@notWWJDjswgc: Click Banner Link to "Faith Now" on CNN's Belief Blog: "Sorry, but you are looking for something that isn't here"

Yes, here’s the screen shot taken October 9, 2014.  “Faith Now” is the second most prominent banner heading after the main page, but when you click on it we’re told that “Faith Now” is simply “Not Found.”  This is followed by the equally funny subtext: “Sorry, but you are looking for something that isn’t here.”

Is this an ironic technical glitch, a programmer’s intentional joke, an editorial comment I’m not aware of, or merely an oversight that the major media outlet would never have allowed to persist on any of its other prominent pages? 

I don’t know, but whatever it’s cause, CNN’s “Faith Now - Not Found” is perhaps indicative of religious belief in the 21st century and its portrayal in the popular media.

I went to CNN’s Belief Blog this morning to test a comment by journalist Michel Martin in an interview she gave to On Being’s Krista Tippett, in which she agreed with one Rabbi’s observation that so much of the media’s coverage of religion is “either infantile or incendiary” (click here and listen to the two minutes beginning at 15:27). 

Ms. Martin’s use of the word “incendiary” was offered in confirmation of Ms. Tippett’s lament that it is often the minority who use religion as an instrument to further another, non-religious agenda that unfortunately get portrayed as representative of all believers.  Ms. Tippett then unpacked Ms. Martin’s use of the word “infantile”, and Ms. Martin agreed: there is an under-acknowledged but nonetheless prevalent “ ‘religion is for weirdos’ school of journalism” that colors that topic’s coverage in the media.

Well, ignoring the “Faith Now – Not Found” conundrum at the center of the page, look again at the screenshot above: were Ms. Martin and Ms. Tippett right about the infantile approach as well? Do the pictures and captions CNN chose for its banner suggest a “religion is for weirdos school of journalism”?

To further my investigation, I went to National Public Radio’s (NPR’s) website – Ms. Martin’s most recent show was on NPR, and she herself suggested that her own employer was not exempt from this criticism. Now, I could have sworn NPR had a religion page, but when I clicked on the topics heading, you can see from the screenshot below that there was none to be found.

So I did a search of the website, just typing the word “religion”.

These were the stories that came up as the “best match” for religion, as well as a recommendation at the top of the page that my “best bet” was to go to NPR’s Religion topic page. So I was right, there was one, it’s just that you have to know that it exists and then go looking for it; NPR’s Religion topic page is not available directly from its home page, nor is it visible on the site’s list of topic pages.

Okay, well, as long as I’m here, let me first look at what NPR’s algorithms recommend as “best matches” for the topic of religion:

  • First, an article on religion’s waning influence on American life (I’m not certain why a seemingly downcast Obama was considered an appropriate picture for this headline, despite the caption – missing here – that is provided with the full article, and which explains that the President is closing his eyes during the National Prayer Breakfast);
  • Second, an article suggesting that religion can be explained (and, implicitly, explained away?) by biology (and again, what’s with the photo?  This one did not get a caption even in the full article.  Is this another example of what Ms. Tippett and Ms. Martin called “incendiary or infantile” coverage?)
  • Third, an article, the teaser for which concludes that the Dalai Lama “says Tibetans don’t need a Dalai Lama anymore” (well, that’s redolent of the first two articles, but at least the picture’s spot on).
  • Fourth up, that the Millennial generation is less likely to rely on religion for guidance than the generations that preceded them (then why are they dressed like their preceding generations in that photo – is the editor trying to suggest that corporate capitalism is the new God to which Millennials are allegedly speaking? When you click on the full article, the caption reveals that these are actually students of the Mormon Missionary Training Center – but wouldn’t that make this photo a counter-example to the article’s premise?)

In all fairness, when I did go to NPR’s (hidden) Religion topic page, I did get more balanced coverage accompanied by more appropriate thumbnail pictures. And by comparison, USA Today eliminated its dedicated religion news page and related blog, Faith & Reason, over two years ago.  Fox News also does not have a dedicated religion page. Ironically, although typically (characterized/criticized) as left leaning, a trait many assume antagonistic to balanced reporting on religion, The Huffington Post boasts not only the most comprehensive religion page, but among all mainstream media, perhaps the one least likely to be described as incendiary or infantile.

At least they never went so far as to answer my click for “Faith Now” with “Sorry, but you are looking for something that isn’t here.” 

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