John Hanlon
In the December issue of Townhall Magazine-- which you can subscribe to by clicking here -- I wrote about the importance of religion in presidential campaigns. From former President’s Theodore Roosevelt’s failed bid for a third term in 1912 to Senator John Kennedy’s successful bid for the presidency in 1960 to even today, religion has often played an important role on the campaign trail. As I noted in the piece, however, some candidates are treated differently when the subject of religion comes up and a new report- which can be found here -- further supports that theory.

The Media Research Center’s Culture and Media Institute's new report examines the network news' coverage of religion in the GOP primary this year. The report's executive summary notes that the study focuses on "reporting on the GOP candidates and religion from Jan. 1-Oct. 31, 2011, and compared it to coverage of the Democratic presidential primary candidates over the same period in 2007."

Some key findings show how the networks treated the subject differently. For instance, the report's executive summary notes that “ABC, CBS and NBC mentioned GOP candidates’ religion 143 times in the first 10 months of 2011. By contrast, Democratic candidates’ faith was brought up only 19 times in the same period of the 2008 election cycle.”

The summary also noted that in 2007, members of the media seemed to accept the religious values of the liberal candidates without asking a lot of questions. The report added, however, that in 2011, "[t]he networks were nearly 13 times more likely to be critical or challenging of conservative candidates' faith than liberals.'"

On the other hand, when Obama was running for president, the Jeremiah Wright story was often overlooked until some of his sermons became too much to keep under the radar. Even when the media focused on Wright's angry rhetoric, very few stories focused on Obama's specific religious beliefs and what sermons he actually witnessed as a member of Wright's Church. If religious beliefs are so important for candidates in 2011, what accounts for the paucity of such stories during the Democratic primary campaign of 2007?

Hopefully, the MRC’s study will bring more attention to this issue. If religion is an important subject to discuss with conservative candidates, I only wish that the media would treat liberal candidates the same way.

To learn about more the subject of religion in presidential politics, check out my article on the subject on newsstands now or subscribe to Townhall Magazine today by clicking here!

John Hanlon

John Hanlon is the Operations Manager of Townhall.com. He can be found on Twitter @johnhanlon.