Reporting on religion
April 18, 2005 1:46 PM   Subscribe

Why do journalist not investigate the many fantastical claims of the Church with the same fact checking veracity as they would political or corporate stories? Do journalist just give religion a free pass?
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 1:47 PM on April 18, 2005

Do you have an actual "fantastical claim" you're concerned about, or do you just want people to come here and bash "the Church", whatever you might mean by that?
posted by donnagirl at 1:54 PM on April 18, 2005

What do you mean? (like examples, I mean). Mostly I hear journalists say "X believe that..." not just state the thing.
posted by duck at 1:55 PM on April 18, 2005

1. I reject the idea that very many journalists are investigating political or corporate stories all that much these days. They seem to see their role as providing balanced coverage which means parroting whatever spin the various parties care to feed them.

2. What kind of investigation is possible with respect to supernatural claims which by definition exist outside of nature and our ability to investigate?

3. Journalists who are doing it for money, have to appeal to their audience. Most people buy into some form of religious doctrine, and they aren't going to be interested in reading stories designed to shake their faith, so why on earth would a journalist go out of their way to provide stories designed to do that very thing?
posted by willnot at 1:59 PM on April 18, 2005

Churches don't extract taxes, run police forces or exert any of the other coercive powers of the state. I can ignore the Church - I can't ignore the government, which is why I'm glad they are kept under scrutiny.
posted by RichLyon at 2:04 PM on April 18, 2005

You can't fact check matters of faith, at least from outside the religion concerned; although within any religion there may be any number of doctrinal differences.
posted by carter at 2:11 PM on April 18, 2005

what journalists report the claims of religion as objectively accurate? Not ranting about its being inaccurate is not evidence of acceptance. Journalists don't make a big fuss about whether elves exist, either. It's not really their domain.
posted by mdn at 2:15 PM on April 18, 2005

For events that occurred 1,300, 2,000, 2,500, or 2,800 years ago it is hard for a journalist to do good fact-checking. That would be more of an academic pursuit.

For miracles said to happen today, I think mainstream journalists recognize that it is not their role. For example, the Catholic Church has its own system for investigating Catholic miracles (e.g. sitings of the Virgin Mary, formation of the Stigmata, etc). Those investigations would be covered in the Catholic press, and primarily be of concern to Catholics. It's sort of an internal matter. To the extent the mainstream press would dig into it, that would happen when it starts to effect those people who are not Catholics, e.g. traffic jams on the way to the hospital parking lot where Mary can be seen in the shadow that a ceiling fan makes on a set of venetian blinds. Most non-believers would not be particularly interested in seeing that bunked or de-bunked in their mainstream newspaper. They already have their opinion.
posted by alms at 2:23 PM on April 18, 2005

You mean like whether Adam really lived to be 200 years old, or whether the Earth was really flooded after it rained for 40 days and 40 nights, or whether Jesus did, in fact, rise from the dead, or whether there is an ultimate reality called Brahman that takes the form of the gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva?

I think even before the problem of faith, if you're talking about fact-checking you have a more fundamental problem of forensics on events that supposedly took place millenia ago. There aren't many "facts" to "check" anymore -- the most you can do is argue that the stories are silly.

Finally, these types of stories do get coverage -- usually in the context of some religious scholars conference that attempts to sort out which Biblical stories may have some basis in reality.
posted by pardonyou? at 2:25 PM on April 18, 2005

Um, this ring a bell?
posted by nyterrant at 2:28 PM on April 18, 2005

You do see stories about someone seeing an apparition of the Holy Virgin in their screen door, and the Catholic Church officially expressing skepticism...
posted by gimonca at 2:33 PM on April 18, 2005

Am I alone in thinking this post sounds rather trollish? Especially the lack of examples, even though he's had a half-hour to provide them.
posted by goatdog at 3:14 PM on April 18, 2005

How do you check facts from a person's belief or opinion?
Or, refuting the ideas that have come from the interviewee’s reading incorrectly translated books that the ideas come from?

First the journalist would need to have fully read the religious doctrines to know if the truth is being told about the religion. Do journalist do this? I’d say the better ones may. Then the journalist’s will have to know the language the religion’s book was originally written in. Because today wrong translations exist in books by the book being published over and over again in different revisions. Look at the book Romeo and Juliet for a good example of this currently happening in a book read by many in the schools today. This is how false ideas are populated into a religion. I can see where it would be hard for a journalist to do the above because a good pastor has studied the religion in its original written language for many years in achieving the knowledge to preach.

That may be the problem here. The journalist is taking an interviewee’s interpretation of a long ago written religious book now published in today's language as being correct for the article. It may be what the journalist wants too, as it is today’s news.
posted by thomcatspike at 3:35 PM on April 18, 2005

I would say the answer is simple:

There are plenty that are certain the church is full of BS.

There are plenty that are certain the church is correct.

And there are very few who aren't sure.

Those that aren't sure need more than a newspaper to convinuce them. The rest have already made up their minds before they finished reading the by-line as to whether the story is fictional or not.
posted by shepd at 4:59 PM on April 18, 2005

Newspapers stay away from most disputed claims, especially when there's another process in place for dealing with them.

For instance I haven't seen a single newspaper "fact-check" Michael Jackson's claims that he's innocent. Instead, they report on the process in excruciating detail: the investigation, the pre-trial motions, the trial itself, the media circus around it. When the process is over, they'll report the verdict and maybe give it a vote of confidence or no-confidence.

Similarly, I haven't seen a single newspaper "fact-check" the presence of water on Mars. Instead, they tell us about the scientific process of looking for water, and defer to the scientists to make the actual judgment.

Same with religion, then. Journalists are all over the process of chosing a new pope. But no, they won't "fact-check" his alleged infallibility when he's chosen. That would be out of their domain, just like passing judgment on a criminal or a scientific theory is out of their domain.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:21 PM on April 18, 2005

This is a marvelous troll Mr. Bucket thanks for this.
posted by moift at 7:44 PM on April 18, 2005

Wait... journalists fact-check their stories?
posted by ubernostrum at 8:50 PM on April 18, 2005

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