Religion's Complexity Often Eludes U.S. Media
Turner, Darrell, National Catholic Reporter
BLIND SPOT: WHEN JOURNALISTS DON'T GET RELIGION Edited By Paul
Marshall, Lela Gilbert and Roberta Green Ahmanson
Published by Oxford University Press, $19.95
Foreign correspondents try to sort out the factions involved in violence in Iraq and India. Political writers analyze the approaches candidates take to reach faith groups in the United States. Film critics cover controversies involving. movies about the life of Jesus.
Religion is a factor in most subjects covered by the news media, not only the once-a-week religion beat. Martin Marty, University of Chicago church historian, asks, "in the wake of Sept. 11, is there any news today that is not religion news?"
Despite the subject's importance, its complexity sometimes baffles reporters to the extent that significant stories are ignored or misreported. Several scholars and commentators give examples and offer suggestions for overcoming the problem in Blind Spot: When Journalists Don't Get Religion.
An extensive chapter is written by Michael Rubin, editor of Middle East Quarterly and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. In it, he shows how the Shiite movement that governs Iran has been mistakenly reported as normative of Shiites although it actually represents a minority Other information he cites that many Persian Gulf correspondents are apparently unaware of Includes the existence of about a dozen grand ayatollahs, all of whom have their followers, and a dispute over the starting date of Ramadan that has pitted Iranian Ayatollah Ali-Khamenei against Iraq-based Grand Ayatollah All Sistani.
Allen D. Hertzke, professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma and author of Representing Goal in Washington, analyzes mainstream press coverage of the passage of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 and three other human-rights measures in which religious coalitions played crucial roles. He finds not only misreporting but sometimes inconsistent coverage even in the same buffet, such as The New York Times, "where a straightforward story is followed by a slanted one, an account of broader alliances by a story that exhibits a distorted Christian Right angle. …