Thursday, January 03, 2008

Getting the story wrong every time

The elite media, more times than not, get their stories wrong.. In the area of religious faith, or more specifically, evangelical Christianity, they may as well have landed in a foreign country where they don’t know the language, customs, or culture and then, portray themselves as experts on the subject.

Tonight’s apparent Huckabee win in the Iowa caucuses, as projected by CNN, has set off another typical round of hand ringing and analysis of a subject that the media is ill-equipped to report on. For whatever reason, when it comes to the area of faith, journalists seem to get all soft in the head. Case in point is somehow being unable to differentiate between the populist Baptist evangelicalism of Mike Huckabee and the Salt Lake Mormonism of Mitt Romney.

Every born-again Baptist armed with a rudimentary understanding instilled by weekly Sunday School lessons knows that Mormonism is not compatible with a conservative reading of Christian theology. Yet, article, after article penned by journalists who supposedly make their living by providing factual information, fail cub reporting 101, by being unable to get the “what” of the story, when it comes to understanding the Huckabee phenomenon.

The elite media, based in urban centers, like Washington and New York, tends to discount the mindset of rural America. Their cynical, condescending attitude towards the “rubes” living in “flyover country” clouds and obscures their ability to get the story right. You can have all your facts right, but if you don’t get the culture of your subjects—and the elite media never get the culture right, when reporting on rural America—the story will be wrong every time.

Getting back to Huckabee vs. Romney and the subject of their faith. Huckabee, as an evangelical, holds to an essential doctrine that there is only one true God. That God is revealed in three persons; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Mormons, on the other hand, believe that there are many Gods (Mormon Doctrine, p. 163). They believe that the Trinity is three separate Gods, not that God is a Triune being. (Anyone reading this, that doesn’t have a grounding in basic Christian theology is already scratching their heads, yet, to Christians, this matters. The media, on the other hand, just slough it off as unimportant). Christians, therefore, will always be doubtful about Romney, the Mormon, because they believe that his religious faith, while sincere, is diametrically opposed to their won faith. This isn’t bigotry, or intolerance, but part of their Christian worldview.

Despite the hoopla related to various blogs, websites and new media outposts, when all is said and done, this supposed “new” mode of reporting, more times than not, mirrors the shoddy journalism of the old paradigm media, rooted in the world of print. A case in point is Purple States TV, which has been given primetime positioning courtesy of the New York Times. Going to great lengths to legitimize the “citizen journalism” practiced by five ordinary folks, taking “a journey together through the presidential primary contests,” unfortunately, the end result is just more ill-informed reporting, lacking in context and nuance.

Their stories are neither interesting, nor particularly compelling. While one, or two of the five appear to have some basic understanding and historical grounding in American politics, this experiment in journalism would have been just as effective, if not more so, if they had gone out and found five new arrivals, or even illegal immigrants and paid their way around the country, following the candidates and asking them questions. This type of reality political TV is no more interesting than former mainstream brand, delivered by blow-dried talking heads ala CNN, Fox, or the big three of ABC, NBC, or CBS. In fact, it’s even less informed.

Politics matters and the candidate that ultimately triumphs will move our country further down the path to perdition, or, possibly, make some substantive changes in our energy policy and where we allocate our resources. Do we continue to invest our tax dollars in industries, like defense, which breed death and destruction? Will we continue to pursue prison building as a model for economic development in rural areas of the U.S.? Or, could a candidate, like Ron Paul, or even a Michael Bloomburg, who with his billions, might be able to resist the temptation to pander to corporate interests, make investments in the infrastructure of our own country and its citizens and actually develop a new, more sustainable brand of government?

Iowa may not ultimately determine who becomes our next president, but this rural state, nestled in our country’s heartland, does give us our first glimpse into what real Amercans might be thinking about who they want their next leader to be.


weasel said...

On the subject of Huckerbee vs. Romney- while I agree that the press as per only scratches the surface of an issue and that the non-metropolitan types get short shrift it still came down to rooms full of committed Republicans (i.e. the sort of folks who thought re-electing George W in 04 was just dandy) choosing between a couple of men based on which fable they espoused. As in:

"Hey; if its a choice between burning bushes and buried gold plates well heck, I'll take the guy who thinks the world is younger than brewing".

Do we really want to bestow the awesome responsibility of the American presidency on someone based on the equivalent of whether they prefer Santa to the Easter bunny?

Jim said...

There are a variety of important issues that are in play during this election. Religion is just one of them.

Bias blinds and that applies to religion. Regardless of whether one chooses to espouse the same beliefs of Huckerbee (or Romney), it seems to me that given the role that religion obviously plays in our politics, it behoves those that get paid to know these things and report on them, do so accurately. Unfortunately (in my opinion), that's not happening.

Purple States said...

Hey, don't kill purplestates yet. We're smarter than we look. This was fashioned after Athenean Democracy - Cynthia Farrar, the producer, wrote a book on the stuff. Part of their government used a random sample of citizens (like purple states) and asked them for a short period of time to debate and govern (like purple states). We're not trying to make PS a dumbed-down reality show; we're trying to make purplestates a reaction to the pundit stew you read on op-ed pages or hear every Sunday morning on TV. It truly is supposed to be a cross-section, with some people more informed than others - and believe me that is an issue filming and editing.