Media Catch-22

It was a clear case of Catch-22. In the wake of the killing of a Florida abortionist, the media rode a moral high horse, denouncing Christians and prolifers as extremists. Yet the same media froze out those prolifers who bring a calm, reasoned approach to the issue. Take the case of Nancy Myers of the National Right to Life. Like all the major pro-life organizations, Myers' group issued a severe condemnation of the Florida shooting. But the mainstream media ignored their press releases. So you can imagine Myers' relief when she got a call from "Nightline" inviting her to appear on the program that night. But shortly before the program began, she received a second call. Never mind, the producer said, we've found someone else instead. It turned out "Nightline" had dug up a lay preacher who was a former member of the Ku Klux Klan. This is the stereotype of Christians and prolifers the media love to hate. Of course, part of the problem is the pressure in journalism to get a colorful story. An outrageous quotation from an unbalanced extremist is so much more colorful than a reasoned response. But there's something deeper at work here as well: Many journalists think Christians and prolifers are by definition extremist. In the New York Times, Anthony Lewis wrote that the Pensacola murder "tells us the essential truth about most anti-abortion activists." What is that "essential truth"? "They are religious fanatics," Lewis wrote, "who want to impose their version of God's word on the rest of us"-even through violence. Where, you wonder, does Mr. Lewis get his insight into the "essential truth" about anti-abortionists? From his description, you get the feeling he doesn't actually know very many of them. Columnist John Leo says most journalists have never met anyone who opposes abortion; so they write about them as if they were covering Martian invaders. Perhaps the worst result of all this is that Christians are starting to believe their own negative press. In a recent poll by USA Today, 57 percent of Americans said fundamentalists are intolerant; 55 percent called them extremist. But tragically, many fundamentalists agreed: 52 percent of fundamentalists agreed that fundamentalists are intolerant and 48 percent agreed they are extremist. Sociologists tell us an oppressed minority often accepts the self-definition imposed by the majority. And since today "fundamentalist" can mean anyone who takes the Bible seriously, what we're seeing is ordinary Christians defining themselves in terms adopted from a hostile and contemptuous media. What can we do about it? The only long-term solution is to reform the media. Christians need to accept the responsibility to be salt and light in professions like journalism, which have such power to mold opinions and attitudes. But each one of us can make a difference in the short run as well. Break out of the Christian ghetto and get to know some of these liberal opinion-makers. Rub shoulders with community leaders and journalists; and help them to see first-hand that we really don't fit their stereotypes. Then it will be much harder to place Christians in a Catch-22.


Chuck Colson


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