Yes, Public Radio is Pro-Religion

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When religion and “objective” journalism mix – things get weird.

[last updated March 23, 2015]

Journalists are routinely required to disclose conflicts of interest and even recuse themselves from stories or even their jobs. Michelle Norris, for example, left her position as host of All Things Considered when her husband took a position with Obama’s reelection campaign. Yet religion gets something of a pass in this regard. It is routine for reporters not to discuss their personal beliefs and practices even when they are reporting on religion. This is an obvious double-standard. How can a Catholic reporter, who seriously believes in transubstantiation, the infallibility of the Ex-Cathedra utterances of the Pope, etc., possibly be objective when covering Catholicism if the assumption is that Norris can’t be objective about Obama because her husband works for the campaign? I mean I sort of get it about Norris, although I credit her with having a totally independent brain from that of her husband and personally think she needn’t have stepped down, but a person’s religion is a deep part of their personal identity – not just something their spouse does.

I’m a bit of a purist on this issue and think that religious folks shouldn’t be religion reporters because they are, by definition, biased in favor of religion in general and biased against the tenets other faiths. But at the very least reporters should tell us what religion, if any, they follow.

As a strict agnostic I have a sensitive ear for bias in religious journalism. I don’t mean bias towards one religion or another, I mean the underlying, nearly axiomatic assumption by many American journalists that being religious is good per se. This is something the journalists themselves have a hard time noticing, because they swim in a sea of what Daniel Dennett has called “belief in belief,” which is the idea that it doesn’t really matter what you believe, but it matters that you believe. Statistically I’m guessing most public radio reporters actually are religious/spiritual. I have no way of knowing across the board, but if they come even close to representing the American demographic histogram – nine out of ten Americans believe in God – they must be. I do know some of them are religious or constitutionally friendly to religion, and I’ll be listing them below.

One thread common among agnostic/atheist “believers in belief,” whether my own friends or public figures who go on record about their feelings about religion, is that they grew up in religious families and have an autonomic “respect” for those who are religious. I suspect some of them feel like their own lack of faith is a personal failure that they might manage to rectify in the future. (Bill de Blasio seems to fall into this category.) Sometimes I think such feelings can cause those who have lost faith to value those who have it even more than believers do. In any case religion-friendly journalists absolutely must check their bias when talking about religion. Otherwise you can end up with the kinds of stories I am listing below and will continue to update as I have time.

I’ve mentioned this situation in passing in many of my posts, of course, but I’ve noticed that when I make comments to this effect on relevant message boards the usual chorus of right-wing public radio-haters drown me out with brainless claims that public radio hates hates hates religion the way they must hate Mom and Apple Pie – because they are so LIBERAL!!!

It is beyond the scope of this post to address the dumb notion that public radio is radically liberal, as so many conservatives convince themselves. The purpose of this post is to provide the evidence requested by the trolls that public radio in general and NPR in particular are pro-religion in their coverage as well as in their personal lives.

I am going to continue to update this as time allows and as examples present themselves.

Side Note: No True Scotsman

“No True Scotsman” is a fallacy that many people, including journalists, engage in when they talk about religion. It boils down to assuming that religion is a positive force and then using that assumption to retroactively define negative religious forces as definitionally not religious. This is the heart of the tragically and willfully stupid “ISIS has nothing to do with Islam” assertion made by journalists and politicians alike from Reza Aslan to Bush to Obama.

Entire Public Radio Shows That Are Religious or Pro-Religion

On Being with Krista Tippett, (formerly Speaking Faith.) This show is embarrassingly pro religion, hosted by a Yale Divinity School grad.

Interfaith Voices. Their treacly, obsequious-to-religion slogan on Twitter is “Approaching the world’s religions with an open, humble mind.” Hosted by a Catholic Nun. (I always find it ironic to approach religion with a “humble mind” given the unfathomable arrogance so many religious folks have involving their evidence-free certainties about reality and personal relationship to the infinite almighty.)

Public Radio Staff Who Are Religious or Pro-Religion

Ari Shapiro. I don’t have an opinion about him yet, but since he reports on religious subjects from time to time I asked him on twitter. So far no reply. He is gay, so that may inflect his feelings about groups like ISIS that hurl homosexuals and apostates off of roofs.

Krista Tippett of “On Being”, née “Speaking of Faith”. Never met a religion she didn’t love.

Michelle Norris of NPR (Feb 19 2015 tweet below)

michelle_norris_lent

EJ Dionne is usually the liberal half during ATC’s version of point/counterpoint. He often mentions his Catholic faith. This is an interesting position that some in media critical circles have called for more of: Dionne admits his biases. I suppose this ghettoizes him sometimes as an editorialist, but it’s a good start. When he reports on the church at least we have a broad idea of his perspective.

dionne

Barbara Bradley Hagerty is a religion reporter for NPR was raised as a Christian Scientist. What she is now I don’t know, but her journalistic output is consistently pro-religion and pro-religious figures. I’ll list some of her worst stories below.

Scott Simon often speaks warmly of religion and religious figures, even some nasty ones like Oral Roberts.

Tom Gjelten is now on the religion beat at NPR. Judging by one of his first stories (see below) he is pro-religion, but I don’t know yet if he is religious. UPDATE: Gjelten is a gentleman and replied thusly on Twitter: “Lapsed Norwegian Lutheran (ie, unaffiliated) but humble enough not to claim I grasp anything cosmic, respect those who do.” That last clause is part of the problem. Nobody is owed respect simply because they claim to grasp the cosmic. I would argue people who claim to grasp the cosmic deserve more scrutiny than those who profess ignorance. Countless people have fallen for con men who claimed to grasp the cosmic. I suspect he knows this and couldn’t fit more nuance in a tweet, but religion reporters must be more clear-eyed than others when they approach people who claim to grasp the cosmic. Otherwise you risk becoming Krista Tippett. I highly recommend Gjelten and any other religion beat reporters go see Book of Mormon.

Rachel Martin, talented host of Weekend Edition Sunday, recently tweeted that ex-Wonkette Ana Marie Cox’s Daily Beast love letter to Christ, “Coming Out Christian,” was “worth reading.” This prompted me to ask Martin if she practiced a faith, to which query she generously replied “I don’t. But grew up in a religious home and have a lot of respect for many people who do.” I appreciate her addition of the word “many,” because it allows room for judgment in the cases of those who fake or otherwise mis-use religion.

Reza Aslan is not a staffer but is often interviewed on public radio as an expert on religion. He has the kind of animus for new atheism that middle schoolers have for the person who stole their boyfriend/girlfriend. Literally. Wait Wait Don’t Tell me broke my heart by recently featuring him as a panelist.

More to come…

Public Radio Staff Who Chose Not To Answer My Inquiry About Their Religion

Ari Shapiro

Jennifer Ludden

Pro-Religion Stories in Public Media

– This travesty was constructed of 2 parts speculation and one part Reza Aslan by Tom Gjelten. According to it there is a potentially violent group of extreme “anti-theists”. It’s laughable. Still waiting for more on this non-development. Hey, by the way, whatever happened to this case? Maybe brief spasms of Twitter outrage from the professionally offended isn’t the best way to prioritize production and air time?

– In this ridiculous piece Barbara Bradley Hagerty basically presents a medical case as a holy miracle.

– Every episode of “Speaking of Faith” and “On Being”.

– NPR is in the midst of a well-intentioned and well-produced (as usual) series about Muslims in Europe. Today’s story about an abandoned church in Bolton, England filed by Ari Shapiro is a good example. It’s an interesting story about a very ecumenical project that is just the sort of narrative people who are reflexively pro-religion love to promulgate. I don’t have a problem with the story itself, but its “celebrate diversity” and “yes, we can all just get along” message is practically the only one you’ll hear throughout this series. Yesterday there was the oddly-headlined and very sympathetic story “British Muslims Still Feel the Need to Explain Themselves” (filed by Audie Cornish) in which Muslims described hate emails they get from anti-Muslim extremists. It’s too bad about the hate emails, but until an anti-Muslim extremist walks into a building full of innocent artists and starts shooting up the place we need to keep things in perspective. (And shouldn’t we ask religious folks to explain themselves all the time?) I’m waiting for a story in this series about radical imams who encourage violence or the like, but I doubt we’ll be hearing one. It appears to be a “feel good” piece except for the parts where we are meant to pity the plight of European Muslims. Muslim groups in Britain are attempting to pass anti-blasphemy laws, for example, but nothing like that is discussed in this series. So far it is mostly an attempt to understand and reify the ways in which Muslims feel bad about living in their chosen countries rather than why those countries might have some difficulty with immigrants whose religious choices are antithetical to the founding principles of the host country.

MANY more items to come as they are produced and from the archives when I have time to update… (if you can’t wait just peruse old posts here.)

Religion-Unfriendly Events Ignored or Downplayed by Public Media

– On February 26 a Bangladeshi-American named Avijit Roy was hacked to death by Muslim Extremists who were unhappy with his writings critical of fundamentalist Islam. No word was heard on NPR, though their “Two Way” news blog did cover it. Meanwhile they did see fit to run a trivial Islamophilia story about a moderate German Muslim who encourages people to ask him about his faith.

– There have been several recent stories in the US and Canada regarding children who died because religious parents refused them the treatments that would have saved them. You wouldn’t know about them listening to NPR.

– Coverage of the trial of the Boston Marathon bomber on NPR routinely downplays or fails to mention the Islamic Extremist ideas behind the mass murder.

– (3-23-15) 7 children died a few days ago in a fire that was caused because ridiculous Orthodox Jewish tradition demanded a hot-plate could not be turned off on the sabbath. On numerous occasions today the deaths/burials were reported on NPR without the crucial information about the circumstances of the death.

What’s Annoying on Public Radio Now

On a Tuesday, this is Airbag Moments returning to air – or wifi anyway.

I notice with horror I made zero posts in 2014. I am tweeting a lot, though, so blame the siren song of social media and fear of the Riyadh Flogger for my lack of blogging. (@airbagmoments)

What has driven me beyond the 140 character restriction today, the first time in over a year? Only a brief list of weird/annoying micro-trends in Public Radio, especially NPR, that I feel need some publicity – so they can stop.

Let’s do the numbers!

1. The Daily Grind

Apparently Steve Inskeep feels our pain. (Well he doesn’t feel my particular pain, since he took to his fainting couch and blocked me on Twitter at some point – see below.) But apparently he feels the rest of you, because he has pioneered a new version of the useless day-of-the-week intro ritual (ie “on a Wednesday”) he and other hosts have adopted over the last couple of years. Now he’s taken to uttering pseudo-ominous inanities like “well, you’ve made it to Tuesday!” I think everyone out here in listener-land is pretty aware of what day of the week it is and whether or not surmounting the previous midnight is worthy of succor and sympathy.

I will go so far as to say I would not mind being calmly reminded of the date, Steve, which you never do for some reason.

2. Yay us!

NPR or its shows were mentioned in two nerdy inner sanctums in the past week, the game show “Jeopardy” and the NY Times crossword puzzle. Given the exuberant twit-storm about this from NPR staffers I can only deduce that it’s apparently everything they’ve been working towards for their entire lives. What will they do now for a second act?

This brings me to a more general annoyance, which is the self-aggrandizing vanity retweets many hosts and official public radio program feeds indulge in. I guess I’m glad that @doctormom420 cried in her driveway during the segment when Scott Simon sang “Danny Boy” to Draggy, GoryCorps creator and aptonym David Isay’s 2-legged Golden Retriever, but I don’t need to know about it.

Let’s make a deal: if you are going to retweet the effulgent praise then I expect you to retweet the trenchant critiques also, which you can find more easily if you unblock me on twitter.

Which brings me to…

3. Throwing a block

I try to be a resource for people by following every public radio personality and show I can find on Twitter, unfollowing them only when their feeds become choked with baby pics and vanity retweets.

Those of you who are familiar with the effete and grammatical pokes I take at public radio must marvel at Steve Inskeep’s (and EXCITING UPDATE “Vocal Fry Guy” Raz!) precious sensitivity. This is unbecoming in one who makes a living ostensibly asking tough questions in interviews. If Twitter actually notified users at the time when other users blocked them I could know which comment of mine tweaked Inskeep’s and Raz’s hair-trigger peevishness.

Then we come to On The Media, a show I myself have praised effulgently in this space. Yeah, they blocked me for some reason. Really, OTM? You are the show that hates censorship so much you have produced entire episodes about it. What could I, who have called OTM the best show on radio, have said to offend them so much that they would block me from their official Twitter feed? What does that even accomplish other than tainting the purity of my love for them? At least Brooke and Bob, the hosts, have yet to block me from their little-used personal feeds.

I admit that I do sometimes say things that don’t follow the public relations guidelines for human society known as “political correctness.” But I am not one of these ignorant, racist, sexist, conspiracist or wing-nut (left or right) knee-jerk public radio trollers you find in the comment sections dangling under so many segments’ web pages.

To those who block me I have this to say: no matter what you claim, vous n’êtes pas Charlie.

4. Same old pundits vs. Sarah Chayes

I have written before about how outrageous it is that Chayes, one of the most valuable voices about Afghanistan we have and a former NPR correspondent, has been ignored ever since she left her radio job to actually do something instead of just “getting a sense.” I have also written about how weird it is that smart voices only seem to appear on radio shows like Diane Rehm when they are coincidentally on a book tour.

Well the second phenomenon has, at least for a brief period, solved the first because Sarah Chayes is on a book tour, which is the golden ticket to get back on the radio. Yay!

Meanwhile most of the regular pundit slots remain filled with people whose responses are entirely predictable: either political talking points or conventional wisdom.

I’m out of time, but not out of bile, so stay tuned!

I do, I like Green Eggs and Ham!!!

You’d think a purported master-debater like Ted Cruz would know that the protagonist of “Green Eggs and Ham” learns to freakin’ LOVE green eggs and ham – once he actually tries them.

You’d think NPR’s news department would be smart enough to point out this amusing fact.

The whole damned point of that book is to get children (Republicans?) to try new things.  Sound familiar?

Who knows, maybe Cruz will come to like Obamacare!  If he’s like other Republicans who individually change their minds when it suits them it will happen the moment someone in his family needs an expensive life-saving procedure that they can’t afford.

Putting the “App” in “AppleTV”

iPad users have access to almost a million apps.  iPhone users have well over half a million apps to choose from.  AppleTV users?  18 apps.  Not 18 million, not 18 thousand, not 18 hundred, just 18.

So what’s the reason for this?  Can’t we at least have Amazon Prime?

Where’s the Pork?

NPR reporter Julia Simon had a story today that exemplifies the best and worst of public media.

She starts with an incredibly good question: all educated Americans know that the US gives mega money to Egypt annually, but what does that money actually buy?

In a  very easy to understand narrative Simon takes us on a guided tour of what happens with this money.  SPOILER ALERT!  It never leaves the USA.  It actually purchases a bunch of bloated, American-made cold-war weapons systems of which Egypt already has plenty.  Best quote:

There’s no conceivable scenario in which they’d need all those tanks short of an alien invasion.

– Shana Marshall, Insert Relevant Institution Here

Simon then follows with specific examples of companies who lobby Washington to keep these purchases going.

So far so awesome.  But then the story just ends.  There is the requisite comment that this is just how things are and the inertia of existing programs is difficult to change etc.  We’ll just have to leave it there.

Conventional wisdom achieved: the military industrial complex is what it is, sigh.

But there’s a giant Nile crocodile in the room that is utterly absent from this story of a corrupt developing country spending proxy billions of American taxpayer money on unnecessary American made weapons, isn’t there?

Anybody?

Bueller?

Oh wait!  Corruption!

The subtext of the story for those actually paying attention is that someone, somewhere, is getting a lot of kickback for these deals.  Probably a lot of someones.  In fact a lack of corruption in this set-up would be so astonishing as to deserve its own mention.

But I guess that sort of exploration is for the kind of investigative reporting that either doesn’t exist much anymore or is too focussed on Anthony’s Wiener.

Problems to Follow Papal midterm elections?

I’m so sick of all this Papal coverage, but I found this item of interest:

Supreme Deity “Has Concerns” With Newly Elected Pope

March 14, 2013
Vatican City

(AP) At His day-after-the-election news conference Thursday, The Lord of Hosts said He wants to meet with the newly elected Pope Francis I as part of a search for common ground on policy issues. Jehovah said He was eager to work with Vatican leaders and listen to “good ideas wherever they come from.” But He said He “has concerns” that it will not be easy to reach agreement on contentious issues.

The Lord of Lords has frequently been in conflict with previous occupants of the Vatican’s highest office on a wide variety of matters facing both the Vatican Curia and all of humanity for all of time. The new Vatican leader does not appear to be likely to change that disconnect in spite of conciliatory language from both sides.

The first question from reporters after the King of King’s initial statement concerned the issue of abortion, perhaps the most difficult area to find congruity between the parties. All previous Popes, as well as all priests and cardinals, including the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio himself, frequently and totally condemn all forms of abortion, while the Maker of Heaven and Earth continues to abort or miscarry an estimated 50% of all fertilized eggs globally, an activity He has engaged in for all of human history. God confirmed that He will continue this initiative and allow no interference from Vatican officials, saying He stands by His record of over twelve thousand billion so-called “spontaneous” abortions.

Anticipating a direct request from the newly chosen Pontiff, Jake Tapper of ABC News asked the Ultimate Power of the Universe if He would consider changing His stance on Earthquakes, adding “especially those which cause terrifying tsunamis that kill tens or hundreds of thousands of Your constituents.” Elohim replied that, as with rape, disease, and many volcanoes, Popes and other Vatican officials often pray for the victims of such events and circumstances but rarely proactively ask for their prevention. As a result The Lord “sees no reason to consider changing His policies” on any of these issues in the next fiscal year or, for that matter, all future time until the end of both the Universe and the very concept of time itself.

In what could be yet another sign of problems to come, Pope Francis broke with more socially active clergy during his time in Argentina. He failed to support the “Liberation Theology” movement as they attempted to improve conditions among the poor via direct aid and via calls for government action. Very God of Very God refers to Himself as a “Biblical Originalist” on the issue. “While poverty has proven to be a greater challenge than I anticipated when I called for its eradication over 2000 years ago, I still firmly believe we can, and indeed must, do everything in our power to bring an end to it.” Norm Ornstein, resident scholar at the pro-business American Enterprise Institute, speculated “if the omniscient and all-powerful Maker of All Things Seen and Unseen truly wanted to end poverty there’s a sense that He could do so very quickly.”

Even differences on something as seemingly uncontroversial as “the dignity of life” may cause strong divisions between the new Pope, who has frequently spoken in support of it, and God Almighty, whose record includes infinite varieties of hideous fetal mutations, flesh-eating bacteria, organ-liquefying hemorrhagic fevers, and continence-robbing brain injuries and diseases.

There are several areas of apparent agreement between the parties. On the questions of why bad things happen to good people and why Apple insists on changing the configuration of the iPhone recharger even though the old one was completely fine and now everyone has to buy a stupid adapter both parties replied in a joint statement that there would be “no comment at this time.”

Dumbest thing heard on public radio this week

My local public radio station played a piece from a PRX podcast called “99% Invisible” this weekend about the history of pneumatic tube delivery systems.  It was quite interesting.  Unfortunately it contained the following howler, uttered by producer Sam Greenspan:

If you think about the kind of technology that we were promised by something like Star Trek, we have just about all of it except the transporter.

Has this guy ever actually seen Star Trek?

If so, then I am really excited because I guess I missed the latest issue of Sky Mall, which I assume now features:

  • A real-time language translator that works from thought, and not just human thought, so it can translate alien languages it has never encountered.
  • Food synthesizers
  • Faster than light travel
  • Time travel via manipulation of faster than light travel
  • Artificial gravity
  • iPhone-sized communicators that can talk to orbiting spaceships…without requiring any cell towers or satellites.
  • Beds that can monitor all of your medical vitals with no probes or straps.
  • Hand held laser-style weapons that can stun or kill
  • Spaceship mounted laser-type weapons
  • Near infinite, powerful clean energy from crystals
  • Robots so much like humans you can’t tell the difference

And that’s really just the beginning of a complete list.

So, Sam, either you need to send me some “Buy Now” links for this stuff or you need to calm down your tech triumphalist hyperbole about our current, really quite lame state of technology compared to Star Trek’s actual implicit promises to the contrary.

The much more accurate and interesting point is the very opposite of Greenspan’s sentiment:  very, very few of the things promised us by 20th Century sci-fi have come true. Why is that?

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