Monday, January 03, 2005

Media bias

Take a look at this flyer from Westboro Baptist Church, exulting in the deaths of Swedish tourists in the tsunami. Then come back to hear me rant about media coverage of churches and academia.

Done? Okay. One one hand, there are lots of stories in the media about how evil and liberal academia is -- John Leo has hardly written about anything else in his weekly US News column for the last decade. On the other hand, you don't hear that many stories about how evil and conservative churches are.

(Of course, not all churches are conservative. There are lots of liberal Christians. Unitarians are awesome. And not all academics are liberal -- I remember Dan Bonevac telling hundreds of students that each time you use the death penalty, it saves 8 innocent lives. Religious schools and economics departments are conservative, while academic scientists and engineers are not too different from smart non-academics.)

Here's a part of the explanation why media coverage slants one way and not the other. A very large percentage of Americans are in regular contact with churches. A very small percentage of Americans are in regular contact with colleges. While many people went to college, lots of them aren't there anymore and some went during the 1960s when everyone was a hippie. So if you say that insane leftish things are the norm at universities, people don't have access to counterevidence. But if you tried to spin a story that evil and hateful behavior like the flyer above is the norm at churches, lots of people would be aware of the counterevidence. Their churches don't say things like that! Readers would be angry and there would be nasty letters to the editor. So those stories don't get written.


Mary said...

Most conservative churches would probably acknowledge that Westboro represents the fringes of the lunatic fringe and that its message is abhorrent. That aside, some people are aware of churches both because they may have participated in them (willingly or unwillingly) and because churches are in the business of outreach.(However, many non-Christians and even Christians are still unaware of the range and diversity of doctrine, attitudes,etc.) Academia seems more insular, perhaps because many of its participants do not feel the need to explain or defend their positions to the hoi polloi unless there is a pesky lawsuit (e.g. U-M and affirmative action). Even though academia increasingly reaches out to bring more people into its fold, once there, it appears a bit clannish to the casual observer.
Furthermore,its very nature is elitist at some level. You have to be "accepted." If you choose to stay in that world, you have to continue to be "accepted" into ever-shrinking openings. Maybe if the powers-that-be looked for more opportunities to take its multiple messages to more of the people (rather than just broadening the range of folks it chooses to invite in), there would be less misunderstanding.
For example,I recall that sometimes when a scholar had written a pretty decent book "for the masses", some of my instructors/professors would sometimes be borderline apologetic for using it as a text in their classes. The academic world creates some of its own public relations problems.

Joaquin Cassara said...

This is very informative. I hope to see more in the near future