Following 9/11: Religion Coverage in the New York Times

By Cassara, Catherine | Journalism History, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

Following 9/11: Religion Coverage in the New York Times


Cassara, Catherine, Journalism History


Vecsey, Christopher. Following 9111: Religion Coverage in the New York Times. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2011. 477 pp. $34.95.

Coverage touching on religion in the New York Times has increased exponentially since 9/11, showing up in every news section, in several stories on the front page in the same day, and even in full-page layouts inside. And the author is in a position to know; he clipped, read, analyzed, and filed more than 1 5,000 stories from the Times between 1970 and 2001 and tens of thousands of stories since.

Vecsey comes from family of journalists. He has been clipping stories from the New York Times for decades and has file cabinets full of the paper's coverage. In 1976, his older brother, George, until then a sports reporter for the newspaper, took an extended assignment reporting religion for the paper; in that same year, Christopher got his first teaching job and his brother's assignment triggered a particular interest in the paper's religion coverage. He is now a professor of humanities at Colgate University.

His clippings matter because they provided the basis of this book, but they also matter because he has used them in classes at Colgate, and those classes have helped to assess and analyze the paper's coverage.

Vecsey concludes Times' reportage and commentary on religion in the world after 9/11 offers a multi-perspectival, even cubist, set of visions of "a first draft of history." Given its complex character, he suggests the paper's coverage is more true to the complex realities of the world than any single interpretive reduction. He finds that the Times is not an institution that constrains or controls coverage but rather one that allows and even encourages multiple knowledges, disciplines, ideologies, and multiple conventions to find expression on its pages. Not only do individual articles seek multiple viewpoints, but op-ed pieces routinely contradict one another. There may be a balance built on the paper's own, and die readership's conventional, worldview, which is reasonable since it is published in New York, but nonetheless he finds a constant reaching toward other perspectives.

In the fall of 200 1 , Vecsey and a political science colleague were teaching a freshman seminar, "Religion in these Times," which aimed at assessing the depth, scope, and slant of religion in the newspaper. Two weeks into the course, the catastrophic 9/11 attacks permanently changed the paper's religious coverage. Since that semester, he has taught various different classes about politics and religion, using Times' coverage as a text. …

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