Jewschool.com: Having Faith in the Media

Originally published on Jewschool.com.

When I was in high school, one of the stops on USY‘s Israel tours was The Propaganda Center. I’m fairly certain that wasn’t actually its name, but I defy you to google “Israel propaganda center” and come up with anything useful. Regardless, this place was supposed to teach us about spotting bias in the media. Although I went there twice during high school, I don’t remember the specifics — some of it involved seeing how Hitler’s media peeps used images of Kosher slaughter to make Jews look like devil-worshippers with bloodlust. What I do remember is that even though I was already aware that pretty much all media had some sort of bias, watching the folks at The Propaganda Center poke holes in actual news stories forever changed the way I read the news about Israel (and much of the news in general).

Blind SpotAbout a month ago, I had a similar experience that has changed the way I read the news, only this time it was in book form. Reading Blind Spot: When Journalists Don’t Get Religion was an experience of consciousness-raising. The anthology, edited by Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert, and Roberta Green Ahmanson, takes contemporary newsmedia to task for misunderstanding and sometimes simply missing critical stories because of an epidemic of ignorance about religion in the world’s newsrooms. Some of the stories analyzed are what you’d expect: Iraq, Iran, terrorism, etc… but perhaps the most interesting chapters cover the ways a misunderstanding of religion crippled the reporting of George W. Bush’s reelection, the hooplah surrounding The Passion of the Christ, and faith-based humanitarian programs. (The best “fun fact” I took away from the book, however, relates to the 24-hour cable news stations. Turns out they get higher marks than most other news outlets. Since they have so much time to fill with only so many stories happening on any given day, they’ve taken to exploring many more angles for each story simply out of necessity. That doesn’t make them any less annoying.)

Naturally, I approached the book searching for bias. After all, this could have easily been a conservative screed against the Liberal Media Elite. And to be fair, there’s a little of of that in evidence. But part of the book’s point is that religion doesn’t always equal conservatism, and that outlook is a huge part of the problem to begin with. So, for example, when religious liberals and religious conservatives banded together to champion human rights legislation (such as the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, the Sudan Peace Act of 2002, and the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004), the remarkable alliances at work were overlooked in most press. This does everyone a disservice, especially the end-consumers of the news who end up with a flattened and inaccurate view of the world.

The book avoids one of my pet peeves (whining about a problem without offering a solution). The final section of the book is called “Getting it Right,” and includes an article about some notable exceptions to the trend, and another with recommendations for the future. Of course, some of the recommendations, which include something akin to an affirmative action program to place more religiously connected people in newsrooms, may not be so realistic in these end times of traditional media. But at the very least, those writing the news should be aware of their own blind spots and look for collaborations that will enrich their understanding of the stories of the day. Even the most casual observer of world events can see that the place of religion in shaping our day isn’t getting any smaller, so we owe it to ourselves to meet the challenge of understanding head-on.

Fynsworth Alley: Peter Filichia

Originally published on Fynsworth Alley.

Peter Filichia

Peter Filichia

Peter Filichia is the drama critic for the New Jersey Star-Ledger, as well as a daily columnist for BroadwayOnline.com. He has provided the liner notes for several Fynsworth Alley releases, including Subways Are for Sleeping.

DL: How did you get to be Peter Filichia, theatre guru? What were the steps along the way?

PF: Truth to tell, back in 1968 I was a student at the University of Massachusetts, and a kid I knew from high school in Arlington, Massachusetts, came up to me and said, “I just became the editor of the school newspaper; will you review plays?” I’d never thought of doing it before in my life. So, I did that, and what was really interesting is that within a year, [a new newspaper] started in Boston, which is now called the Boston Phoenix, and they were looking for people to review, and I decided to review for them. After a while, it got to really difficult financial constraints, and I quit because they weren’t paying.

What had happened was, that I realized all the influence I’d been building up for the Boston community, you know, getting quoted in ads and what have you and even to the point, this is a kind of an interesting story, in 1970, the Broadway musical Gantry, with Robert Shaw and Rita Moreno, decided not to go out of town. What they were going to do, is invite the out-of-town critics, to come see it in New York, they were going to pay to have them come and they invited Elliot Norton and they invited Kevin Kelly, and they invited Bernie Shear from Philadelphia and people from all the tryout towns, and they included me. So things were really quite nice, but because the paper was going through hard times, I got on my high horse and decided I was quitting and aside from my marriage, I view that as the biggest mistake of my life. Because, for 17 long years, nothing happened, I didn’t do anything along those lines, in terms of any theatre writing whatsoever. And I said to myself, if I ever have a chance to do this again, I will never make the mistake of worrying about money. Because the thing is, when you’re printed, people don’t know what you’re getting, you know. When you’re printed, they think you really know.  Continue reading