Media Matters: Skewed Representation of Religion in Major News Media

A new study by Media Matters demonstrates that
religious conservatives get much more media exposure than mainline
moderates.


My first reaction to the Media Matters survey of religious coverage in the media, Left Behind: The Skewed Representation of Religion in Major News Media, is Wow! I have long thought conservative voices were getting more media time, but never had the data to prove it. Now we do.

I recall a Larry King program that featured three religious conservatives and nary a voice from mainstream, moderate or progressive religious perspectives. Viewers might understandably think these were the voices of the Christian community. But so far as we know, they were the merely the only religious voices invited. So it goes. The media have given exposure to the evangelical right for so long it appears this is the sole Christian voice. It isn’t. It isn’t even a majority voice. But you couldn’t tell it from the guests on the talk shows and the quotes in the print media.

Here are three key findings from the Media Matters survey:

  • Combining newspapers and television, conservative religious leaders were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed in news stories 2.8 times as often as were progressive religious leaders.
  • On television news — the three major television networks, the three major cable new channels, and PBS — conservative religious leaders were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed almost 3.8 times as often as progressive leaders.
  • In major newspapers, conservative religious leaders were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed 2.7 times as often as progressive leaders.

Media Matters concludes, “Despite the fact most religious Americans are moderate or progressive, in the news media it is overwhelmingly conservative leaders who are presented as the voice of religion. This represents a particularly meaningful distortion since progressive religious leaders tend to focus on different issues and offer an entirely different perspective than their conservative counterparts.”

This study could be a landmark. For years mainline voices have been left out. If this study results in an attempt to achieve balance in the media, it could start a change that more accurately reflects the diversity of the religious voices in the country. Let’s hope so.

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