American Politics & People of Faith (speech summary)
By Richard Potts, The Media Project staff | August 1, 2008
The American press corps is ignorant of religious faith and sees it as bizarre and irrelevant to public life, said former Senator Rick Santorum in a speech to the The Media Project’s course on religion and politics in Washington, DC.
The press proved its ignorance to Santorum when TIME Magazine named him, an outspoken Catholic Christian, to its list of “Most Influential Evangelicals” in 2005.
“The idea of TIME Magazine naming me one of the top-25 evangelicals was sort of funny, if it wasn’t so pathetic that they don’t even understand what they’re talking about,” Santorum said.
Santorum had a contentious relationship with the news media during his public service from 1990-2007, especially the media from his home state of Pennsylvania. He attributes this tension to his unwillingness to check his religious influences “at the door” of his office, a choice the press did not understand or respect.
Though some of the bad treatment resulted from simple ignorance, much of it came from the anti-religious bias of the press, said Santorum, who now practices law in Washington, D.C., and is a fellow with the Ethics & Public Policy Center.
Ironically, the press treated him and other traditional believers in politics badly, he said, because the press has its own religion of non-religion. The news media’s core belief is that religion is illegitimate in public life.
“I'm controversial because I'm a believer,” Santorum said. “I stand up and say what I think is dictated by faith and reason and the traditions of America and the Judeo-Christian worldview that I hold. And that is very dangerous in this world. It's seen by the media as dangerous. It's backward.”
The bottom line for Santorum is that the press is dogmatic about religion because traditional Christianity has a lot to say about how people behave in their private lives.
“It comes down to freedom, and it comes down to sex,” he said. “If you have anything to do with any of the sexual issues, and if you are on the wrong side of being able to do all of the sexual freedoms you want, you are a bad guy.”
Years of top-down cultural change imposed by elitist institutions, especially academia, has created the modern media’s shortcomings, Santorum says. But it wasn’t always this way.
Reporters trained at increasingly liberal and secular universities lost touch with traditional Americans decades ago, he insisted, and the same trends affected popular culture.
“If you go back 50 years, I don't think you would find that in the mainstream media. You certainly wouldn't find that in Hollywood,” said Santorum. “Hollywood was not a seedbed of radical thought in trying to transform the culture. The mainstream media was much more in touch with traditional American values.”
The outcome is a culture going through a violent change as views on sex and traditional religion get marginalized, he said.
Santorum is not hopeful that the media will resolve its problems with believers in politics any time soon. In fact, he expects the situation to get worse.
He described his experience with a reporter from his longtime nemesis the Philadelphia Inquirer. She came to cover him in the days coming up to the election in 2006.
“She told me how she went in there with the attitude that I was the worst, that I was Satan,” Santorum recounted. “And on election night when I lost, she cried.”
“So you can reach people. But it's harder than it used to be.”