People for the American Way — New Ad


The battle for public opinion continues. Tonight the television program will be cablecast that claims the filibuster is being used against “people of faith.”People for the American Way are countering with this ad.

It’s an interesting time to be working in communications. All forms of media have become more important as the charges and counter-charges escalate and as stories develop that involve the use of communication tools to influence the public dialogue. This raises so many interesting and important questions it boggles the mind.

The op-ed commentaries are alive with sharp critiques from all sides on nearly every significant public policy issue and many theological issues. The larger question that must be considered is how all of this will affect us going forward. It’s quite possible that the rhetoric will not merely turn off the great, silent middle, it may also have the effect of leaving more people feeling that religious faith is more divisive than helpful.

If this is the case, it will do more harm than good. I’ve wondered about the reaction of people who are coming to faith commitment for the first time, or who are genuinely seeking a deeper faith and hear this heated, polarizing language. Why identify with any group that is so divided and apparently unable to make peace among themselves? Better to go the mall than get involved in this.

It is energizing core groups who feel threatened by the claims and counter-claims. Already we’re seeing fundraising by both the left and right making claims that the threats require a stepped up effort to defeat the opposite side.

There isn’t much dialogue apparent in the current media environment. I continue to hope this will occur. However, if the blogs are an indication, the positions are becoming more hardened and less open to constructive interchange.

an “outrageous,
egregious,
and dangerous
affront.”
–Martin Marty

The harshness of the rhetoric has a desensitizing effect on us. The harshness escalates. Criticism of specific policies devolves to personal attack. When judges are equated with the Ku Klux Klan, that’s a step beyond irresponsible.

Martin Marty writes that the claims that the judiciary and Democrats are attacking “people of faith” and the participation of Sen. Bill Frist in the “Justice Sunday” telecast are an “outrageous, egregious, and dangerous affront.” He says Frist and Rep. Tom DeLay should be on their knees begging forgiveness for slandering others with their claims. Dr. Marty is far from a partisan extremist and his reaction should cause Frist and others to take notice. They should see that they are offending the sensibilities of those who are not partisans, and who are, in fact, responsible voices of moderation and faithfulness. But more, they are undermining the democracy that has protected our rights to free speech.

Perhaps it’s too early to draw any conclusions about the possibility of reconciliation between moderates and conservatives. It’s becoming harder to even define with precision what these terms mean. They don’t capture the subtleties or complexities of the many different voices speaking of faith today.

But it’s clear the seeds of division and exclusion are being sown widely and with great fanfare. Where this will end is anyone’s guess. There are those advocating schism in the Mainline denominations. Commentators reviewing Pope Benedict XVI’s record write that he may be satisfied with a smaller, “purer” church.

Beyond being an interesting time, it’s a dangerous time, a time when damaging words and intolerance threaten to divide us into opposing camps and tear apart faith communities. It’s hard to see this as witness to the Prince of Peace. It’s easier to see it leading to the prince of darkness.

Groups Challenge Frist

An interfaith coalition is planning a conference call with journalists today to ask Senator Bill Frist to reconsider his participation in a television broadcast that is promoted as critical of the U.S. judicial system. The charges, made by the James Dobson, the leader of the Focus on the Family, among others, claims the judiciary has overstepped its bounds and is limiting the rights of “people of faith.”

…the Roman
church is a false
church and it
teaches a false
gospel…the
pope himself
holds a false
and unbiblical
office.
–Robert Mohler
President,
Southern Baptist Seminary
Louisville

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the National Council of Churches is conducting the call.

A coalition of conservative Protestant and Roman Catholic Christians is seeking to stop the 200-year-old practice of invoking the filibuster to slow judicial nominees on the Senate floor. Frist has proposed to eliminate the rule allowing this practice.

The conservative coalition is more united on political outcomes than on matters of faith. Robert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville has attacked Sen. John Salazaar of Colorado, a Roman Catholic, for not opposing candidates who support the right to an abortion.

As reported in the New York Times on Friday, Salazaar responded by releasing comments by Mohler in which he states,”the Roman church is a false church and it teaches a false gospel” and “the pope himself holds a false and unbiblical office.”

“Despite the media
frenzy surrounding
the influence
of evangelical
Christians
during the
2004 presidential
election,
the new study
indicates that
evangelicals remain
just 7% of
the adult
population.
That number
has not
changed since
the Barna Group
began measuring
the size of
the evangelical
public in
1994.

While the public debate heats up a State of the Church in 2005 report by the Barna Group, an evangelical research organization, shows little significant change in the religious landscape of the United States.

“Despite the media frenzy surrounding the influence of evangelical Christians during the 2004 presidential election, the new study indicates that evangelicals remain just 7% of the adult population. That number has not changed since the Barna Group began measuring the size of the evangelical public in 1994,” according to a statement on the Barna Group website.

The Times reports a survey by NBC and the Wall Street Journal finds 50% of the population favor retaining the filibuster rule, 40% would revoke it and 10% are undecided.

The Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, an official of the Presbyterian Church USA, of which Sen. Frist is a member, says the senator’s participation in the telecast undermines the historic understanding of the church to the First Amendment respecting the establishment of religion.

New Media, New Journalism


Many years ago Margaret Mead, the late anthropologist, noted that the introduction of something as small as a needle and thread into a society would change that society. Her point was that even when technology appears benign, it isn’t. We are shaped by technologies, no matter what their scale.

This isn’t necessarily destructive, nor deterministic. It just is.

Today this seems simple and obvious. We adjust to a flow of technologies coming at us in a cascading stream that sometimes becomes a torrent. We wade, swim and sometimes are swept up in the waters of this change.

For example, in barely four years the iPod transformed how we listen, share and purchase music. One study noted that people with earbuds walking on city sidewalks seemed oblivious to the external environment . It called this a condition of the iPod culture.

Since its launch In October, 2001, ten million iPods have been sold and a new form of content-sharing and audio production is underway. Months ago no one had heard of Podcasting. Today producers of podcasts are ubiquitous.

we have to answer
this fundamental
question: what
do we -? a
bunch of digital
immigrants —
need to do
to be relevant
to the digital
natives?
–Rupert Murdoch


We participate in this change as if it were a matter of course. It hardly seems remarkable. But it is remarkable. Digital technologies are changing our institutions and their practices in fundamental ways. Broadcast radio and television face competition unlike any they have known before. I listened with great fascination recently to a conversation in which the broadcast media (radio and television) were referred to as “old media.” It was as if they are passe’.

Recently when Pepsi introduced a new soft drink it not only avoided broadcast television, it also avoided the “traditional” thirty-second spot format, choosing instead to take its message to the Internet and other digital media. In addition, a variety of alternative media were employed including sponsorship of extreme sports and word-of-mouth “viral” marketing.

The new media not only provided the company with cost savings, they also allowed for more accurate, targetted marketing.

The loss of audience share by broadcast networks has been widely documented. But broadcast television is not alone. Christian radio saw its audience slip 10% between 1992 and 2005, according to a survey by Barna Group.

Equally intriguing is the generational divide that marks media use. National Public Radio, Public Broadcasting, network news and Christian television are all seeing their audiences grow older without replacing them with younger viewers and listeners. Barna says, for example, that Christian television is viewed by “people in their 60’s and older, females, residents of the South, African-Americans, people with limited education and income, and born again Christians.”

The only mass medium to increase its audience share in recent years is the Internet. The number of younger users have grown faster than older groups. And people under 40, according to Barna, show little interest in Christian media of any type.

give the
people
control
of media,
they will
use it.
Don?t give
people
control
of media,
and you
will lose
them.
–Jeff Jarvis

As Kartik Subramanian writes, the iPod playlist makes possible 10 million unique experiences of music. It’s this individual empowerment that is fundamentally re-shaping the social context.

Excerpts from a symposium on digital technologies and journalism in The Nation, list how these basic changes are affecting traditional journalism and creating new forms of content sharing.

Digital technologies, according to Jay Rosen , NYU professor of journalism, have changed the social context:

  • there has been a power shift from producers to users, mostly because of the Internet;
  • this has led to a loss of sovereignty in the press. What I [Rosen] mean by that is simply a loss of exclusive control;
  • Objectivity as an ethical touchstone, as one of my sources said, is faltering in mainstream journalism. Problems of finding a believable voice keep growing in mainstream journalism, and this is related to the shift in power;
  • (blogging) is well adapted to a world where the shift in power is taking place, to a world where there are many centers of sovereignty;
  • Blogging is well adapted to two-way dialogue as opposed to one-to-many dialogue, which is also part of the media shift that we are living through;
  • professional journalism, the way we teach it and understand it, [is] in fact an artifact of a one-to-many world.

There is a radical shift underway in media production and use. It is a shift toward empowered individuals. It involves many “centers of sovereignty,” in Rosen’s words. The old centralization of information and power–the one to many model–is breaking apart. Generations under 40 are opting out of traditional media and moving toward digital media, especially the Internet. As this happens, more people are getting religious information through media than through churches. Young people are looking for interactivity and functional information they can use. They are skeptical of centralized information sources. And, of course, people under 30 are native to the digital culture, unlike their elders who were formed in a pre-digital culture.

The implications for the culture and for religious organizations are striking. I’ll be writing about this in future posts.

Assaulting Compassion

The Moral Bankruptcy of the Bankruptcy Law

…even though
people “own”
possessions
they’re actually
mere stewards
over God’s
property.
–Sean Gonsalves

The bankruptcy law has passed and the politicians seem proud. But the questionable morality of the law remains. Columnist Sean Gonsalves writes the most concise and compelling biblical critique of the law that I’ve seen. It’s an unusually good piece of social criticism. He uses biblical sources in an accurate and responsible narrative. I was impressed.

Bob Edgar on Senator Frist

The Rev. Robert Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, distributed a letter to the editor today expressing concern for the plans of Sen. Frist to appear on a telecast denouncing judges and alleging they are silencing people of faith.


Dear Editor:

We are surprised and grieved by a campaign launched this week by Family Research Council and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who said that those who disagree with them on President Bush’s

[The] attempt
to impose
on the
entire country
a narrow,
exclusivist,
private view
of truth
is a
dangerous,
divisive
tactic.
— The Rev.
Robert Edgar

judicial nominees are “against people of faith.” This campaign, which they are calling “Justice Sunday,” should properly be called “Just-Us” Sunday. Their attempt to impose on the entire country a narrow, exclusivist, private view of truth is a dangerous, divisive tactic. It serves to further polarize our nation, and it disenfranchises and demonize good people of faith who hold political beliefs that differ from theirs.

To brand any group of American citizens as “anti-Christian” simply because they differ on political issues runs counter to the values of both faith and democracy. It is especially disheartening when that accusation is aimed at fellow Christians. The National Council of Churches encompasses more than 45 million believers across a broad spectrum of theology and politics who work together on issues important to our society. If they disagree with Senator Frist’s political positions, are these 45 million Christians now considered “anti-Christian”?

In the spirit of 1 Timothy 6:3-5, we urge Senator Frist and the Family Research Council to reconsider their plan. We will be praying for the Lord to minister to them and change their hearts so that they will not continue to take our nation down this destructive path.

Bob Edgar, General Secretary
National Council of Churches USA
New York City

Coming almost simultaneously with the election of a new Pope, the letter will probably receive little, if any, attention in the media, but the scripture reference zings. This brought to mind a note on Methoblog that Jay wrote to four detractors (A Letter to the Boys) calling for continuing conversation between diametrically opposed groups in The United Methodist Church. As the rhetoric gets hotter around these issues, I wonder if considered, constructive dialogue is possible.

In an interview recently on the television program Religion and Ethics Weekly , Mike McCurry expressed his belief that within the church community we can still talk to each other. I share his optimism, but must admit that the more I read the headlines the less optimistic I am. Partisan politics and religion have merged. When that happens, political rhetoric assumes a place in what should be the language of faith.

Faith informs politics, but politics is not faith.

Notes

1. there has been a power shift from producers
to users, mostly because of the Internet. Jay Rosen
http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20050404&s=mackinnon

2.
this has led to a loss of sovereignty in the press. What I mean by that is
simply a loss of exclusive control.

3.
Objectivity as an ethical touchstone, as one of my sources said, is faltering in
mainstream journalism. Problems of finding a believable voice keep growing in
mainstream journalism, and this is related to the shift in
power.

It (blogging) is well adapted to a
world where the shift in power is taking place, to a world where there are many
centers of sovereignty. Blogging is well adapted to two-way dialogue as opposed
to one-to-many dialogue, which is also part of the media shift that we are
living through.

professional journalism,
the way we teach it and understand it, were in fact an artifact of a one-to-many
world.

Blogging, Journalism and Credibility

Blogging is changing journalism and empowering information users according to roundtable discussion of journalists and bloggers reported in The Nation.

This review, while cursory, is more than the the usual look at blogging. It doesn’t repeat the case histories that show us how bloggers got Dan Rather or Eason Jordan of CNN. These stories have been done more than enough.

It excerpts discussion that hints at the more significant change blogging is creating. This is a shift in the power relationship between users of information and producers of information. Producers are now those who used to be called the “audience.”

The information revolution is changing traditional institutions. This discussion only scratches the surface, there is much more to be said about this. But it’s a start.

Out of Sight, Out of Credibility


In the formative years of radio and television religious denominations enjoyed a privileged relationship with these media. The broadcast industry operated under federal regulations that required networks and local stations to function in the public interest. Networks provided both airtime and funding to produce religious programs.

President Harry Truman broadcast a live pitch for One Great Hour of Sharing on nationwide radio in the late 1940’s to support refugee relief in Europe at the close of World War II. Bishop Fulton J. Sheen was a primetime performer on television. Religious magazine shows and documentaries were among network staples.

In the heyday of Mainline religious programming, the 1950s, the visibility of the denominations was pervasive.

As the media environment changed, however, the relationship between broadcast media and denominations declined. Religious news was relegated to the Saturday church page in newspapers and it rarely made broadcast news unless it was controversial or scandalous. But the most accurate description might be “benign neglect.” It appears that for many journalists religious news was not considered worth covering.

In the ’60’s the Mainline churches had already begun to pull back from radio and television programming for many reasons. But local ecumenical efforts sustained visibility in many cities and they carried on the tradition of community service until they lost airtime with deregulation.

In 1984 the Federal Communications Commission began deregulation that has continued to the present. In that year it increased the number of radio stations a single owner could hold from seven to twelve and eliminated programming guidelines, ascertainment requirements, rules governing commercials and program logs. In 1985 the FCC concluded that the “fairness doctrine” no longer served the public interest and it stopped enforcing it in 1987. This spelled the end of broadcasting in the public interest.

Today we live in a multimedia world, the common denominator being that in the United States broadcasting operates on a capitalist model. The messages of non-profit and religious organizations must compete with a multitude of other messages and they must find an effective way to get that message before audiences. The playing field has changed dramatically.

Something else changed, and for a while at least, it escaped the understanding of some religious leaders. The privileged status of religious organizations changed. Where they once were treated with benign neglect, in the new media environment they are fair game for expose’ as any other organization. The sex scandal in the Roman Catholic Church highlighted this in a way that cannot be ignored.


One gets the sense that early-on some of the bishops believed they could stonewall journalists investigating sexual abuse and control the story with silence. But they couldn’t. The capacity of individuals to tell their own stories, and the multitude of media outlets looking for stories makes it virtually impossible to control all external communications channels completely. By the time church leaders discovered this, the story was out of control and they were in a terribly difficult position. They were reacting to a cascade of bad news daily.

I am concerning myself with media coverage in these comments. How the bishops handled the allegations of abuse is not within my scope. The apparent lack of a communications strategy became a case study in why communications is, or should be, a priority for organizations today. If an organization is not prepared to tell its own story, someone else will, and they will tell it from their perspective. This may be positive or negative. In either case, control is given over to others and this is not a desirable place to be in a media-saturated environment.

This is a hard lesson for some to learn. Today it’s more difficult than ever to control public perception of an organization because there are so many ways for detractors to influence how an organization is viewed. Therefore, the most effective stance is a proactive communications strategy in which the organization settles on the message it wants to deliver and the audience it needs to reach and develops a plan to communicate with them.

We believe
our first
responsibility
is to the doctors,
nurses and
patients,
to mothers
and fathers
and all others
who use our
products and
services
…to our
employees
…to the
communities
in which
we live and
work
and to
the world
community
as well
…to our
stockholders.
–Credo
Johnson & Johnson

The message, of course, must be truthful and it must set a context that encourages understanding. Communication must be consistent with the behavior of the organization. Saying one thing and doing another is the quickest way to destroy credibility.

The classic example of positive crisis management is the Tylenol scare in 1982 when seven people died in Chicago from cyanide poisoning linked to taking Tylenol. Executives at Johnson & Johnson were quick to tell consumers to not take Tylenol, removing the product from store shelves and focusing on how the product had been contaminated. It was a serious crisis that could have destroyed both the product and the company.

But J & J managed the crisis with a communication strategy that demonstrated the company valued public safety over its own survival. After the crisis passed, executives implemented a strategy for returning the product to the shelves. This included triple seal packaging, substantial customer discounts to draw people back and an all-out educational effort with customers and medical professionals. It worked. In six weeks, J&J had put the crisis to rest and re-established Tylenol’s position in the marketplace.

For their efforts they received plaudits from the media for transparency and honesty. When asked how they pulled this off, President David Clare said it was because of the company credo, written by Robert Wood Johnson when he started the business. The credo states the company’s responsibilities to “consumers and medical professionals using its products, employees, the communities where its people work and live, and its stockholders .”

It was about two things–integrity and message.

I now shift my attention from the Roman Catholic Church and J&J to the Mainline denominations which have been notably absent from the national dialogue in recent years. I believe the Mainline churches have a message that would resonate if it were put into accessible language and delivered effectively. It is a message of concern for the wholeness of God’s creation. It’s about particular concern for those who are poor. It’s a commitment to search for peace instead of conflict, forgiveness and reconciliation rather than retribution, and inclusiveness rather than enmity.

I also believe that in the overheated rhetoric that marks the national dialogue today, discussing this message could be a healing catalyst. The challenge the Mainline denominations face is finding the way to stimulate dialogue, formulate messages so they do not become entangled in political partisanship and empowering people to claim and embody values so they shape our lives. This involves taking a more proactive stance toward all media, old-line, such as broadcast and cable, and new media as well. I believe it will mean re-stating traditional values.

No group has a monopoly on traditional values. In the history of the church it is a tradition to stand for justice, and to advocate for the poor, dispossessed, and victimized. It is traditional to engage in reflective prayer, worship and to participate in those activities that will make the world better. This tradition is about living the life of faith with integrity and a consistent moral vision. It’s been so throughout history.

Finally, credibility comes down to consistency between words and actions. In our skeptical age, no matter what the medium, it’s what we say and what we do that is the measure of our credibility.

Community journalism text

The work in community journalism that was done
over the past decade indicates that the more journalists engage in conversation
with the audience, the more likely they are to get information that is reliable
and comprehensive. It stimulates conversation about community concerns rather
than conversation about how the journalist missed the story. The result is
greater credibility because the end result is reporting closer to the
community.<br /><br />