchdog organization; Faith in Public Life, an organization dedicated to increasing the strength and visibility of faith leaders working for justice and the common good; and the diverse group of progressive religious leaders called on major media outlets to provide a more balanced expression of religious values and views.
"The overwhelming presence in the news media of conservative religious voices leads to the false implication that to be religious is to be conservative, and worse, that to be progressive is to lack faith or even to be against faith. Nothing could be further from the truth," said Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. "People of faith have long been, and will continue to be, active leaders on progressive causes for justice. Our faith compels it."
"I have long felt the media have given Americans a distorted view of what people of faith believe. This research from Media Matters proves that. I hope both the print and electronic media in this country will now seek the balance so many of them profess to have as they continue to report issues of religion and its impact on our society, government, and the American culture," said Rev. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches USA.
"The media have a vital responsibility to represent the fullness of Catholic social teaching in what needs to be a broad and rich debate about the role of religion in public life," said Alexia Kelley, Executive Director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. "Catholic leaders who speak to the moral dimensions of an unjust war, the dignity of the human person, the growing gap between rich and poor, and global warming, speak from the heart of our Catholic faith. They must not be routinely passed over for strident commentary from culture warriors."
"This report clearly indicates what we've always suspected -- that the media prefer to see the world through a simple lens, a casualty of which is that the right and the conservative voice can often take control of the conversation," said Rev. Dr. Jim Forbes, host of the Air America program The Time Is Now. "So what do we do now? Those of us on who call ourselves progressives need to speak out and be heard."
"Unfortunately, much of the secular and religious media are stuck in the habit of secular-left/religious-right bipolar reporting, and they're failing to see that the religious and political landscape isn't that simple anymore, if it ever was," said Brian McLaren, Board Chairman for Sojourners/Call to Renewal.
Media Matters undertook this study in large part because of the media's response to the 2004 elections, in which key media figures overemphasized the impact of "values voters" -- a misleading term used by the media to describe conservative religious voters motivated by opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion, which suggested that progressive voters did not care similarly about values.
In their coverage, news organizations overwhelmingly presented a picture in which religious Americans were defined as conservative Americans. This representation in the media proved to be a misleading characterization of how these so-called "values voters" influenced the 2006 elections, in which the "value" cited most by voters was the Iraq war, not issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.
* A 2006 Zogby International exit poll showed that the "moral issue" cited most by voters was the Iraq war, and that more than twice as many voters cited greed and materialism or poverty and economic justice as "the most urgent moral crisis in American culture" as those who cited abortion or same-sex marriage.
* Despite their depiction in the mainstream media, only 10 percent of evangelical Christians said abortion and same-sex marriage would be the most important factor in determining their vote, according to a 2006 study by the Center for American Values in Public Life.
* Even though close to 90 percent of Americans identified themselves as religious in the Center for American Values in Public Life study, according to a post-election survey in 2004, only 32 percent of Americans identified themselves as conservative.
* Combining newspapers and television, conservative religious leaders we studied were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed in news stories 2.8 times as often as were progressive religious leaders between November 3, 2004 -- the day after the 2004 presidential election -- and December 31, 2006.
* On television news -- the three major television networks, the three major cable channels, and PBS -- conservative religious leaders were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed almost 3.8 times as often as progressive leaders.
* In major newspapers, conservative religious leaders were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed 2.7 times as often as progressive leaders.