Deggans on WEDU tonight; still recovering from public discussion last night on race, religion and media
Last night, before a crowd of about 60 people at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, I led a discussion on how the media has covered race and religion that took a turn into a conflict about evangelist Bill Keller and some of his more incendiary comments about Islam.
Keller had agreed to appear at the forum, which was co-sponsored by the Council on American Islamic Relations, so he knew some criticsm was coming. But most of the attendees took visible umbrage at Keller's unwillingness to back away from statements such as Islam was a "1,400-year-old lie from the pits of hell" and calling the Prophet Mohammed a "murdering pedophile."
Keller says his words are backed by the bible. Other pastiors onstage, including Arthur Jones from Bible Based-Fellowship in Tama, disagreed. Jones and Keller also disagreed on the notion that black ministers may be held to more media scrutiny or pay a bigger price for controversial statements than white evangelicals. In fact, the only thing all those on our panel could really agree on, was that media outlets weren't covering any of this particularly well.
I was struck by how entrenched some perspectives were. Even after I noted how a study showed that white people judge racial progress by looking at how far we';ve come and black people judge racial progress by how far we need to go -- asking how we bridge that divide -- Jones and Keller proceeded to echo the same thoughts is slightly different ways.
Questioners from the crowd tended to talk about "the media" as if we were all one big ball of an organization, with little distinction between print, network TV, cable TV, talk radio and the Internet. But each platform works indifferent ways, presenting different challenges -- so how can one criticsm fit them all?
What also seemed obvious: while the public is hungry for a media structure which delivers "The truth," increasingly, there is no such thing in modern life. Particularly, regarding complex issues such as religious faith, race prejudice, Palestinian history, anti-American sentiment in the Middle East and the role of the Muslim faith in terrorism, there often is no definitive "truth."
There is, instead, a collection of reports from a variety of sources -- each with their own set of values, advantages and shortcomings. And, increasingly, it falls to the news consumer to be selective and wide-ranging in the news sources they regularly consume -- their media diet, as I've written about before -- to make sure they get a balanced view.
As is often the case, I left last night's forum excited by the conversation, but concerned because we rarely seem to move beyond this point. Here's hoping this time might be different.
Hear me talk about this and other subjects on Rob Lorei's public affairs show for WEDU-Ch.3, Florida This Week, at 8:30 p.m. tonight or 12:30 p.m. Sunday. Below, there's a look at the last time I appeared on the show: