CBS's Couric Unloads Both Barrels at Religion

CBS Evening News ran two stories touching on religion on January 29, and both could force religious believers to exercise their forgiveness muscles.

In a segment called “Televangelist Investigation,” anchor Katie Couric failed to distinguish honest televangelists from an apparently dishonest one.  Another story asked the presidential candidates which book they would bring with them to the White House – but specifically excluded the Bible.

“Televangelist Investigation” took its lead from U.S. Senator Charles Grassley's ongoing investigation of six televangelists.  The segment focused on one of Grassley's principal targets, prosperity gospel preacher Kenneth Copeland. 

Couric introduced the piece by saying, “Every year, televangelists attract more than believers; they draw hundreds of millions of dollars from all around the world. All of it is tax-exempt, but should it be?”  The piece went on to interview disgruntled former Copeland employees about abuse of ministry resources, document Copeland's lavish lifestyle, and juxtapose Copeland clips with contradictory evidence (for example, the piece shows Copeland promising that a new ministry jet would be used only for God-honoring purposes, then contends the Copeland family used the jet to fly from Texas to Colorado for ski vacations).

CMI has no problem with the media exposing dishonest clergymen, though this particular story was not balanced by interviews with Copeland defenders.  The real problem is CBS's failure to put the Copeland story in any kind of context.  The great majority of television and radio preachers are far more upright and honest than, say, a disgraced former CBS anchor named Dan Rather, who routinely abused his lofty position by advancing a political agenda, and was finally forced to resign after he used obviously forged documents to attack President George W. Bush during his reelection bid in 2004.  Would Couric introduce a story about Rather by saying, “Every year, TV news anchors attract millions of trusting viewers from around the world.  Should viewers really believe what these anchors have to say?”

At the end of the broadcast, CBS ran another installment in its series of presidential candidate interviews, “Primary Questions: Character, Leadership and the Candidates.”  Each episode in the series asks all of the major candidates the same question.  This week's question was, “If you were elected president, what is the one book – other than the Bible – you would think is essential to have along?

Removing the Bible from consideration smacks of the soft censorship exercised by The New York Times, which excludes the Bible from its list of bestselling books.

Why did Couric leave out the Bible?  Perhaps she was afraid the candidates would deceptively present themselves as devout by claiming they read their Bibles.  Perhaps she believed all the candidates would name the Bible, and forcing them to choose a different book would reveal more about them.  But viewers would surely appreciate finding out which candidates would or would not bring the Bible into the White House, and Couric could always have dug deeper by asking what their second choice of books would be.

Brian Fitzpatrick is senior editor at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the MediaResearchCenter.