Note: The following blog post also appears on KenWilber.com. 🙂
Thursday, April 12’s post by Scripps Howard columnist and religion professor Terry Mattingly “Is GetReligion a ‘Christian’ blog?” has inspired readers and fans of the GetReligion blog to ask pointed questions about the nature and quality of the media’s coverage of religion and theology. My own brief comment (see item #10) advised the bloggers (Mattingly, LeBlanc, Hemingway, etc.) to look not only to the type of religious faith professed by the blog’s authors, but also at their relative level of consciousness.
In my view, the blog team’s commitments to Christianity are also rivaled in importance by their common adherence to conservative theological impulses arising from the mythic-membership or essentialist worldspace. [For readers confused by my colorizing of this blog post, see “What do the colors mean?”] In other words, the GetReligion team could easily add, say, an orthodox Jew or moderate American Muslim to the mix of blogging heads, but the result would not really be a significant expansion of their own vantage point. On the other hand, my own integral Christian perspective really probably wouldn’t gel too well with Mattingly’s or Hemingway’s styles.
In a follow-up comment on GetReligion on April 13, Terry Mattingly responds that I “should do more media criticism on [my] own blog. Honest.” I will take his suggestion under advisement! (However, my own blog is a rather idiosynchratic and experimental blend of usually personal posts. It’s probably not the best place for serious media criticism, I’m afraid.) Although unlike Mattingly I may not teach future practitioners of journalism their craft, I nevertheless could and probably should comment more about the successes and failures of the media in covering religion than I do.
Looking for Ghosts in the Story
But before returning to my view of the media and religion, let’s look a little closer at the fascinating GetReligion blog project. In February 1, 2004’s “What we do, why we do it,” the blogging team gets spooked out on ghosts.
One minute they are there. The next they are gone. There are ghosts in there, hiding in the ink and the pixels. Something is missing in the basic facts or perhaps most of the key facts are there, yet some are twisted. Perhaps there are sins of omission, rather than commission.
A lot of these ghosts are, well, holy ghosts. They are facts and stories and faces linked to the power of religious faith. Now you see them. Now you don’t. In fact, a whole lot of the time you don’t get to see them. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
And so the GetReligion team scans as many newsworthy items in the mainstream media as they can find, picks out the best and worst religion coverage, and shares their opinions on what the journalist did well or poorly. The various blog team members come from around the US or Canada, but they share a common outlook: they are all relatively conservative religionists whose radar screens are especially spooked by any effort by the so-called mainstream media to misrepresent evangelical or traditionalist Christianity. And so they use the tools and lingo of traditional, objectivity-seeking journalism to question bias, demand balanced coverage for Christians, and advocate for greater representation of “doctrinally informed” religion reporters in the newsroom.
Want to know why it’s unfair for the media to poke fun at conservative Mormon Mitt Romney’s holy underwear? Want to learn why it’s unfair for the media to portray gay couples raising children as “normal” parents instead of giving equal time to the view that they are narcissistic freaks who are raising a generation of confused youth? Want to learn why the media isn’t getting the tone of coverage right on totalitarian legal efforts to outlaw all abortion in Latin American countries? Look no further than GetReligion, where you are sure to find given expression the beliefs that “bias” always exists, it usually tilts to the left, and it very often shows up in unseemly places (especially the New York Times).
In Thursday April 12’s typical post “And [Pope] Benedict hates teddy bears, too” GetReligion blogger Mollie Hemingway calls a religion reporter an angry hack for snide remarks and superficial analysis of Pope Benedict’s upcoming trip to Brazil. She concludes, “I hope it felt good for [Joseph] Contreras to spew this piece, because it sure doesn’t serve any other purpose. I certainly don’t think Pope Benedict is above reproach, but this piece is just infantile.” She may or may not be right, but she’s boldly willing to call other reporters on their shit when she smells it stinking. I admire that. And I hope it felt good for her to spew that opinion on her blog.
From an AQAL-informed vantage point, I see most mainstream religion coverage in this country coming from somewhere between a mythic-membership and a postmodern pluralist vantage point (i.e., in the Integral Institute’s terminology of altitude [see “What is Altitude?”], amber to green). A few skilled writers also show the potential for existentially rich, multifaceted and holistic viewpoints and nuanced, evolutionary constructions of the various models of journalism (i.e., teal to turquoise).
However, most of the more advanced teal and turquoise writers are not covering religion news as beat reporters; they are writing as advocates, editorialists, and bloggers. As an aside, Salon’s Glenn Greenwald writes Unclaimed Territory from a yellow-to-teal perspective and is a daily read for me. He’s one of the most sensitive and intriguing blogger/commenters out there talking about the media’s shortcomings as he does recently in “Do national journalists agree with Gary Kamiya?”.
Some Ghosts Have Ghosts
Is there room for taking a more AQAL-informed approach to the mainstream religion beat? Of course! I feel the most urgent need for an integrally-informed religion journalism is for journalists to use (at least implicitly) multiple quadrants in forming their analysis and in identifying the comprehensiveness of their reportage. (See Ken Wilber’s A Theory of Everything or (free) “Introduction to Integral Theory and Practice” for a quick overview of the quadrants.) A Four Quadrant look at religion news would insist that individual subjective and social, cultural, and individual objective perspectives are all included. If there’s no room to include each of them in any given story, then the journalist should try to make explicit what is being left out.
From this perspective, most religion news today seems obsessed with the objective social angleQ/LR (what mainstream Christian or Jewish denominations are doing what, and whether they will divide in order to accomodate for disagreements within their communions, etc.). Such coverage usually seeks fairness and balance by quoting individual experts to give their “professional”Q/UR opinions regarding the social events happening in their midst. Reporters may interview, say, a religion professor who will offer that (a) US christian denominations are constantly multiplying and dividing and there is a historical precedent for mainstream denominations to schism when confronted with a controversial social issueQ/UR, but personally (b) she sure wishes everyone could just alongQ/UL. But then the reporter will ignore the “fluffy” opinions and just print the hard “professional” opinions.
There’s nothing wrong with focusing on the social angles on religion, of course. But this approach does have its shortcomings. GetReligion recognizes that unlike other types of news stories, religious stories are often influenced by doctrinal disputes–disputes with long and complex histories going back centuries. Would it kill journalists to occasionally treat religion news with the respect of acknowledging that religionists may be motivated by doctrine and faith/skepticismQ/LL, UL as well as by politics and objectivity/biasQ/LR, UR? When GetReligion makes this case, as they so often do, they are becoming unwitting advocates of a more integrally informed journalism. Include the Lower-Right Quadrant, they might say (if they were fans of AQAL theory), but please also look at the Lower-Left Quadrant and take it just as seriously.
Unfortunately, GetReligion falls short of a truly AQAL-based look at journalism, primarily because it neglects the roles of two of the four quadrants, types, states, lines, and (especially) stages. In terms of the STEAM acronym, they don’t look deeply or self-consciously at the Stages, Types, Experiences, or Modes (and their analysis of Angles falls short, too).
On types, for instance, GetReligion always speaks about good v. bad journalism and rarely seems to get that different personality types have an important role to play by shining through the supposed objectivity of the prose. Evidence of a particular type on display isn’t poor journalism; it adds color and nuance and relevance, thereby enhancing journalism. There is no appreciation for the contribution of both feminist (communal) and masculinist (agentic) types to journalism, for instance. Instead, there is is usually only GetReligion’s plea for “objectivity” and abandoning petty prejudices and agendas. In other words, their agenda is of the masculine type, not feminine (whether it’s being mouthed by a woman or a man). A more feminine approach is generally more comfortable in acknowledging the actual relationships between the reporter, the subject, and the audience.
On states, to take another example, GetReligion bloggers often insist that good journalists must do a certain sort of precise craft, generally impersonal and carefully-written, stodgy or breezy depending on the circumstances. But I say: Why not let journalists write in various modes of traditional prose, or light and lively personal reflections, using words and multimedia, with occasional forays into giving expression to alternative states of consciousness?
Give me Maureen Dowd. Then, once or twice a year, give me Maureen Dowd drunk or stoned (or strapped into a straightjacket). Let me see if I can tell the difference, and then float her actual state of consciousness into the column notes somewhere. Some alternative media outlets already do a fine job of this, and I’d like to see more of it. Perhaps the folks at GetReligion would also be okay with this, but I’ve never heard them mention it let alone recommend it as a technique for enhancing the media’s coverage of religion. I would love to see journalism that consciously gives expression to a variety of different states, including forays into prerational and transrational consciousness.
But GetReligion’s most significant shortcoming is its failure to acknowledge the existence of multiple stages of consciousness along various key developmental modes (e.g., the worldviews line or the spiritual line). Many of the problems they attribute to differences between “mainstream” v. “alternative” journalists, or between “good journalists” v. “bad journalists”, or “objectivity” versus “bias” are very good and usually healthy expressions of a mythic-membership journalist’s reading of how folks at other levels of consciousness are doing things. As such, it’s fairly predictable and can often be used to identify the mythic-membership or mythico-essentialist point of view on any problem involving religion and the media. However, it’s NOT truly being an advocate of objectivity. Real objectivity in journalism would be more like taking an integral approach.
Toward a More Integral Journalism
Make no mistake, GetReligion is NOT truly an advocate and friend of objectivity. Real concern for objectivity among journalists is expressed by self-consciously making itself aware of its particular location and contexts of expression AND, to the best of its ability, being aware of its own Kosmic Koordinates. With awareness of both cosmic and Kosmic coordinates, such journalists would formulate principles and theories for doing good, effective, integrally-informed communication. See the scholarly work done by contributors to the Integral Institute and other integrally-informed groups such as ARINA ‘s Integral Review for more substantive critiques of contemporary communcation theories. Integrative theories would generally insist that the proper role of the newsroom is to offer stories that strive for fairness, inclusivity, comprehensiveness, sensitivity, accuracy, and trustworthiness … NOT merely a mythico-essentialist style of psuedo-objectivity.
Yes, reporters should generally present two or more sides to every issue in their news pieces. But they must not pick out what they hear as the two loudest voices in the dialogue, usually one a classic republican and a classic liberal, or a modern conservative and the other a modern socialist/liberal, allow those voices to speak at high volume, and then say that they’ve done their job. Instead, journalists should acknowledge their own situatedness in various contexts and personal commitments (just as the GetReligion bloggers often wisely do), but then strive to gain a broader, more expansive viewpoint that sensitively embraces the whole field. They should try to include as many quadrants and levels in the discussion as they can (with some attention to states, lines, and types insofar as it’s possible).
Good religion journalism won’t just stick to the big page-one stories, and then offer the top two conflicting sides of the issue equal time. As GetReligion rightfully insists, good journalism should penetrate the sociological conflicts of institution/politicsQ/LR to the cultural sources in theology/philosophyQ/LL. However, why stop there?
To survive and thrive, newsrooms must strive for diversity of gender, race, class, and point-of-view (including religionists of different stripes) so as to maximize the fertile fields of universal types that are allowed to be given expression. Whether there are more postmodern Wiccans or high-church Christian Orthodox in the newsroom isn’t nearly as important as whether there are personalities that take seriously both Descending and Ascending currents (i.e., types) of religion, because journalists who don’t “get types” or “get altitude” will often write in a way that always ridicules the contrasting perspective.
This is a somewhat technical way of making the common sense point that whites and blacks, men and women, gays and straights, etc., will often reflect their own tastes and styles in different and valuable ways (and even within those groups there are differences). Embracing diversity in the newsroom should enrich the stew of universal types (e.g., masculine v. feminine styles) of writing that are offered to the news audience. The result is good for everyone, especially newspapers, in building stories that accurately present the types of thinking done by readers of various types of persuasion.
But let’s not stop with increasing diversity to get more universal types flowing more freely into a wider context. Let’s also aspire to a journalism that is sensitive to the evolutionary dynamics at work in all human contexts. Objectivity must not be seen as the exclusive domain of the GetReligion-style journalism, lest we become confused about the ability for any human beings to truly “leap over” their own range of opinions, cultures, preferences, and modes of being into some sort of otherworldly (and delusional) “objective” truth. The alternative is not to abandon Truth. I advocate an integrally-informed style of journalism that seeks to coordinate and arrange the multifarious voices of the newsroom into an effective whole, suitable for its diverse audiences, and with demonstrated mastery of the evolving understanding of professional standards of excellence.
Of course, we must give the mythic-membership and rationalist/essentialist journalists a valued place at the table! Plus, let men and women, blacks and whites, yellows and browns, children and adults, rabbis and atheists, old age and new age, humorists and scientists, abled and disabled, overdeveloped and underdeveloped, shine their lights! In religion coverage, let the infirm, new age, totalitarians, mythic believers, essentialists, conservatives, greens/liberals, existentialist/naturalist, integralists, visionary, soulful, and mystical types speak.
The resulting chorus need not be a noisy cacophany; it could be a beautiful harmony attuned to a new and refreshingly familiar melody. At the very least, it will be more interesting than listening to the GetReligion echo chamber of “see the infantile ,liberal, antireligious bias!” and “please, please cover traditionalist dogma more accurately!” passed off again and again, interminably, as the summit of media criticism.