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Group documents media bias toward conservative faith leaders
Washington, D.C., May 29, 2007 – "I have long felt the media has given Americans a distorted view of what people of faith believe," said the Rev. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches USA (NCC). "This research from Media Matters proves that."
Edgar joined other religious leaders at a National Press Club news conference here along with representatives of Media Matters for America, a research and analysis group that monitors national media.
"Left Behind: The Skewed Representation of Religion in Major News Media," is the title of a report issued by Media Matters. The group studied major television and print media outlets from the day following the 2004 election through December 2006. They discovered that television news programs interviewed, mentioned or quoted conservative religious leaders 3.8 times more than progressive or mainstream faith leaders. Major newspapers quoted conservative leaders 2.7 times more often.
"I know that news judgment is often affected by harshness of rhetoric or degree of conflict and scandal involved," acknowledged Edgar, "but the vast majority of American faith groups are engaged in none of these, and thus won't appear in the media unless enterprising reporters and editors balance their coverage with what the majority of faithful Americans are doing from time to time."
Media Matters identified ten national religious leaders from each side and tracked their presence in the major media. The Rev. Edgar was identified by the media watchdog group as a progressive leader.
"I found on my book tour last year in city after city people were tired of hearing only one point of view from the religious leaders they were hearing in the media," Edgar said. He is the author of "Middle Church: Reclaiming the Values of the Faithful Majority from the Religious Right."
"At a time in which political polarization is perceived to be intensifying, news media have a responsibility to accurately portray the body politic in all its diversity," concludes the Media Matters study.
"But instead of giving their readers and viewers an accurate picture of American religious belief and its effects on politics, news organizations have presented a picture in which religious Americans are usually defined as conservative religious Americans. If religion is an important topic for news media to explore -- and it plainly is -- then they have a responsibility to do so fairly and accurately. Our results suggest that in recent history they have failed to do so."
"I hope both the print and electronic media in this country will now seek the balance so many of them profess to have as they continue to report issues of religion and its impact on our society, government and the American culture," said the NCC's Edgar.
Media Matters contacts: Karl Frisch, Media Matters 202.756.4103 firstname.lastname@example.org, Katie Barge, Faith in Public Life 202.481.8147 email@example.com
NCC News contact: Dan Webster, 212.870.2252, NCCnews@ncccusa.org
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