In a way, this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tun that in) isn't really about the religion angle in a major mainstream news story. No, this episode is a lot stranger than that.
Here are the two key equations at the heart of my latest conversation with host Todd Wilken.
First of all, millions and millions of Americans watch talk-TV commentary shows -- usually the ones featuring hosts with political and cultural views that mirror their own -- and it appears that they think they are watching the news. This happens on the left (think MSNBC and most of CNN) and it also happens, of course, on the right with Fox News.
The bottom line: Millions of Americans do not know the difference between basic news and advocacy news and commentary. They don't understand that many journalists are still committed to keeping bias, opinion and open advocacy out of their news work. This is having a serious impact on public discourse.
Meanwhile, there is this second fact: Millions of moral, cultural and religious conservatives are watching Fox News day after day, night after night, without giving any thought to what BRAND of conservatism is driving the particular commentary show that they are watching. (NOTE: Fox News does have one or two news shows left, such as Special Report, that mix basic news reports with commentary, often from panelists on the left, right and middle. It is interesting that this show was originally created by Brit Hume, a religious and cultural conservative with a long and solid background in mainstream news.)
Truth is, the whole Fox News operation has never been all that interested in the role that religion plays in America and the world, other than a few segments dedicated -- think "Christmas wars" -- to hot-button topics. Yes, commentator Todd Starnes focuses on religion quite a bit in his opinion pieces and analysis work on radio, but that isn't hard news or prime-time material.
So why would Fox News have little or no interest in religion?