The mainstream television media in the U.S., including both the big network news and cable news, seem to love putting Christian extremists on the air. In a way, this is understandable. The presence of Christian extremists in positions of power or influence is newsworthy. And yet, there is a danger that such figures will gain legitimacy through their appearances. An even greater danger is that the views of these figures are so rarely challenged by either the interviewers or other guests. So it isn't just that the extremists may gain legitimacy but that the extreme positions they express may be normalized. This raises a few questions for me, none of which have easy answers.
Why Christian Extremists and Not Muslim Extremists?
I cannot recall the last time I saw a Muslim extremist appearing on a U.S. news show as an invited guest expressing his or her views. If those behind the program are seeking controversy or conflict, wouldn't a Muslim extremist deliver the goods just as well as a Christian extremist? And if controversy and conflict aren't the main motives, then what are they?
Note. To head off one inevitable response, let me point out that this blog is not and has never been a news site and that I have repeatedly explained my focus.Why Do Liberal to Moderate Christians So Rarely Appear With the Extremists?
I realize that many atheists have been quite critical of the liberal to moderate Christians for not speaking out against the Christian extremists. Many of us believe that they are choosing to defend their religion at all costs, even if those costs include silently condoning extremist views. I happen to hold this view. However, one must wonder whether the moderates are even being offered a platform from which to speak out.
Doesn't the Obsession With "Neutrality" Undermine the Journalistic Enterprise?
It is difficult to see how programming can be informative when the anchor not only refuses to pose tough questions to the Christian extremist being interviewed but purposefully maintains a stance of neutrality in the face of absurdities. The viewers all know that nobody can possibly be completely neutral on some issues, and trying to do so can make the anchor appear almost inhuman. Imagine someone interviewing Fred Phelps and acting as if what Phelps was saying was nothing more than a perfectly valid position on which reasonable people might disagree. The viewing public cannot be stupid enough to buy the act, so why maintain it?
Aren't There Far More Effective Ways to Convey Respect for Religion?
Many in the media seem quite concerned about conveying a certain level of respect for religion. Some are undoubtedly religious, and many others probably see it as a necessary aspect of catering to their audience. Fair enough. But is featuring Christian extremists without providing any sort of critique or even balance really the best way to communicate respect? It is difficult for me to image that most Christians would be happy with this, and yet, their protests are either too quiet to be heard or are simply being ignored.
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