Anti-Christian Media Bias is Real, But Not the Way You Think It Is

By George Yancey Published on December 8, 2018

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.

These findings show that many in the media are closed to the idea that Christians can face unfair hatred.

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.

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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.

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  • JWebelo

    Thank you for the article, Dr Yancey. It is consistent with my experience with mainstream radio, tv and the press. One thing in particular I’ve noticed is the way NPR introduces guests or subjects with a non-liberal or right wing ideology. They refer to them specifically as conservative, right wing, etc., while they introduce a person or entity on the left as just an activist or even non partisan. The difference is very subtle and probably not something the radio host is even aware of.

  • Stephen D

    I think media bias is evident in different ways from those suggested by the research mentioned here. Certainly here in Australia we see a strongly Leftist media that likes to promote stories about the blessings of homosexual lifestyles and the achievements of homosexual people (for example). This is borne of a genuine desire to promote diversity and support minority groups in society. However underneath lies a deep-seated hostility to Christianity and Christian influence in society.

    The people who control and work for the major media organisations see themselves as fair, kind-hearted secularists, and they are working steadfastly towards creating a society that reflects their ‘values’. They find religious ideas and practices very weird (no wonder) and are prepared to tolerate them only if they are strictly private. They see religion as part of legitimate ‘diversity’ only if it remains in the home and meeting-house. Once brought into the public sphere, they see it as ‘divisive’ and a form of ‘bigotry’. Their own personal views they consider to be ‘rational’ and entirely free of outdated superstitions. For this reason, many in the media consider themselves to be the intellectual elite, the people best equipped to guide our society into the New Age, the modern Enlightenment.

    In short I think media bias against Christianity exists and is very deep-seated. It is revealed in the stories selected for coverage as much as in the ways they are covered. And when push comes to shove, such as when Christians oppose abortion or gay marriage, this latent bias is revealed in attempts to suppress Christian speech, and sometimes in open hostility to what is perceived as Christian ‘bigotry’ and ‘hatred’ towards others.

    • Andrew Mason

      In short Christianity is fine so long as it stays in the closest, but it’s bigotry to try to keep homosexuality or other such choices in the closet.

      The Bible does talk of spiritual blindness so perhaps this is simply another form of it?

  • Paul Trey

    Christians probablywont do our best work in the media.

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