He reported on a 1980s study by S. Robert Lichter of George Washington University and Stanley Rothman of Smith College which showed that, while more than 40 percent of Americans attended worship services regularly, just 8 percent of journalists did, and that even though 85 percent of Americans saw adultery as morally wrong, only 15 percent of journalists did.
The gap persists.
“If you think the fact that 95 percent of American journalists are pro abortion rights doesn’t affect abortion coverage, I’ve got some land in Louisiana to sell you dirt cheap,” says Mattingly, a registered Democrat who is against abortion.
For the record, Mattingly doesn’t think the media, so often accused of leftist bias, “hates” religious people as much as it feels discomfited by them.
“It’s not like [the editor] is sitting in the newsroom thinking, ‘God, I hate Christians. Let’s avoid all those stories.’ It’s more like [he or she] would say, ‘Look, there’s 30 people in my newsroom who went to that [pro choice] march. wholesale nfl jerseys from china It’s all I heard them talking about for weeks! I don’t know anyone who went to that [pro life] march.’
“At worst, it might be, ‘Man, who are these wackos? They make my palms sweat.’ But in general, those who decide what is news demonstrably have little empathy for religion.”
A chat with Mattingly ranges over a wild array of subjects, from football (the influence of NFL coach Mike Singletary, a born again Christian, on Ray Lewis) to pop music (he plays a vintage Santa Cruz guitar) to baseball (he strictly avoided Orioles games until they restored the word “Baltimore” to the road jerseys), movies and literature.
“How strong is the Greek Orthodox religion of Nick Markakis?” he says, glancing up from a vegetarian burrito. “I’d love to read that story.”
That’s probably the slightest among the ones the mainstream media might have covered, in their fullest context, but didn’t, at least until they had boiled over.
“How about the Catholic sex scandals? Is that a story?” he asks.
In fairness, he’s not shy about praising the work of the many journalists he feels have excelled at religion coverage: the late David Shaw of the Los Angeles Times, whose 1990 series on how bias shapes religion coverage is “the definitive document;” a “hero,” Russ Chandler of the same paper, and Peter Brown, an Orlando Sentinel columnist who wrote a book analyzing the lifestyles of American journalists and how they shape coverage of religion.
It was so complex and controversial, he says, it never found a publisher.
“I told him, ‘Peter, if you’d given it the right title Baby Boomer Urbanites From Hell things would have been different,’ ” Mattingly says with a laugh.
As he sees it, Christians share the blame for the news religion gulf. A seminary graduate, he says the students he works with from religious colleges around the country are so used to “getting ignored and beat up” by newspapers, they often show up in Washington hating and fearing the secular media.
He doesn’t advocate “affirmative action for born again journalists” but rather encourages young believers to get familiar with the profession so they can enrich it from within. Graduates from the four year old program are working full time at newspapers from California to Tennessee.
Monklike in his full beard and glasses, he pads into the tiny study in his home’s basement, a room that evokes the impishness with which he sometimes views his work.
“I Strangled Shirley MacLaine In A Previous Life,” reads a bumper sticker on a cabinet.
“Dude, she can be annoying,” Mattingly says of the actress who claims to have been reincarnated many times. Rowling’s books are, in effect, Christian apologetics in disguise.
David McHam, a longtime journalism professor at the University of Houston, says an underrated facet of Mattingly’s work is his reporting.
“He has an insatiable mind, and he knows how to get the good stuff,” McHam says. “I don’t know how he does it every week.”
To Van Biema, the work has paid off over the years, as Mattingly’s critiques have helped sensitize mainstream religious coverage even now, at a time when newsroom cutbacks are making religion writing a rarer commodity than ever.
And Mattingly sees more to be done.
Take that huge, growing Pentecostalist movement in and around New York, largely uncovered in the media, that reflects how immigrants continue to change America. Or that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, sees himself as the “Twelfth Imam” a fact that has apocalyptic implications, given that nation’s pursuit of the bomb. Or last week’s closing of Catholic High in Towson? “How come The Sun didn’t get into the demographics of that parish?” he asks.