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From Yahweh to Yahoo!

The Religious Roots of the Secular Press

Doug Underwood

Publication Year: 2002

This wide-ranging study--hailed by American Journalism as one of the year's best books--provides a fresh and surprising view of the religious impulses at work in the typical newsroom by delving into the largely unexamined parallels between religion and journalism, from the "media" of antiquity to the electronic idolatry of the Internet. Focusing on how the history of religion in the United States has been entwined with the growth of the media, Doug Underwood argues that American journalists are rooted in the nation's moral and religious heritage and operate, in important ways, as personifications of the old religious virtues.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Series: The History of Communication

Title Page

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Copyright page

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xv

A few years ago, my former editor at the Seattle Times, Mike Fancher, issued a directive to his newsroom subordinates: pick a church, go to church activities, interview church members, and find out what is going on out there among churches and the people who attend. ...

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Introduction: Journalism Facing Faith

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pp. 1-16

The columnist Richard Reeves describes the modern media as being like the weather—always there, always surrounding us, and always a major factor in our lives, whether we like it or not.1 Yet as we begin the twenty-first century, it seems that virtually everyone—from philosophers to media critics to ministers to academics ...

Part 1: The Religious Roots of the Mass Media

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1. Prophetic Journalism: Moral Outrage and the News

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pp. 19-32

When the Protestant-dominated Long Parliament in England faced an upsurge in polemical religious literature in 1643, it did the accustomed thing: it passed an ordinance that attempted to control the content of printed material through licensing and censorship laws. ...

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2. The Profits of Reform: Printers, Capitalists, and the Priesthood of Believers

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pp. 33-46

Soon after Martin Luther posted his ninety-five treatises on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, in 1517, he was surprised to discover that he had become, in modern parlance, a best-selling writer. In a matter of days, his message had been translated and reprinted on the newly invented printing press in such towns as Nuremberg, Leipzig, and Basel, ...

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3. Skeptics of Faith or Faith in Skepticism? Enlightening the Journalistic Mind

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pp. 47-60

Samuel Johnson was once asked what he thought of the philosophy of Bishop George Berkeley, who, as a “subjective idealist,” believed that reality was lodged only in the mind of God and that matter did not exist apart from its being perceived in the God-given human imagination. ...

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4. Mystics, Idealists, and Utopians: Journalism and the Romantic Tradition

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pp. 61-75

Journalism has always been considered a romantic profession, at least by journalists themselves. The greatest journalistic figure to span the romantic age was Horace Greeley, whose famous statement, “Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country,” encompasses the yearning, the hopefulness, ...

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5. Muckraking the Nation's Conscience: Journalists and the Social Gospel

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pp. 76-87

The humor magazine Puck published a satiric cartoon in 1906, depicting American muckraking journalists as Christian crusaders—with S. S. McClure carrying a crossbow in the lead and Lincoln Steffens helmeted and sitting astride a war horse—heading off to do battle with the forces of evil.1 ...

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6. Mencken, Monkeys, and Modernity: A New Metaphysic for the Newsroom

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pp. 88-101

When the young Theodore Dreiser, ambitious, impressionable, and at the beginning of a lifelong rebellion against conventional religion, went to work as a reporter for the Chicago Daily Globe in 1892, he discovered among his professional cohorts an exciting new guiding philosophy ...

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7. Pragmatism and the "Facts" of Religious Experience: The Model for a Synthesis

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pp. 102-114

One fall morning in 1908, the nineteen-year-old Harvard undergraduate Walter Lippmann answered a knock at his dormitory door. To Lippmann’s astonishment, standing outside was a white-bearded Harvard professor, perhaps the most famous writer and thinker of his generation, who told Lippmann that he had come to congratulate him ...

Part 2: Research, Religious Beliefs, and the Ethics of the Press

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8. Trusting Their Guts: The Moral Compass of a Doubters' Profession

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pp. 117-129

E. W. Scripps was a quarrelsome old cuss, a hard-drinking, willful, dominating personality who said what was on his mind and the world be damned. While Scripps may be best known as one of the earliest developers of the newspaper chain, in his memoirs he spent a good bit of time musing about journalistic morals ...

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9. "I Will Show You My Faith by What I Do": A Survey of the Religious Beliefs of Journalists and Journalists' Faith Put into Action

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pp. 130-147

Ralph Cipriano is the prototype for the modern religion reporter, at least in the minds of those who believe the media have become secular in orientation, implicitly anti–church establishment in outlook, and interested in covering religion only when it involves the bizarre, the entertaining, or the shocking. ...

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10. Religion, Morality, and Professional Values: A Study of the Ethical Sources of Today's Journalists

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pp. 148-162

In recent years, journalists have appeared somewhat at a loss when faced with ethical conundrums and perplexing moral problems, particularly when they recognize that the public does not necessarily view journalists, as they often view themselves, as guardians of public morality. ...

Part 3: Secularism and the Newsroom Search for Substitute Faiths

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11. The Cult of Science and the Scientifically Challenged Press

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pp. 165-178

The way the New York Times reported it, Dr. Stephen Hawking— despite being confined to a wheelchair, completely paralyzed from Lou Gehrig’s disease, and able to communicate only through a computer synthesizer—managed a broad grin during a Chicago convention of physicists. ...

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12. The Mind of the Inquiring Reporter: Psychology and the Science of the Soul

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pp. 179-191

Like many famous people, Sigmund Freud had little use for the popular press. “Why [do] you still believe anything you read in an American newspaper?” he grumbled to a disciple in 1928. The article that had provoked Freud’s scorn was a New York Times account of the controversy created by Freud’s latest book, ...

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13. The Press, Politics, and Religion in the Public Square

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pp. 192-205

It was such a good piece of political gossip, even back in 1950, that reporters probably could be excused for not focusing on the religious angle: Drew Pearson, liberal Quaker and the preeminent investigative journalist in the nation’s capital, was kneed twice in the groin in the cloakroom of a private Washington, D.C., club by the angry and drunken Senator Joseph McCarthy, ...

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14. Foundations of Sand: Technology Worship and the Internet

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pp. 206-215

It was meant as a parody, but the Boston Globe still called the wire story about Microsoft’s acquisition of the Catholic church a “serious” statement about the higher power of the Internet and Microsoft’s reverential status within it. In 1994, soon after the Internet had burst into the consciousness of journalists and the public, ...

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15. The Gospel of Public Journalism: The Newsroom Communitarians and the Search for Civic Virtue

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pp. 216-230

I learned recently what James Carey meant when he referred to the use of the word public as the “god term” of journalism.1 While on a panel at a conference of journalism teachers and academics a few years ago, I warned that the “public journalism” movement was in danger of degenerating into just another newsroom marketing tactic at some newspapers. ...

Part 4: Journalism after Jesus

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16. Jesus without Journalists: Miracles and Mysteries, Minus Media Reports

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pp. 233-248

In 1945, an Egyptian peasant unearthed an urn that contained what turned out to be one of the greatest finds in the history of Christian scholarship. But before the Nag Hammadi gospels came into the hands of authorities, a key, middle section of one of the discovered texts—the “Gospel of Mary,” ...

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17. Visions of Mary and the Less Than Visionary Press: Religioius Apparitions in the Framing of the Modern Media

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pp. 249-252

The way the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch described it, there can be little doubt that the sightings of the Virgin Mary are a big and modern business.1 A Web site devoted to apparitions of Mary and Jesus lists dozens of religious sightings all over the world dating back to 1347, with a star indicating full Catholic church approval, ...

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18. Proselytizing and Profits: The Growth of Televangelism and the Collaboration of the Mainstream Press

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pp. 253-263

In the early 1980s, when I was a legislative correspondent for the Seattle Times, I witnessed what to me was a startling event on the steps of the Washington state capitol in Olympia. Jerry Falwell, the well-known televangelist and the founder of the Moral Majority, brought to the Washington legislature his crusade ...

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19. Pluralism and the Press's Blind Spots: The Coverage of Religious Diversity at Home and Abroad

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pp. 264-270

It did not take the Boston Herald long to speculate that the October 1999 crash of the EgyptAir flight might involve terrorism. There was no shortage of suspects, the newspaper wrote on the day after the disaster: the terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, the al-Jihad organization that assassinated Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in 1981, ...

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pp. 271-280

The television journalist David Frost always seems to elicit the most candid self-revelations from the Americans he interviews, perhaps because he is British or because his questions are so probing and unexpected. Clearly, he surprised Bill Gates, the multibillionaire software superstar and our era’s most celebrated capitalist, ...


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pp. 281-318

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 319-330


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pp. 331-346

E-ISBN-13: 9780252092688
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252075711

Page Count: 368
Publication Year: 2002

Series Title: The History of Communication