Praying for Hollywood

Say “Britney Spears” or “Lindsay Lohan” and the word “prayer” probably isn't the first thing that pops into your mind.  But that's exactly what's on the mind of more than 5,000 members of the Hollywood Prayer Network.

The November 17 broadcast of ABC's Good Morning America featured the Hollywood Prayer Network, a group consisting of over 5,000 Christians who hope to “reach those who influence millions” through prayer and gifts of Bibles.  Members pray specifically for troubled celebrities – like Spears and Lohan - hoping that if God can transform their lives, then those celebrities will share the message with their audiences. 

Surprisingly GMA's treatment of the story was respectful.  Instead of the typical portrayal of Christians as fire-and-brimstone-breathing zealots, or as quaint curiosities (as the program did last week when it covered Georgia governor Sonny Perdue's public prayer for rain on his drought-stricken state), ABC portrayed members of the Hollywood prayer group as caring and compassionate.

Karen Covell, founder of the Hollywood Prayer Network, explained the need for such a group. “People have a very difficult life here [in Hollywood],”she said and added “not all are created to be able to handle fame and wealth.”

Jared Isham, an independent filmmaker and network member told ABC that “hopefully they'll [celebrities] feel encouraged and know that there's people that have not lost hope for them.” 

The only dissenting voice in the story came from a celebrity publicist. Michael Levine, who apparently assumes that prayer and other interventions are mutually exclusive, told ABC, “The question of course is whether Britney Spears needed prayer or rehab.” featured a companion piece, “A Hope and a Prayer for Troubled Hollywood” that provided more details on the group's outreach. The story carried the same positive tone as the television report, reporting how members pray for up-and-coming child thespians and also act as mentors to “struggling actors.”    

Unfortunately the ABC News website couldn't resist the lure of tabloid headlines.  The positive reporting on the prayer network was diluted by the accompanying “Related Stories” section with headlines such as: 

• PHOTOS: Fall of a Former Pop Princess
• PHOTOS: All-Star DUI's
• Slideshow: Fallen Stars
• Tarnished Stars Hire Help to Shine Again

Seems ABC is trying to have it both ways.  Sure, they positively reported a straight-news story on Christian outreach to troubled stars, but then they exploited those same stars' troubles by including the tabloid-esque photos and stories that help create the problem in the first place. 

Colleen Raezler is a research assistant with the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.