February 10, 2010

U.S. Media Has Blind Spot For Christian Extremism

media_monkeys.jpgOne can find all sorts of despicable examples of anti-atheist bias and other examples of blatant idiocy in the mainstream media. I cannot help wondering, however, if the more subtle forms of bias do even more damage. They facilitate ignorance and bigotry while masquerading as objective news. A recent post at Atheist Haven got me thinking about how the U.S. media typically handles clear examples of Christian extremism.

One approach that we've all encountered is simply ignoring the story altogether. How many examples of Christian extremism receive scarcely a mention in the local paper and then fade into obscurity? For those who want to make such incidents seem like isolated examples and nothing more, this is an effective strategy.

What about when the story is so big that it cannot be ignored? As I have noted previously, the one thing the media virtually never seems to do, even in such cases, is label Christian extremism as such. No, here in the U.S., it is only followers of other religions (and atheists) who can be extremists. The American media has a blind spot when it comes to Christian extremism.

In the Freshwater case, we may see reports alleging that he was unfairly and illegally discriminated against with only a brief mention of the seriousness of the circumstances that lead to his firing. If he burned crosses into the arms of his students, isn't it fairly obvious that he should be fired? If he taught creationist garbage in science class, isn't it fairly obvious that he should be fired?

One thing we are virtually guaranteed to see in such cases is that the controversy, real or imagined, soon becomes the main story. Rather than risk offending their heavily Christian audience, many reporters construct a false reality in which there are assumed to be two equally valid sides to every story. They describe supporters of Freshwater without bother to point out that many of the claims coming from such supporters are simply false.

Examine this report from MSNBC. At the outset, we are introduced to a controversy with two sides.
Some residents consider him a courageous fighter for religious freedom. Others say he has brazenly violated the church-state divide.
What we see no hint of here is the simple fact that one side just might be batshit insane.

The media is fond of referring to the "creation vs. evolution debate" when there is no debate. There is scientifically-informed reality on one side and genuine crazy on the other. By refusing to acknowledge this fact, the media fails in the goal of informing their audience.

Revelations about "The Family," an extremely powerful and secretive Christian extremist group with an anti-democratic philosophy, and the fact that several prominent members of Congress counted among their ranks should have been the story of the decade. Instead, it was virtually buried.

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