Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Media Matters -- Just Because Someone Is Labeled "Progressive" Doesn't Mean They Are

Media Matters has just released a study comparing how progressive and conservative religious leaders are covered by the media.

It’s worth reading the whole report, but according to their own press release, the highlights are:

  • Combining newspapers and television, conservative religious leaders we studied were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed in news stories 2.8 times as often as were progressive religious leaders between November 3, 2004 -- the day after the 2004 presidential election -- and December 31, 2006.

  • On television news -- the three major television networks, the three major cable channels, and PBS -- conservative religious leaders were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed almost 3.8 times as often as progressive leaders.

  • In major newspapers, conservative religious leaders were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed 2.7 times as often as progressive leaders.

But, there is a problem with this analysis. What the report doesn’t tell you – and neither does the press release of this organization that labels itself as progressive – is that 18 of the 20 most quoted religious leaders in America are MEN.

More significantly, the majority of the “progressive religious leaders” are not indeed progressive – at least not when it comes to sexual justice. Of the ten most quoted “progressive” religious leaders, only two are unambiguous and outspoken about their support for reproductive rights and LBGT issues, a few are largely silent, and more than half are actually OPPOSED.

Perhaps Media Matters can be convinced to reanalyze their data – how many more times are anti-choice, anti-LBGT religious leaders covered than those who stand with the majority of Americans in support of these issues? How many more times are MALE religious leaders covered than FEMALE clergy?

These aren’t theoretical issues for us at the Religious Institute. We have worked hard to be included in media stories on these issues, and have often been told that the religious voice has already been covered – by a voice on the right. I once had a producer tell me that they would only use me on a story if they didn’t have to identity me as “Reverend Haffner.” When I asked why, they told me that a woman pro-choice clergyperson would be too confusing to their television audience.

Will this report make a difference to how the media covers religion? Surely the experience until now is not because the press doesn’t know that women religious leaders or religious leaders that support sexual justice exist. But just in case, we’re ready and willing – both to appear as well as suggest dozens of other names to the media when they do these stories.

Let’s see – off the top of my head, there’s also Rev. Dr. Emilie Townes, Rev. Irene Monroe, Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock, Rev. Janie Spahr, Dr. Mary Hunt, Rev. Barbara Lundblad, Rev. Dr. Susan Thistlewaite, Rev. Erin Swenson, Rabbi Rebecca Alpert, Rabbi Sandy Sasso…and that’s just for starters. Google them – I think you’ll agree.


Cassandra said...

That doesn't really surprise me. I gather most Catholic priests would be considered "conservative" (although the Church's position on poverty, immigration, capitol punishment, and the Iraq War might, at the same time, be considered "progressive"). Considering the number of Catholics in the country and the world, it's no surprise media outlets would consistently interview a Catholic priest on their program.

Also, clergy represent their church members not the rest of the American population so why should it matter whether the clergy being interviewed shares the views of the majority of American population?

Karen Rayne, Ph.D. said...

Thank you, Reverend Haffner, for thinking critically about these issues and blogging about them.

As a sex educator I am constantly trying to bring conversations about sexuality into more arenas. As a UU I find that churches are places where progressive conversation about comprehensive sexuality can and should be more prominent.

I have just found your blog and am looking forward to reading.

Karen Rayne, Ph.D.