In a candid exchange with NPR’s Terry Gross, New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet conceded that traditional media struggles to produce accurate coverage of religion and religious issues.
Their wide-ranging interview surveyed a number of topics related to the general terrain of media, including so-called “fake news” and the role of journalism in President-elect Donald Trump’s America.
The conversation, though at times self-serving and uncritical, veered into useful territory when Gross asked Baquet to respond to a piece written by Jim Rutenberg, one of the Times’ media columnists. Rutenberg took 1,500 words to ponder whether the standard norms of journalistic neutrality and objectivity should apply to Trump. Though Rutenberg ultimately concludes they may not, Baquet said Trump’s victory has occasioned some soul-searching and introspection, specifically regarding establishment media empathy for the rest of the country. Baquet references the “anger and disconnectedness” outside the Acela corridor, and stresses that traditional media can tap into this undercurrent.
He specifically identifies quality coverage of religious institutions and persons of faith as an area in need of improvement. (RELATED: Pope Francis’ Letter On Mercy And Abortion, Explained)
And I want to make sure we’re set up to cover that. I want to make sure that we are much more creative about beats out in the country so that we understand that anger and disconnectedness that people feel. And I think I use religion as an example because I was raised Catholic in New Orleans. I think that the New York-based and Washington-based too probably, media powerhouses don’t quite get religion. We have a fabulous religion writer, but she’s all alone. We don’t get religion. We don’t get the role of religion in people’s lives. And I think we can do much, much better. And I think there are things that we can be more creative about to understand the country.
To improve the caliber of religion reporting, the Times could start by fixing an error in an 11-year-old dispatch written from Vatican City on the occasion of Pope St. John Paul II’s death. Correspondent Ian Fisher filed a report from the pontiff’s funeral, describing “a silver staff, called the crow’s ear” tucked under his left arm. The staff is in fact called a “crosier” and is an important symbol of his pastoral office.
Over a decade later, the Times still hasn’t issued a correction.
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