Ten years ago, the Washington Post carried a front-page story on evangelical Christians. The writer, Michael Weisskopf, famously dismissed this significant demographic as "poor, uneducated and easy to command. " Uproar ensued and members of this particular class telephoned and faxed their bona fides, noting their degrees from accredited and mainstream universities.
Weisskopf was forced to amend his story, explaining he meant "most " evangelicals are poor, uneducated and easy to command. That brought more objections from the same class of people. The Post ombudsman at the time, Joann Byrd, wrote a column in which she tried to explain Weisskopf's faux pas. Byrd said readers needed to understand that most journalists don't know any of "these people. " Don't want to know them is a better explanation.
Now comes the newly minted New York Times op-ed columnist, Nicholas D. Kristof, with a similar statement. He not only displays the kind of ignorance such people like to attribute to evangelicals but also will reinforce in the minds of many what might be called the "evangelical bias " that causes so many Christians to distrust the mainstream media.
First, a definition: An evangelical Christian is one who believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and who has repented of sin and accepted Jesus as his or her savior. The evangelical believes he has the privilege and obligation to share the "good news" that Jesus came to save sinners with others so they might go to heaven rather than hell.
Clearly, Kristof, like his Post predecessors, would not recognize an evangelical if he saw one. He correctly writes that "it is impossible to understand President Bush without acknowledging the centrality of his faith. " He notes that "evangelicals are increasingly important in every aspect of American culture. " And he accurately says, "In its approach to evangelicals, the national news media are generally reflective of the educated elite, particularly in the Northeast. It's expected at New York dinner parties to link crime to deprived childhoods - conversation would stop abruptly if someone mentioned Satan. "
Having made the case for the presence and importance of evangelical Christians in our country and culture, Kristof, who acknowledges that a Gallup Poll last December found that 46 percent of the country identify with the labels "evangelical " and/or "born again, " then writes this incredible sentence: "Yet, offhand, I can't think of a single evangelical working for a major news organization. "
Kristof needs to spend less time at those New York dinner parties and engage the real world. Throwing modesty to the winds, the most widely syndicated op-ed columnist in the United States would identify with the label "Evangelical Christian, " though he dislikes labels unless people first define them (see above). This fellow also has a TV show on a secular cable network and has worked in "major news organizations " nearly all of his professional life. He is not alone.
Depending on one's definition of a "major news organization, " there are perhaps hundreds of evangelical Christians working at newspapers, television and radio stations and even in Hollywood. An international reporter for USA Today is a strong evangelical Christian. A White House correspondent for a major wire service covered the Jimmy Carter campaign for president and his presidency, as he did Watergate, with distinction, fairness and credibility. There are many more examples.
While Kristof laments the separation of media from faith and the media's failure to understand and explain faith to consumers, he and his newspaper have the power and the staff to open their eyes (if not their souls) to the "good news, " or at least to the largest and most ignored (by elites) demographic in the country. If they won't do it as a mater of faith, they should do it as a matter of business. If the New York Times cares about covering not only evangelical Christians, but religion in general, it might begin by reading World Magazine's March 8 issue (
www.worldmag.com). The cover story, "What We Don't Know Can Hurt Us," chronicles the failure of "major news organizations " to get a grip on religion coverage and how that has hurt the public's right to know.