Monday, February 06, 2006

Holy Fluff, Devotional Promotion

Last night's story by News 2's "religion and ethics" reporter, Jamey Tucker, on football players who pray only confirms my sense that he is bent on producing stories that make News 2 look more like Pat Robertson's 700 Club. Mr. Tucker seems less interested in reporting objectively and fairly on religious movements in Middle Tennessee; even though there are many opportunities to study religion here and probably more chances to excavate little-known, unpopular religious undercurrents.

Tucker could have done a very interesting story, interviewing individual players and consulting religious leaders from different persuasions on the matter. Instead, his "report" was a pander piece that merely 1) noted that some players pray (not news), 2) asked why they pray (I don't need News 2 in order to ask that), and 3) provided the answer via a single source: conservative Christian sports agent Kyle Rote, Jr., who gave his idea of theologically correct things players should pray for, which sounded like a daily devotional. Smattered throughout Mr. Tucker's report were matter-of-fact references to what "scripture" teaches and to "God" as if those theological terms were transparent to all and not matters of different interpretations.

My guess is that players pray for a lot of different things, and they may not always be consistent with Mr. Rote's or Mr. Tucker's ideas of theological correctness. But Mr. Tucker's rah-rah piece was obviously not meant to educate or inform. It was more like a synoptic infomercial for conservative evangelicalism, which is consistent with other stories he's done for broadcast news (he previously produced subject-promotional stories on a faith-based home schoolers basketball tournament and a conservative Christian book convention). This is exactly why Mr. Tucker's story did not tell us much of anything new about why players pray and the different responses that people have to that. It was just too busy being a promotional ad for conservative groups (like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes?) to be a serious piece of informative journalism.

It has been said that a critical element of ethical journalism is to report the news in such a way that viewers are not able to discern one's ideological positions. From what I have seen of Jamey Tucker's reports, I cannot say that I am unable to discern his theological bias; that bias becomes more apparent to me the more stories I see coming from him. That bias may help News 2 from falling victim to economic threats from conservative cross-sections of their viewing audience, but it does nothing to change the perceptions of Christians like me that New 2 religion reporting generally tells us little or nothing one cannot already learn from surfing evangelical websites and bulletin boards.


  1. Give him some time Mike. He's new to Nashville and learning the community.

    I for one am happy we now have a fulltime Religion and Ethics reporter to cover issues that for the most part have been ignored by broadcast media.

    He also has a blog:
    I hope you will share your thoughts with him there.

  2. I'm up for giving new reporters more chances, and I'm not going to stop tuning into Jamey's reports because of his first stories. But I also think that all reporters and their stations need to read feedback from the public, whether that feedback be critical or agreeable. I imagine that Jamey is going to get his fair share of agreeable feedback if he continues to do stories with a conservative evangelical spin, but in my opinion he also needs to consider the more critical views and and feel some encouragement to look at the many sides of religion.

    While it is a positive step for News 2 to hire a religion and ethics reporter, the tenor of Jamey's stories so far do not advance beyond the sympathetic (perhaps scared?) stories I see on the other channels; the primary difference I see is that News 2 devotes more time to these stories than the other channels. But more of the same is not what I would expect from greater intentionality on the station's part.

    Do you remember the story of the universally loved Walter Cronkite, who when asked if he would ever consider running for political office on his popularity replied that nobody would vote for him because his first act would be to take the guns from every gun-owner in America? Cronkite was trusted not for his political views, but because of the fact that you could never see that bias in his reportage. My 2 cents: Jamey would do well to immulate that approach. I would have greater regard for his stories if he could be more objective and balanced and diverse, such that I cannot tell what his personal views are.

  3. The critical comments are just important to us as the positive ones and I'm glad you take the time to let us know them.

    I talked with Jamey today and asked him to visit your site and read what you had to say.

    We're far from perfect as you know but we will keep on trying and I know you'll keep on letting us know how we're doing.