Secular Snobs

Documenting the National Media's Long-Standing Hostility to Religion

    Modern liberals resent the role that religion plays in American political culture. They want the separation of church and state to be so all-encompassing that no one would ever breathe a word of their religion in a political conversation.  

    In 2003, Howard Dean announced: “I am tired of coming to the South and fighting elections on guns, God, and gays.” Obama said about small-town Pennsylvanians in 2008 that “it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

    In their 1979 and 1980 survey research of the national media, Robert Lichter and Stanley Rothman found 86 percent of journalists seldom or never attend religious services, and 50 percent openly described their religion as “none.” A survey of Columbia University journalism students at the time also found 46 percent described their religion as “none.”

     For many years, the symbol of the major media’s contempt for religion was CNN founder Ted Turner, who in 1989 insisted Christianity was a “religion for losers.” He thought the Ten Commandments were insufficient and composed his own “Ted Commandments.” In 2001, he greeted Christian colleagues at CNN on Ash Wednesday with this: “What are you, a bunch of Jesus freaks? You ought to be working for Fox.”

    In 2005, Steven Roberts recalled “I worked for the New York Times for 25 years. I could probably count on one hand, in the Washington bureau of the New York Times, people who would describe themselves as people of faith....I think one of the real built-in biases in the media is towards secularism.”

     Today, those secularizing attitudes have trickled down to where the American public will profess faith, but is wary of encouraging national leaders to consult their own faith in their daily duties. In March, Bloomberg News asked, “In your mind, do you think a president’s religious beliefs should influence his federal policy decisions all of the time, most of the time, just some of the time, or never?” It landed largely on “never” – 58 percent, and another 25 percent said just some of the time.

    ABC News also asked in March “Do you think a political leader should or should not rely on his or her religious beliefs in making policy decisions?” The “no” side won 63 to 31 percent.
The public was more mixed in that survey when asked if the country has gone too far to avoid mixing government and religion (36 percent said yes), or too much involvement of religion in government (25 percent), while 34 percent thought the mix “struck a good balance.”

    The media rarely show interest in organized religion inside its own buildings. They typically notice religion only when journalists feel they’re intruding unfairly into politics. As part of its 25th anniversary, the Media Research Center has assembled a report revisiting the “objective” media’s hostility to organized religion, especially whenever it leans toward tradition or conservatism.