Commentary

Media Scrutiny Of Republicans’ Religion Dwarfs Coverage Of Dems’ Faith

Craig Bannister
By Craig Bannister | December 9, 2011 | 4:04 PM EST

Apparently, the only time the mainstream media are interested in scrutinizing a presidential hopeful's religious beliefs and behavior is when that candidate is a Republican.

For example, no matter how Rick Perry’s new campaign ad is perceived by conservative voters in Iowa, the reaction from liberals and the media has been predictable.

Perry's vow to end “Obama’s war on religion” and to fight against “liberal attacks on our religious heritage” brought him ridicule across the web, from the New York Times to Entertainment Weekly.

And, this type of contempt for a Republican's religious values is nothing new.

Perry’s conservative Christianity has been a target for the media since before he declared for the nomination. In fact, the media have shown an inordinate interest in the faith of most of the GOP primary candidates.

MRC’s Culture and Media Institute has just released a Special Report studying how ABC, CBS and NBC covered the republican candidates and their respective religions during the first 10 months of 2011. CMI compared those results to network coverage of faith for the Democratic primary hopefuls during the same months in 2007 – the same point in the 2008 campaign cycle.

The networks have mentioned the religious belief of the GOP candidates over seven times more than they did the ’08 Dems. They brought up Mitt Romney’s (and to a lesser extent, John Huntsman’s) Mormonism more than 100 times in 10 months – 40 times during two October weeks alone.

And they were 13 times more likely to challenge, criticize or highlight controversy in discussing a GOP candidate’s faith than they were for Democrats. In 2007, anchors like CBS’ Harry Smith brushed past claims that “Faith has always been a huge part of” Hillary Clinton’s life.

Nobody asked Joe Biden, Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson to reconcile their enthusiastic support for abortion with their professed Catholic faith. Most glaringly, the networks ignored the inflammatory preaching of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s pastor of two decades, for nearly a year.

But, this year, with Republican candidates, religion has been a hot topic.

Some of the ways the media have expressed their newfound interest in religion include:

  • Grilling Michele Bachmann on whether God told her to run for office,
  • Worrying that a Perry-led prayer rally ran afoul of the Establishment Clause, and
  • Speculating whether evangelicals considered Mormonism a cult.

The point, in the words of National Review’s Mark Steyn, is to “to tell secular independents or post-Christian members of the Congregational Church and the Episcopalian Church that these people are slightly freaky-deaky, way out of your comfort zone on this subject.”

If true, this begs an important question: is the media's one-sided obsessive scorn for candidates' religion outside the comfort zone of voters and viewers?

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