And then there were none.
For seven years, media critics could point to the religion
reporter at ABC News as evidence that the networks were starting to
take religion seriously.
But no more. Recently, ABC announced that Peggy Wehmeyer, the
only full-time network religion correspondent, will leave in
The reason ABC gave? Budget cutbacks.
If that's so, I guess God didn't make the cut.
The loss of one religion reporter would be a small story if other
influential media outlets were doing a good job of covering
religion. But with few exceptions, that isn't the case.
True, religion reporting in print and broadcast media has
improved somewhat in recent years. A study released last year by
the Center for Media and Public Affairs documented the increase in
religion coverage over the past three decades. Given the intensity
of the culture wars of the past 15 years, it's no surprise that the
sharpest increase was in the coverage of religion in politics.
But more doesn't necessarily mean better. The study noted the
lack of context in most religion stories. Religion is mentioned in
stories (often as a source of conflict), but the religious
foundations for public-policy positions are rarely presented as
A second study, conducted by the Garrett-Medill Center for
Religion and the News Media, analyzed coverage of religion in major
print and broadcast media during a six-month period in 1998-1999.
Apart from stories dealing with international conflict, religion
was rarely hard news. Though daily newspapers did a better job than
television news, both failed to provide an adequate understanding
of religious beliefs or practices.
Of course, the marginalization of religion isn't confined to the
media. For much of the last half of the 20th century, many other
institutions that dominate American public life - especially higher
education and public schools - largely ignored religion.
Why should this matter?
Let's begin by stating the obvious: Religion isn't something that
people used to believe in, in the distant past. For the vast
majority of the world's population, religious convictions are at
the heart of culture, politics, economics, and every other
dimension of life.
Even in a "secular nation" like the United States, religion
matters. America begins the 21st century as the most religiously
diverse society on earth - and, among developed nations, the most
How will we negotiate these religious differences if we know so
little about one another? Poor media coverage of religion is
dangerous, because it undermines our ability to engage our fellow
citizens across religious divisions that are deep and abiding.
The First Amendment guarantees freedom of the press and freedom
of religion; it does not guarantee that the press will cover