Bush, religious rhetoric and the press

From NYU J-School’s great new site/blog The Revealer which covers the press and religion

David Domke, University of Washington professor and author of the just-released book, God Willing?: Political Fundamentalism in the White House, the “War on Terror,” and the Echoing Press, documents President Bush’s effective linking of religious terminology with political goals. While the tally of Bush’s good n’ evil rhetoric isn’t exactly shocking, Domke’s criticism of the press hits home: Just two of 326 editorials written about Bush’s speeches challenged the religiously derived notion of good vs. evil; none questioned his statements about God’s will. “‘In a time of crisis, the certainty conveyed by what I call “political fundamentalism” put forward by the administration silenced the Democrats and had great appeal to the press. And yet with so many around the globe expressing a different view, the press failed its readers by uncritically echoing these fundamentalist messages.’”

More on the same from Domke’s newswire release.

Domke examined the response of news media, by dissecting TV and newspaper reports on the administration and its policies related to the “war on terrorism.” This included every terror-related news story in the New York Times and Washington Post during the three weeks after Sept. 11, and several hundred newspaper articles and network television stories.

The coverage, Domke found, gave uncritical voice to four key fundamentalist messages from the administration:

1) Simplistic, black-and-white conceptions of the political landscape.

2) Calls for immediate action on administration policies as a necessary part of the nation’s “calling” and “mission” against terrorism.

3) Declarations about the will of God for America and for the spread of U.S. conceptions of freedom and liberty.

4) Claims that dissent from the administration was unpatriotic and a threat to the nation.

“These messages were rooted in a religiously conservative worldview,” Domke said, “yet they were often framed by both the administration and the news media to emphasize a sense of nationalism.

“That made the fundamentalist approach attractive, or at least palatable, to the press and public,” Domke added, “in a period when Americans were trying to understand what had happened and why.”

It was not until nearly two years after 9/11 that the administration relinquished its full-court religious press, Domke said, and the news media began to question their role in helping the administration to control public discourse.

“All of this came at great cost to democracy and the public,” he said, “both of which were roundly ignored by the administration as it pursued a religiously grounded vision of America in the 21st century.”

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