Last week, the Culture and Media Institute released a report entitled “Baptism by Fire” which complained that media outlets were covering the faith issues as they relate to the Republican primary battle in a different manner then it was covered during the Democratic primary battle in 2008:
With the 2012 elections less than a year away, the liberal media are attacking President Obama’s potential opponents on a number of fronts, but especially on religion.
ABC, CBS and NBC have used religion in two ways, either painting the field of GOP primary challengers as a God Squad of religious zealots or playing up differences in their faith. Whether they’re letting viewers know that “Rick Perry’s gonna have to answer some questions about the people” he prays with, fretting that God “told Michele Bachmann,” to enter politics, or devoting no less than 40 segments to the question of whether Mormonism is “a cult” or if “Mitt Romney is a Christian,” the networks have repeatedly used faith against the GOP field.
Media preoccupation with the GOP candidates’ faith is the exact opposite of how they covered (or didn’t) candidate Obama’s 20-year attendance at the church of a racist, anti-American pastor who subscribed to “black liberation theology,” or Obama’s half-Muslim heritage.
The Media Research Center’s Culture and Media Institute studied network news reporting on the GOP candidates and religion from Jan. 1-Oct. 31, 2011, and compared it to coverage of the Democratic presidential primary candidates over the same period in 2007. The discrepancy, in both the amount and tone of the coverage, was striking. Network reporters, so disinterested in the beliefs of Obama and his rivals for the 2008 nomination, took every opportunity to inject religion into their coverage of the GOP field.
The obvious response to this allegation would be to point out that the media probably writes a lot more about the faith of Republican candidates because Republicans candidates regularly use their faith as part of their campaigns.
After all, Rick Perry just released two ads about his faith and organized a massive public prayer rally earlier this year, while Michele Bachmann was just on James Dobson’s radio program talking about the importance of a “biblical worldview.” For his part, Newt Gingrich regularly uses his faith as part of his campaign while Mitt Romeny’s Mormonism continues to be an issue to various Religious Right activists. In fact, just last month, most of the Republican contenders gathered for a “Thanksgiving Family Forum” hosted by several Religious Right groups where they spent several hours discussing nothing but their faith.
So the reason the press writes more about the faith of Republican candidates probably has a lot to do with the fact that Republican candidates make faith a large part of their campaigns … but admitting that would pretty much undermine the entire premise of CMI’s report, which is why, when CMI’s Matt Philbin was on The Janet Mefferd Program yesterday and she raised this rather obvious point, he struggled to explain that it was still a double standard because Democrats are “supposedly” just as religious as Republicans:
Mefferd: Now I wonder if that fact that you have a number of GOP hopefuls who are very, you know, open about their faith – you have Michele Bachmann, you have Rick Perry, you have Herman Cain (you have Herman Cain,) you have Mitt Romney – could it be construed that faith is more of an issue in this election because they are more candidates talking about it?
Philbin: Well, in any GOP primary battle, they do talk about it more, certainly, then Democrats do. In Iowa, they’re going to evangelical conservatives and they certainly are not going to be reticent about their faith. But the problem is that the Democrats are, supposedly, just as religious, they have a need to appeal to almost the very same people, so for the networks not to cover the religion of the Democrats while they are covering the religion of the Republicans is a strange double standard.
One of CMI’s recommendations in this report is that “reporters should refrain from injecting religion where it doesn’t belong” … but apparently reporters should also be writing a lot about the faith views of Democratic candidates even if those views tend not to play nearly as prominent a role in their campaigns as compared to Republicans.