When Journalists Don’t Get Religion
Edited by Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert, and Roberta Green Ahmanson
Oxford University Press, $19.95, 220 pp.
This book makes the case that news organizations often fail in covering major stories because they minimize or misunderstand underlying religious issues. It’s an argument I’ve long sympathized with, dating to the early 1990s when I covered religion at New York Newsday and saw that my first task was to break out of the notion that religion was newsworthy only where it intersected with the culture wars.
It’s an easier argument to make today, given the role religion has played in presidential campaigns and international conflicts. But the level of religious knowledge remains low in many newsrooms, and, as the contributors to Blind Spot show, the result is that major national and international stories are sometimes blown.
For example, Michael Rubin, editor of Middle East Quarterly and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, writes that U.S. reporters often get the Middle East wrong because they don’t focus enough on underlying religious tensions, especially within sects. His essay “Three Decades of Misreporting Iran and Iraq” finds fault with journalists who missed the importance of tensions within Shiite Islam during the war in Iraq. Unaware of the traditions involved, reporters mistakenly assumed that Iraqi Shiites were closely tied to Iran. “To convey conflicts, politics, and diplomacy accurately, Western correspondents must steep themselves in religious...