Friday, January 22, 2010

Brit Hume’s Comments on the Tiger Woods Scandal on Fox News (double standards and perceptions of persecution)

I personally don’t quite understand the concern about a “journalist” expressing religious beliefs while in his or her role as a journalist. Traditionally, our ideal in the United States has been that the media would objectively report the facts and not express personal opinions. However, in my lifetime, I’m a little hard pressed to come up with real life examples of that ideal. In fact, in recent years, there seems to be an acceleration in the divergence from that ideal. There also has been a concurrent trend to blur the lines between news reporting and entertainment. I rarely watch television news any more, but I turned it on the other morning to see what was going on in the world. The news anchors were interviewing a correspondent for a gossip show who was telling viewers that Heidi Montag had recently had breast augmentation surgery and had appeared in public with a very revealing blouse. I have to admit that I’m not entirely sure who Ms. Montag is, but that did not strike me as a particularly newsworthy story. I immediately went back to NPR.

Indeed, within these trends away from the ideal of objective journalism and towards the melding of news and entertainment, Fox News is often held up as one of the worst offenders. They are considered by many to be at the forefront of these unfortunate trends. Watching Fox News, it is not uncommon for the “journalists” (or perhaps “news personalities” or “media pundits” are more accurate labels?) to explicitly express their own views on the news stories of the day. Indeed, much of the round-the-clock programming on Fox News (and other news channels) involves various individuals sitting around a television studio discussing their own opinions with respect to current events. As a result, I don’t really see how anyone should be so shocked by Mr. Hume’s advice for Mr. Woods. The only difference is that typically the views expressed by the “journalists” are based on their political beliefs, not their religious convictions. In my opinion, the outrage over Mr. Hume seems to have been triggered by his choice to go against an unspoken rule that religious views should never be expressed publicly. I don’t quite understand why it is ok for people on the news channels to give commentary on current events if they are based on political beliefs, but it is prohibited to mention one’s faith. Frankly, I don’t think either should be expressed in news programs. But if one is acceptable, why not the other?

Indeed, this apparent double standard simply plays into the existing defensiveness of culturally conservative Christians—perhaps like the DJ I heard talk about the reaction to Mr. Hume’s comments and many of the listeners of that Christian radio station. Within culturally conservative American Christian circles, I have repeatedly observed a deep-seated belief of a cultural war against religion and those individuals who espouse a religious faith (especially those who are Christians). Most non-Christians seem to be unaware of such beliefs or are disinterested in them. Because of the strength of such beliefs and the growing number of people who share them, I think it is important to be cognizant of this trend.
I have heard countless people with such beliefs express very deeply held, sincere fears that those in power in government and in the news/entertainment media are hostile to religion, and aim to eliminate its practice and expression. Such individuals are concerned that as Christians they are targets for persecution and their beliefs are under attack.

To some extent, I can understand this sort of siege mentality. In mainstream pop culture, Christians are often held up to ridicule and scorn. Christians are often held out as the antagonists or comic relief in movies, television and other media. Often this is subtle, but it is clear (and offensive) to many Christians nonetheless. Think of the rigid preacher who hates dancing in Footloose, goofy Ned Flanders and cynical Reverend Lovejoy in The Simpsons, the corrupt warden in Shawshank Redemption, and Robert DeNiro’s crazed Bible-quoting killer in Cape Fear. In the Jim Crow era, I’m sure African Americans did not exactly feel affirmed by the hate-filled ridicules of minstrel shows. Similarly and more recently, the GLBT community has expressed their sharp disapproval when the few GLBT characters in movies were portrayed as dangerous sociopaths (e.g., Basic Instinct, Silence of the Lambs, JFK). The link below expresses an interesting analysis of the negative portrayals of Christians and Christianity in the mainline media.

I must confess I don’t always understand the feelings of persecution by many culturally conservative Christians. Sure there is a bias by large segments of the entertainment media and probably the news media (to the extent it is separate). But the siege mentality I’ve observed also seems to be grounded in enforcement of First Amendment principles. For example, these fears of religious persecution (or annihilation) seem to arise from enforcement of the Supreme Court’s determination that institutionalized prayer is constitutionally impermissible in the public schools, from efforts to teach Darwinism in public schools, and from removal of religious (particularly Christian or biblical) references in public places by the government (e.g., the White House creche, postings of the Ten Commandments in court houses). I personally feel rather disaffirmed by Hollywood caricatures of Christians, but I suppose I’ll live. However, I don’t feel at all threatened by the government’s attempts to try to appear neutral and not overtly favor one religion over another. That is the disconnect for me. I have struggled but failed thus far to understand it.

Deuteronomy 28:37 (New Century Version)

You will become a hated thing to the nations where the Lord sends you; they will laugh at you and make fun of you.

1 comment:

  1. How can you quote that verse in Deuteronomy and say in your blog you dont understand where Christians get that they are being persecuted? It's not a persecution complex, it's an understanding of the need to be more bold about the faith when there is opposition. It's not out of self-pity that anyone points out persecution. The Lord said it would be that way before He returned. Corny sounding or not, that's what motivates Christians to be bolder about faith when there IS persecution, and ridicule and smirking.... and Deuteronomy is not the best place to go for that kind of verse - Jesus said no servant is greater than his master, therefore servants of Christ will suffer ridicule and scorn as Jesus did. So blog on, blogger... your spin doesn't change anything.