When I’m in the car for a long period of time, I listen to NPR. Last evening, I heard what I thought must be the perfect NPR story. Here’s how it starts:
Ten years ago, Griffin Matthews was singing in a church choir when his pastor found out he was gay and kicked him out. Feeling depressed, he booked a ticket to Uganda for mission work. What happened next is the subject of Invisible Thread, a new off-Broadway musical co-written by Matthews and his life partner, Matt Gould.
Terry Gross could mine a week’s worth of Fresh Air episodes out of that material. It’s so stereotypical NPR it made me laugh, actually. Nothing against these guys in the story; it’s just that a story about a gay Christian kicked out of his church, who goes to do mission work in Uganda and gets an off-Broadway musical out of it exemplifies the quintessence of National Public Radio — an entity to which I faithfully contribute money, but to which people like me (conservative Christians) are invisible.
This morning I was in the car a lot, and heard a fair amount of NPR’s reporting on the San Bernardino shooting. On Morning Edition, the hosts and reporters seemed to be straining not to say “Islam” or “Muslim,” even though the two killers were Muslims. Steve Inskeep spoke for seven minutes — an eternity in radio news show time — with the San Bernardino-area head of CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations. It was a good interview for the most part, but when Inskeep finally got around to asking the CAIR man if he thought the crime had anything to do with That Religion Which Shall Not Be Mentioned, Inskeep all but apologized to him for posing a perfectly rational question in this era of global Islamist terrorism.
Don’t misread me here: I think it’s important that the don’t-blame-all-Muslims point gets made, and made strongly. But that seems to be the only Islam-as-religion angle that NPR and many in the mainstream media are interested in. Fourteen years after 9/11, the US media still appear to be more interested in keeping Americans from thinking in an informed, fair, but critical sense about Islam and violence than in helping us think more clearly about it. The On Point guest said that the overwhelming majority of American Muslims reject the kind of thing that Farouk and his wife did. I believe him. But then, the overwhelming majority of American gun owners reject it too. Nevertheless, it is legitimate to ask hard questions about gun ownership in this culture — and it is legitimate, in a time in which a small number of religiously motivated Muslims are murdering innocent people in the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and the US, explicitly in the name of Islam, to pose the same questions.
Later, on the way home from Baton Rouge, I caught part of public radio’s Boston-based On Point broadcast, usually hosted by the very good Tom Ashbrook, but today hosted by a female journalist whose name I didn’t catch. The host spoke at length with an Islamic scholar about San Bernardino, and the man understandably went on and on about how hard it is to be an American Muslim when things like this happen. Honestly, I don’t blame him at all; he was defending his community. Again, though, a public radio interviewer came across as someone with an agenda: not to put hard, fair questions to her guest, but to give him a platform to make unchallenged claims and assertions to the audience.
After the interview was over, I thought about whether this host, or any NPR host, or anybody in the national media, cared to interview in the same way pro-lifers and Christians in this softball way after Colorado Springs. After mass shootings, you never hear NPR and its colleagues in the national media giving softball interviews to gun rights people, who for their own reasons are feeling about like that Muslim professor and that CAIR leader feel today. And frankly, I don’t want journalists to give a free ride to pro-lifers, Christians, or gun rights supporters. That’s not journalism; that’s propaganda.
Why the double standard? Or is that only a question we bitter clingers in Jesusland ask?
A young journalist friend who works for a paper in Jesusland e-mailed this morning about the prayer-shaming New York Daily News cover I wrote about earlier today (headline: “God Is Not Fixing It”). He said that he would love to have been present for the editorial meeting in which the Daily News decided to go with that shocking cover:
Do you think there were any dissenting voices whatsoever? Maybe I wouldn’t want to hear those conversations. Maybe I would be sick that there were no dissenters. … Have things really gotten this bad — this one-sided in major newsrooms? Are the gatekeepers for our national dialogues really this far gone?
Oh, sure. Absolutely. I would be truly shocked to learn that anybody in that news meeting had the slightest qualms about that cover and headline. I say that not as a partisan, but as someone who spent over 20 years working in various mainstream newsrooms. The groupthink is overwhelming. When I was a columnist at the conservative New York Post, a senior editor shot down a column idea of mine that focused on Evangelicals in NYC, of which there are quite a few, in particular in the outer boroughs. He looked at me like I had lost my mind. “This is not a religious city,” he said. And he really believed it. As I’ve written before about that incident, I knew where that editor (who left the Post ages ago) lived, and I knew that there were Catholic and Protestant churches, as well as synagogues and mosques, in his neighborhood. But he did not see them, even though they were right in front of his face.
We are seeing once again the cost of the sham idea of diversity our media have. They don’t see us here in Jesusland, except as bitter clingers, as abstractions — and they often don’t see us even if they live and work in Jesusland, as conservative Christians who worked at and read the Dallas Morning News often said when I was there. This has been pointed out so many times over the years, and has done no apparent good, that I hardly even notice it anymore. I just quit believing the media, and assume that when reporting on issues having to do with religion and culture, that they operate in bad faith unless proven otherwise. I have very little faith in the institutions of American journalism, and am rapidly losing faith in the institutions of American academia. I think all of this is a bad thing for this country, but what can I do to stop it? I no longer believe that media and academia, for two, are not really interested in exploring the truth, but rather in enforcing a particular narrow narrative as a means of gaining and preserving power.
Hey, here’s a thought: Americans were arguably just as heavily armed decades ago, but we didn’t have mass shootings then, not like today. Then again, explicit, gory violence in the entertainment media, including in video games, was not remotely as prevalent as it is today. Journalists get awfully defensive when anybody starts talking about reining in liberty under the First Amendment (unless, of course, they’re talking about restricting the speech rights of pro-lifers) — this, even though ISIS routinely broadcasts on the web video of extremely gory violent acts, as a kind of religious and ideological pornography, to inspire recruits. As a writer and journalist myself, I’m defensive about the First Amendment, but I agree that the right to free speech and religion cannot be absolute, and that it’s worth thinking critically about how we exercise those rights. Seems to me that many people in our media have no qualms about wanting to restrict, or even repeal, the Second Amendment, and restricting the First Amendment as long as the people they don’t know or like are the only ones affected.
You know who I don’t see in the media? People like the receptionist at the big church in Baton Rouge I visited this morning. I went by to see one of the pastors, and because of the news, noticed for the first time the bulletproof glass on the front door and windows, and the security cameras. I said to the receptionist, “Isn’t it crazy that we live in a time when a church feels it necessary to take these kinds of precautions?”
She agreed, but said that they once had to go on lockdown at the church when police warned them that an armed man was in the area. The man had assaulted a pastor the day before. Police were looking for him, and were concerned that he might be headed to that particular church.
“I’m sitting right here on the front lines,” said the receptionist. “We take all the precautions we can, but you can never be completely safe. I pray every day, and pray over my three children every day, for the Lord’s protection. We can’t live in fear all the time. We just have to give it up to God.”
That’s what prayer means to most of us in Jesusland. It’s not a substitute for action in the real world, but rather a recognition that it is impossible to stop radical evil at all times and in all places, and that we must develop the spiritual resources to bear that suffering. I know that that woman is operating from faith, a faith that drives both action and contemplation. The secular liberals in the Democratic Party and in the national media are operating from a different kind of faith: a faith in the power of law and reason to prevent evil.
I know which side I’m on. But then, I’m on the other side of the chasm, too far away for people like the folks in the national Democratic Party, at NPR, the Daily News, and others to see, except as an abstract threat.