The social media world has been aflutter over the possibility that a flight attendant discriminated against a Muslim woman by denying her an unopened can of soda.
But a story about the plight of Christians in India hasn’t caused a firestorm in the media. It is fascinating that a racial profiling incident that deprived someone of, at most, 9oz of soda can take precedence over the gang-rape of a nun, church burnings, murder, and systematic cover-ups from high ranking Hindus.
Why is it that the media can be so inconsistent with their emphases on discrimination? Helpful on this issue are the reflections of the former public editors of the New York Times. Daniel Okrent in 2004 wrote cheekily that the Times was an urban paper, and thus liberal.
But if you're examining the paper's coverage of these subjects from a perspective that is neither urban nor Northeastern nor culturally seen-it-all; if you are among the groups The Times treats as strange objects to be examined on a laboratory slide (devout Catholics, gun owners, Orthodox Jews, Texans); if your value system wouldn't wear well on a composite New York Times journalist, then a walk through this paper can make you feel you're traveling in a strange and forbidding world.
Following him was Arthur Brisbane in 2012 who said that the Times indeed had a liberal bias, not because of some well-orchestrated plot, but the homogeneity of its employees.
I also noted two years ago that I had taken up the public editor duties believing “there is no conspiracy” and that The Times’s output was too vast and complex to be dictated by any Wizard of Oz-like individual or cabal. I still believe that, but also see that the hive on Eighth Avenue is powerfully shaped by a culture of like minds—a phenomenon, I believe, that is more easily recognized from without than from within.
Neither of these editors lasted more than two years at the Times, which certainly gives evidence to Brisbane’s theory of “like-mindedness.” This malady can affect all media outlets. It takes constant attention and self-examination to prevent substituting ideology for the pursuit of truth with integrity. Allowing other people to critique and expand your opinions is uncomfortable, but necessary for reporting and evaluating honestly.
The prevailing secular narrative in our culture dominates the media world. Christians are not supposed to be the victims according to this narrative. They’re supposed to be slightly less intelligent than the enlightened journalist, and they’re supposed to—generally speaking—be opposed to social progress. Stories about the persecution of Christians abroad don’t fit within the narrative, and a story that doesn’t fit that paradigm is given short-shrift. There has been reporting on the persecution of Christians, but it often seems to lack the urgency and import that the discrimination of non-Christian minorities in the western world receives.
Despite the bias in the media, outrage is most certainly not the answer. Furthermore, the statements of Christ on the necessity of suffering as a consequence of discipleship and his own crucifixion show that these stories are not surprising, horrible as they are. What is frustrating, though, is the inconsistency of the media in choosing what cases of discrimination they will highlight. Members of the media must not cease examining their own motives and must honestly attempt to understand viewpoints that are different from their own if intelligent public discourse is to be possible.
Dominic Bouck, O.P., is a Dominican brother of the Province of St. Joseph and a summer intern at First Things.