September 13, 2008

Should the News Media be Liable for Promoting Prayer?

Pick any natural disaster over the past 20 years, including Hurricane Ike, and you can observe a common thread in news reporting. In each case, it is relatively easy to find stories in which religious faith in general and prayer in particular are mentioned. Moreover, they are always mentioned in a neutral to positive manner. Imminent danger is bearing down, but the news media will always find someone remaining in the path of danger because they are convinced that their prayers will be answered. Does this sort of uncritical coverage amount to promoting inaction?

Although I believe some interesting questions could be raised about liability in a legal sense, I am focusing on the moral sort of liability here. By covering prayer in the way they do, is the news media implicitly promoting it as a viable coping strategy? If so, do they not share some of the responsibility for the injuries and loss of life that often happen next?

I started thinking about this question after reading a recent post by Stardust at God is for Suckers! The post referenced an article from MSNBC on Hurricane Ike. Stardust calls on the news media to "STOP THIS PRAYER BULLCRAP and encourage people to follow evacuation orders to get the hell out of the storm’s path."

I agree. By describing case after case of people resorting to prayer instead of effective coping skills, the news media is indeed promoting prayer. In doing so, they are endangering people. Prayer is far from harmless, especially as an alternative to action.

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