Anti-Christian Media Bias is Real, But Not the Way You Think It Is
I’ve done considerable work as a sociologist documenting anti-Christian bias in academia. There’s plenty to be found. It seemed unlikely the academic world would be the only place such bias would arise, so I followed that up with research on the media and Christianity.
This led to the book Prejudice in the Press. In that research my colleague and I looked at potential racial, gender, sexual preference and religious bias. Here, though, I will only look at religious bias.
Here’s how we conducted the research. We sent media personnel a set of scenarios as potential news stories. We used slightly different versions with different respondents, to see if they would answer differently.
Two of these scenarios are of special interest. One concerned the shooting of worshipers inside a religious building. Half of the respondents were told that the building was a church. The other half were told it was a mosque. Another scenario was about a professor making hateful comments. Half were told that the comments were Christianophobic. The other half were told that the comments were homophobic.
Equal Coverage, Unequal Treatment
You might find it surprising that news organizations agreed to run these stories equally. There was no bias evident in whether they decided to report on these events. It didn’t matter whether the building was a church or mosque, nor did it greatly matter if the professor said Christianophobic or homophobic comments.
But that doesn’t mean we found no bias. It was just bias of a different kind. It showed up in the way the media talked about the scenarios. If the story was about the mosque, they focused on hate crimes and religious bigotry. If the story was about a church, they paid attention to the shooter instead.
If the professor was homophobic, the media put the spotlight on hate speech, and discussed whether the professor ought to be fired. If the professor was anti-Christian, the media framed it in terms of free speech rights.
These findings show that many in the media are closed to the idea that Christians can face unfair hatred. Christians hold the power, or so they’ve been told, so there just isn’t any such thing as anti-Christian bigotry. Media members may sympathize with a Christian who’s been harmed in a church shooting. But they would never suppose that a church might be targeted because it was Christian. With mosques it was different, of course.
A Lack of Awareness
My colleague and I don’t see this as “fake news” in the sense of media personnel intentionally distorting information. It’s a different problem, and in some ways even harder to solve: They simply do not perceive the reality of anti-Christian hate. Conservative Christians face animosity in the United States that’s just as high as Muslims face, but the media still dismisses anti-Christian hatred. They really don’t see it.
My prior research shows that liberals and secular individuals are more likely to have anti-Christian hatred than others. Of course it’s well known (and researched) that media personnel are relatively likely to be politically liberal and secular. That means many of our respondents may have a certain level of anti-Christian hostility. Yet we need not see that as the whole story. Even without such hostility, few in the media can see it as real that anti-Christian hate exists.
This explains much of why Christians cannot rely on the media to tell stories sympathetic to their causes. It may also explain why some media personnel argue that religious freedom is unimportant, compared to sexual minorities’ rights.
This makes the task of Christians who deal with the media harder than those who advocate other causes. Most media personnel try hard to be fair. But if they cover a Black Lives Matter rally, they do it from the point of view that racism is a problem. If Christians speak of religious freedom under attack, however, the media do not see our rights as needing protection. They are naturally going to write a less supportive story.
I have no simple solution other than awareness. We must first be aware that the media does not believe in the reality of anti-Christian hatred. Then, somehow, we must find a way to educate the media.
That is going to be the hard part.