… at least according to some panelists at a panel convened by the American Society of Church History, on Friday in Washington. The panel, “Christianity, Politics, and the Press in the Recent United States,” focused on the question, “Do news narratives convey the complexity of religion on the ground?”
Assembling at 9:30 on the morning after the Iowa caucuses, most of the panelists answered “no,” although Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR’s religion correspondent, expressed the hope that the news media had improved, having learned as they’ve covered George W. Bush. “We are not as surprised by [Mike] Huckabee’s win as we would have been four years ago,” she said.
Thomas J. Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center, at Georgetown University, said reporters don’t understand religion or its implications in politics. He told about a reporter who once interviewed him for an article on celibacy. He had explained to her that the apostles were married, and that Peter, the first pope, had a wife. The reporter said, “That’s very interesting. Peter—what was his last name?”
Wesley G. Pippert, a professor at the University of Missouri’s journalism school, said the American people had been better prepared to understand the role of President Carter’s religion than had the reporters who covered him; that, unlike Carter’s understanding of theology, President Bush’s is “very shallow”; and that Hillary Rodham Clinton is probably the “most devout” of the current Democratic candidates. A regular churchgoer, she clearly embraces forgiveness, that most Christian of principles.
If that is the case, and religion is so important, why can’t Clinton win? And why aren’t the news media discussing the matter? Because newspapers, in this belt-yanking era, no longer have religion correspondents, said Hanna Rosin, a writer for The Atlantic Monthly.
And, though reporters may not have noticed, the panelists agreed that, while Barack Obama’s speech after his Iowa win had the cadences of an African-American church sermon (all that was missing was the organ music, said a listener), Clinton’s devotion doesn’t convey.
Evangelicals, a powerful force that was underestimated in the 2004 election, will vote for anyone who is not Hillary Clinton, the panelists said. Indeed, if they concurred on one thing, it was that the evangelical movement hates her. NPR’s Hagerty said she once asked a member of that movement why and was told, “Let me count the ways.”