NEWSWEEK put Christmas on the cover of its December 13th issue, and the reaction among orthodox Christians was widespread and emphatic. Once again a leading member of the legacy media had produced a hit piece on Christian belief, employing many deceits, including the use of false dilemmas, the employment of only scholars with radical views, and the omission of evidence in support of the Biblical account of the birth of Jesus.
The author, Newsweek managing editor Jon Meacham, didn't even try very hard to conceal his bias, becoming to religion reporting what Dan Rather has become to political reporting. My favorite line is this gem: "To many minds conditioned by the Enlightenment, shaped by science and all too aware of the Crusades and corruptions of the church, Christmas is a fairy tale." Meacham goes on to immediately declare that "faith and reason need not be constantly at war," but makes it clear that this is possible only when faith surrenders pretty much everything that defines it as orthodoxy. No explanation is ever given as to why the Crusades have any bearing on the legitimacy of Luke's and Matthew's accounts of the Nativity.
Hit pieces like Meacham's targeting Christianity have become commonplace in recent years as magazine editors and book publishers have come to understand the size of the market for stories on faith, but find themselves staffed almost exclusively with skeptics of one degree or another--usually extreme skeptics. So the offensive article/book/documentary appears, sales skyrocket, and a few weeks later some angry letters to the editor follow which are shrugged off as way too little, way too late.
That was then. The blogosphere is now.
Within 10 days of Meacham's article's appearance, his credentials had been reviewed for all to see by Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The article itself had been painstakingly--and fairly--sliced and diced by accomplished theologian, pastor, scholar, and author, Dr. Mark D. Roberts, whose double Harvard degrees, including a Ph.D. from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, make his careful and complete criticisms of Meacham's reporting hard to dismiss.
After interviewing both Mohler and Roberts for two hours on the air, I then posted links to the Newsweek piece and their criticisms, and invited bloggers from around the internet to weigh in via a virtual symposium I term a "Vox Blogoli." Dozens of bloggers accepted the invite, and an astonishing array of piercing reviews of Meacham followed. Among many favorites are the Evangelical Outpost and Tapscott's Copy Desk, but all of them are well worth the read. (The complete list of symposium posts can be read here.)
What the blogosphere allowed to happen is the organization of dissent which is focused, credentialed, complete, and--crucially--publicized. No fair reader of Meacham's piece and the commentaries on it can conclude that Meacham produced good journalism. It is simply too one-sided, too agenda-driven, and too ignorant of serious scholarship to qualify as anything other than a polemic. The exposure of Meacham's folly doesn't guarantee that Newsweek won't stumble again, but it surely must give others in his position pause. The blogosphere has experts and megaphones. As Joe carter of Evangelical Outpost concluded "the mainstream media is only able to retain their influence by convincing the populace they possess special skill and knowledge. But as the Internet continues to fill with . . . debunkers, the media continues to lose credibility, influence, and power."
As 2004 closes, the calendar is littered with the reputations of previously untouchable media bigs. Jon Meacham is only the most recent recipient of the sort of attention legacy media has never experienced and finds unwelcome. This accountability is long overdue.
Hugh Hewitt is the host of a nationally syndicated radio show, and author most recently of If It's Not Close, They Can't Cheat: Crushing the Democrats in Every Election and Why Your Life Depends Upon It. His daily blog can be found at HughHewitt.com.