Friday, December 09, 2016

Sarah Pulliam Bailey Defends An Institution That No Longer Exists (And Probably Never Did)

Sarah Pulliam Bailey, a journalist who covers religion and who professes to be a Christian, seems angry that her fellow Christians are insufficiently obsequious toward "The Press". Her piece, Evangelicals, your attacks on ‘the media’ are getting dangerous, essentially places The Media on some sort of mystic higher level and borders on hysteria.

Why are these "attacks" by evangelicals getting "dangerous"? Because, as she starts her piece out, some deranged guy shot up a pizza place. He was (cue the ominous music) "......influenced by the book “Wild at Heart,” by John Eldredge about faith and masculinity, a popular one for some evangelicals." Um, so what? Well she never says why that was important to point out. I haven't read it but it is a hugely popular book that has sold, I assume, millions of copies. So why was it pertinent to mention it? No idea other than it is popular among some evangelicals and this guy claimed to be influenced by it. Wild at Heart has been out since 2001 and I don't recall it being linked to a guy firing his gun in a pizza place very often. So why bring it up right at the beginning of her article? The only possible reason it to impugn evangelicals who like a book by lumping them in with a deranged guy, in other words poisoning the conversation right at the outset with the people she is allegedly trying to reach. That is only the beginning of the irony.

Ms. Bailey's basic premise is that evangelicals are wrong to dismiss the "mainstream" media in favor of what she no doubt considers "fake news" sites like....cue the ominous music again....Breitbart. As an aside I literally never read Breitbart (or watch Fox News or listen for more than five minutes to Rush Limbaugh, etc.) prior to this election but now I click on every single story they post just out of spite. She then undermines her own argument by pointing out, even while trying to soften the blow, that the mainstream media has done plenty to undermine their own credibility.

To Sarah, a "professing Christian" let's remember, the newspaper is how we understand the world (emphasis mine).

I was raised in both a religious home and a newspaper home. My parents would pull out books for Bible study in the morning and plop them next to the local newspaper. The Bible and newspaper went together like cereal and milk. I grew up believing journalism was a noble profession because the best journalism is based on the relentless pursuit of truth.

Your quick dismissal of the entire “mainstream media” feels deeply inaccurate to me as a Christian and a journalistat least the kind of Christianity I was raised on, where the newspaper informed how we understood the world. The act of doing journalism is a way to live out my faith, a way to search for and then reveal truth in the world around me.

It wasn't "quick", as if we as a group are so easily swayed that we just started reading Breitbart this year and stopped reading the New York Times on a whim. This distrust of the media has been a long, long time coming. Of course it feels "inaccurate" to someone who places an apparent inordinate amount of trust in the media and is part of that group herself. The more important point is that from what she is saying, she grew up where the newspaper had equal or at least equivalent standing with the Bible to inform our worldview. Notice in the second paragraph she goes back to the newspaper as the source of how to understand the world but the Bible doesn't make a return mention. Here is where she goes wrong. The newspaper or other sources of news help to inform us of what is happening in the world but the why things happen is the province of the Bible. I can read about terrorism in the newspaper (maybe) but for all of the pontificating about why the terrorists do what they do, from American troops in the Middle East to oil to blow-back to global warming, the real why of what they do is found in the Bible. The big, "Capital W" WHY is sin and that is central to the entire Biblical narrative, Maybe she should have put the newspaper down and picked the Bible up more often. 

Many people involved in the press and especially those in the media friendly bastions of New York, Washington, D.C. and Chicago hold the media in an almost mystical regard. Let me amend that, they (ironically) hold certain traditional media outlets in the highest regard, like the New York Times, NPR/PBS and the Washington Post, as well as a rather jarring combination of far left, openly agenda driven sources like the Huffington Pot and Jon Stewart that are as far as you can get from the genteel and proper format of largely white, upper crust people in expensive suits reading the Washington Post on the Metro in D.C. while on their way to Important Jobs™ that tell people in flyover country why what they think is wrong and irrelevant.

This sort of almost religious reverence for The Media is a large reason why so many of us reject the narratives they try to force down our throats. To people like Sarah with a deep and abiding faith in the media, the media is out for Truth and Justice, acting as a check and balance against the powerful. In reality the press is not that and hasn't been for a long time. It now is a largely agenda driven media enterprise that seeks to mold and change public opinion, not in favor of objective truth but rather in favor of a certain ideological viewpoint. What is especially ironic in her essay is that she thinks that you get a broad viewpoint from the mainstream media that you don't get from "Breitbart"!

The “mainstream media” is collectively valuable because it presents a range of information and viewpoints, while the Breitbarts of the world present a singular voice to a targeted group of people.

Come on. Does anyone actually think that is true? One of the mainstream media's most respected sources is NPR and this is a radio station that has E.J. Dionne and David Brooks on for their Friday political round-up as if they represent different sides of the political spectrum but as Brooks showed in his extremely nasty and partisan commentary on Election night, he is only slightly less liberal than E.J. People like David Brooks are captive, token "conservatives" who are allowed to cluck their tongues and shake their heads sadly at the ignorance of regular conservative yokels who lack their enlightenment. 

Sarah says some stuff like this:

I sympathize with some frustrations you have, including a lack of ideological diversity within some media outlets. Some reporters have unfortunately stepped into more advocacy-oriented journalism and we’ve seen a blurring of opinion with reporting. 

Could the media do a better job of covering various topics — including religion — with nuance? Absolutely. 

But immediately dismisses them as real concerns and anyway you should stay away from Breitbart! I don't expect the media to cover religion with more "nuance" because the media for the most part considers sincere religious faith to be primitive, scary and more than a little dangerous. What Sarah apparently considers "legitimate" media is almost exclusively centered in highly secular, deeply liberal urban centers that are every bit as much in an ideological bubble as us huckleberries in rural Indiana live in.

It also bears mention that sort of like a preacher who depends on the offering plate to make his living preaching about tithing, someone who writes for the mainstream media and probably gets paid lots of money and gets a lot of exposure and fame for doing so has something of a vested interest in having evangelicals who number in the tens of millions in America buying newspapers that pick up her columns.

The press still serves an adversarial role like it used to when they were muckrackers in the early days of America but not in the way expected. Their adversary now Not specifically me but people like me, people who live outside of certain urban enclaves, who have faith, Christian faith of course, and take it seriously and not only allow but insist that it inform our decisions on matters beyond what to take to the church potluck, people who think that laws matter, that borders are necessary, that government is too big and too intrusive. We are their enemy and they are the ones who made us into adversaries. You can only mock and denigrate what people hold dear and at the same time beat them over the head with the nobility of things that are abhorrent to them for so long before they will stop spending their hard earned money to subsidize the abuse. Ask ESPN and their collapsing viewer base about that.

Ms. Bailey makes an impassioned but hollow call for people who don't think like she does to think like she does anyway because, like too many people who control the media and entertainment world, she thinks she knows better for us than we do. We aren't having it anymore. I am not having it anymore and haven't for some time. Listening to news sources that don't meet the mythical  "journalistic standards" as declared by people living in Washington and New York and Chicago isn't something I feel the slightest obligation to do and trying to guilt by association me into it by some wild attempt to link a lone disturbed individual with anyone who doesn't dutifully buy the New York Times every day is cheap, clumsy and intellectually lazy. In fact it is precisely the sort of stuff that makes people like me no longer care what people from the WaPo or Chicago Tribune think.

If you want to read someone who actually seems to get what is going on, check out this essay from right after the election at by Will Rahn, The unbearable smugness of the press. His whole essay is on the money but check this part out:

The mood in the Washington press corps is bleak, and deservedly so.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that, with a few exceptions, we were all tacitly or explicitly #WithHer, which has led to a certain anguish in the face of Donald Trump’s victory. More than that and more importantly, we also missed the story, after having spent months mocking the people who had a better sense of what was going on.

This is all symptomatic of modern journalism’s great moral and intellectual failing: its unbearable smugness. Had Hillary Clinton won, there’d be a winking “we did it” feeling in the press, a sense that we were brave and called Trump a liar and saved the republic.

So much for that. The audience for our glib analysis and contempt for much of the electorate, it turned out, was rather limited. This was particularly true when it came to voters, the ones who turned out by the millions to deliver not only a rebuke to the political system but also the people who cover it. Trump knew what he was doing when he invited his crowds to jeer and hiss the reporters covering him. They hate us, and have for some time.

And can you blame them? Journalists love mocking Trump supporters. We insult their appearances. We dismiss them as racists and sexists. We emote on Twitter about how this or that comment or policy makes us feel one way or the other, and yet we reject their feelings as invalid.

It’s a profound failure of empathy in the service of endless posturing. There’s been some sympathy from the press, sure: the dispatches from “heroin country” that read like reports from colonial administrators checking in on the natives. But much of that starts from the assumption that Trump voters are backward, and that it’s our duty to catalogue and ultimately reverse that backwardness. What can we do to get these people to stop worshiping their false god and accept our gospel?

We diagnose them as racists in the way Dark Age clerics confused medical problems with demonic possession. Journalists, at our worst, see ourselves as a priestly caste. We believe we not only have access to the indisputable facts, but also a greater truth, a system of beliefs divined from an advanced understanding of justice.

Read the whole thing and compare someone who understands the actual problem with the media is the media themselves, not "dangerous" evangelicals who don't subscribe to the newspaper anymore to Ms. Bailey. If I didn't know better I might think that Ms. Bailey's essay is not directed at her "fellow evangelicals" at all but instead was designed to soothe her fellow media types and reassert her intellectual street cred. If I didn't know better that is but then how would I know better since I don't listen to my betters in the mainstream media?


Aussie John said...


Excellent article which resonates very much with the situation in Australia. Anything which goes under the label "Christianity" is a target. On moral issues even state education departments are trying to insert anti-Christian teaching (without being too obvious)into the curriculum.

dle said...

I was a committed WSJ reader until one day my renewal rate went from $129 a year to $399. When I complained that the rate had been $99-129 for several years (so why the huge spike?), I was told by customer service to pay up or take off. I took off. When they later begged me to come back, I told them to take off. Never went back. Way to permanently tick off a once-committed customer who said nothing but positive things about your paper. Double loss there, folks.

And then the magazines I read became one giant ad. Even the news was an ad. And the features were ads. And the tech news was an ad. And the cuture section was an ad. And the "important newsmakers" started looking more and more like dimwitted celebrities with something to advertise. And I said good riddance to magazines too.

And my local news got rid of all the local columnists who were genuinely talented and who loved our city and replaced them with generic USA Today types writing from some central office somewhere, and the local flavor faded, and so did my interest.

Like so many things I used to enjoy in life, I did not abandon print media, but it abandoned me.

Arthur Sido said...

Dan, the WSJ is a weird beast. I used to read it all the time when I was in financial services and banking but I also got my sub through my employer. Now? Why would I pay for content when I can get equivalent content without going through a paywall?

The traditional media has indeed abandoned us, not the other way around. Too much of what is printed, on paper and online, is garbage. Even "conservative" Fox News is liberally sprinkled with smuttty articles and virtually all of the content from most media is vacuous or so slanted as to be unreadable.

Arthur Sido said...

John, the situation here is pretty dire in a lot of ways. We very quickly moved past "Just leave us alone" to "You have to agree with us, 100% and in public" to things that we cannot agree with.