Number of Reports Increases, but So Does Skepticism, Hostility
Feature by Tim Graham
Media Research Center
August 25, 2004
(AgapePress) - In recent months, a number of dramatic religious stories have unfolded, from religious freedom in Iraq, to the installation of an openly gay bishop to the religious and commercial phenomenon around Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ. To measure the upsurge in religion coverage in 2003 and the beginning of 2004, Media Research Center (MRC) analysts surveyed every religion news story on ABC, CBS, and NBC news programs in the 12 months from March 1, 2003 through February 29, 2004. We then compared those numbers to MRC's first religion news study of 1993. Major findings include:
Religion coverage has more than doubled from ten years ago. Overall, the networks aired 699 segments in the study period, up from 336 in 1993. The number of evening news stories on the three networks is up fairly dramatically (121 in 1993, 303 in the 2003-04 period). The number of religion segments on prime-time magazine shows and late-night and Sunday interview shows is way up (18 in 1993 to 65 in the 2003-04 period). A smaller jump came on the morning shows (197 in 1993, 331 in the 2003-04 period).
But the skeptical tone of religion coverage -- covering religious issues like everyday political debates, favoring "religious" scholars who strongly question the authenticity of the Bible -- doesn't match the religious belief that Americans state in polls. In a Fox News-Opinion Dynamics poll last September, 92 percent expressed belief in God. A broad majority also expressed belief in heaven (85 percent), miracles (82 percent), angels (78 percent), hell (74 percent), and the devil (71 percent).
In February, an ABC News poll found a majority of Americans believe in the literal truth of the Bible. By contrast, polls over the years have established that journalists seldom or never attend religious services and are much less religious than the public as a whole.