So, did you ever think that American evangelicals would — in terms of their public, mass-media “face” — have an option worse than the Rev. Pat Robertson?
I know, I know. That’s a high bar to clear, or a low one — depending on your point of view.
It seems that lots of journalists — no, not ALL of them — get an idea stuck in their heads every decade or so and they start acting like some vast, complex group of Americans can be accurately represented by one person (Robertson, for example) or even one statistic (81 percent of white evangelicals voted for You Know Who).
Here’s the irony: It’s kind of like what Donald Trump has done with America’s journalists, taking biases and inaccuracies that can be found in a few cases and turning them into a simplistic vision of the whole. Thus, Trump often stomps on the First Amendment-protected role that journalism is supposed to play in American public discourse.
Oh, I do realize that Robertson is still out there, cranking out soundbites (like this).
But that’s really not the topic we covered during this week’s Crossroads podcast (click here to tune that in). The goal was to discuss WHY some journalists seem so anxious to play this game. With that in mind, let’s flash back to a journalism think piece that I wrote in 2005 for the Poynter Institute. The headline: “Excommunicating Pat Robertson.” Here’s the overture:
Let's pretend it is Oct. 1, 2005.
After a long, long September of storms, Hurricane Wilma misses the Keys and veers into the Gulf of Mexico. It heads straight for Louisiana.
After a long, long day in the newsroom, you sit on the couch flipping from one cable news channel to another. Then you see a familiar face in an MSNBC tease and hear, "We'll be back, live, with the Rev. Pat Robertson, who says that this new hurricane is more evidence that God is angry at New Orleans because ..."
Pause for a minute. When you hear these words do you experience (a) an acidic surge of joy because you are 99.9 percent sure that you know what Robertson is going to say, or (b) a sense of sorrow for precisely the same reason?
If you answered (a), then I would bet the moon and the stars that you are someone who doesn't think highly of Christian conservatives and their beliefs. If you answered (b), you are probably one of those Christians.
In other words, we have reached the point where some journalists are happy to see Robertson's face on television screens, because every time he opens his mouth he reinforces their stereotype of a conservative Christian.
Wow. The more things change, the more that they stay the same.
So, GetReligion readers, how do you feel when a news organization hits you with yet another reference to the fact that 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election?