The Media and Fox News – Contributing to the National Hatred of Atheists

Posted on December 13, 2013 by

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“While Atheists may see their disbelief as a private matter on a metaphysical issue, believers may consider Atheist’s absence of belief as a public threat to cooperation and honesty” (Fleet).

Although recent studies have shown that the number of Atheists in America is rising consistently and the number of “religious” people has been steadily on the decline, Atheism is still viewed negatively and Atheists are still disliked and distrusted by the public. This November a study conducted by University of British Columbia psychologists found that among minority religious groups in America, Atheists were the most disliked and distrusted. This study also concluded that the participants of the survey held prejudices that Atheists were dishonest, hateful, uncooperative, immoral, and that their beliefs “Went against the American way of life.” This stems from media portrayals of Atheism, which result in unfair stereotypes of an often misunderstood group. Large media corporations, specifically Fox News, display Atheists as an ignorant, hateful, arrogant and uncooperative group that is always on the attack. This media coverage contributes to and perpetuates a negative public image of Atheists that is often far from reality. In order to demonstrate the effect of this media coverage, I will analyze how Fox News stations cover stories on Atheism specifically on television, involving topics such as language, how they conduct interviews, how they portray Atheists’ personalities, and how they portray Atheism as a threat to “traditional American” beliefs. 

Fox News uses media coverage to manufacture these prejudices about Atheists. In order to demonstrate this I will be analyzing a few examples that best demonstrate the trends I found in numerous examples of Fox News media coverage. This will include coverage of the “attacks” on the Pledge of Allegiance and “The War Christmas,” as well as a disclaimer regarding Fox News and a comparison between a Fox clip and a non-Fox clip.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TE-z6wSz3Z4

This recent Fox News coverage from December 2012 of a local dispute over a Nativity scene on a public square between an Atheist group and the religious community demonstrates the effect media coverage can have on the development of prejudices held by audiences. Just as a short disclaimer, I will not be diving into any debates over religion or Atheism in this report, but rather simply discussing the way media coverage can influence the views the public has on a certain group of people (Atheists).  This story covers the events in a Texas town where a local Atheist group is upset that a Nativity scene is being featured in a public square, and wants equal representation in the public space through the display of a sign that states their beliefs and philosophy. The language and tone employed by the Anchor of the program and by the interviewees presents Atheism and Atheists in a strongly negative manner, as a group of worthless people who won’t get off the offensive. The broadcast begins on a rude and condescending note as the lead Anchorwoman leads off  with the line, “Have you heard this before?” suggesting that this isn’t the first time the Atheists were on the “attack.” The diction used by the local community commissioner also degrades Atheists and their viewpoints. When asked about the Atheist group putting a sign up in the public square, he states that a message from the Muslim or Jewish community would be fine, but for Atheists, “No, that’s trash and garbage.” Finally, the coverage concludes on a dismissive note, as the Anchor states, “We’ve seen enough of that.”

What message might this media coverage send to the audience of this program?  The Anchor’s condescending and dismissive comments suggest that Atheists are always on the attack, and that their cause shouldn’t be taken seriously, and the commissioner’s comments suggest that Atheists are less entitled to respect and basic rights than Christians, Jews, and Muslims. An average viewer might see this on the local news and get these impressions of Atheists and how they should be treated, contributing to and perpetuating the dislike and distrust of the Atheistic community, simply from the way this media coverage is conducted.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3lxmQATcWb8

Here is another clip of Fox News discussing the “War on Christmas,” a media coined termed for the secular attack on the holiday of Christmas. A major figure in this “War on Christmas” is Bill O’Reilly, and this is a good example of Fox News’ views on the Atheist/secular “attack” on Christmas. Once again, looking past the actual political content this video discusses, this video displays a plethora of dialogue that condescends Atheists and portrays them whining aggressors who have declared “war.” According to this coverage, these people (Atheists) have declared a “War on fun things you do around Christmas” and one man even describes Atheists as “grouchy, misanthropic, and heathen” people who are using Christmas as a vehicle to diminish Christianity in America. The final speaker resorts to satire to suggest some of the things Atheists will “attack” next, such as Christmas presents, Santa Claus and Christmas trees. This language is used to describe Atheists in a very negative manner, and the way they discuss these “attacks” implies that Atheists will soon attack literally everything relating to Christmas, which is used as a vehicle to imply that Atheists are coming after the essential American way of life. What viewer would want to support or respect a belief system that is going to take their Christmas presents away? None of course! Fox News and the media use this “satirical” exaggeration of the War on Christmas to conjure up negative and dismissive views of Atheists and their true intentions to attack all that we (Americans) love and care about.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-rYJQgJzlwc

The media manufactures Atheists as “Un-American.” If they don’t uphold traditional American beliefs, then this (America) is not the place for them. “They don’t have to live here” is the quote to remember from this coverage in September of a legal battle over the Pledge of Allegiance. This video really drives home the beliefs that Fox News has that Atheists do not have equal rights as people in America, and that they are a minority group that should NOT be catered to.  Regardless of actual political truth, this is an especially powerful example of how a News outlet can marginalize a group like Atheists, and shape public opinion. This coverage does not delve into the political side of this issue or even consider the opinions of Atheists, but rather just immediately writes Atheists off as a “small-minded,” “selfish” group who is trying to “force their beliefs on everybody else,” a group who does not belong here in the United States. If the media portrays Atheists as a minority group who should “conform or leave,” what message does this send to Atheist viewers, or really any audiences who don’t have any pre-existing views of Atheists? Here the media marginalizes and degrades a minority group in the United States by using strong language and by implying they don’t belong here. If the media holds the belief that Atheists don’t belong here, and use their airtime to emphasize that point, a very dark and negative portrayal will be cast on Atheists in America.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9rPw9wGfNM

Now I would like to analyze the differences in coverage of the same Atheist billboard between a Fox program and a local independent program, in order to make a claim about how Fox manufactures coverage to fit their agenda and beliefs. Both of these television broadcasts focus on an Atheist billboard erected this January in the San Diego area that reads, “Atheism, a personal relationship with reality.” One of the main differences between these two broadcasts can be seen in the way they distribute airtime between the two sides of the conflict, and also in their choice of interviewees. In the Fox Broadcast, Debbie Allen, the Spokeswoman for the local Atheist group (San Diego Coalition for Reason) makes two short statements, one where she reads the billboard, and another where she states that the public unfairly sees Atheists as bad people. The coverage then immediately moves on to a reaction from the religious community. The religious community consists of several pedestrians around town who have something to say on this issue, such as “(They’re) Trying to shine a positive light on a negative philosophy,” “I don’t know if an Atheistic message will resonate with people around here,” and “I’ll be praying for them.” These messages shed a negative light on the message Atheism is trying to send, and even on the fact they are trying to spread that message. This coverage gives more airtime to the people opposed to the billboard, and doesn’t allow the Atheist Spokeswoman to make a rebuttal of any sort. Additionally, the reporter summarizes a few “public opinions” stating that people are concerned the billboard is a safety concern, that it will be up for too long, and that the Atheist group chose this location because it was the cheapest. Finally, the Fox Coverage ends on a dismissive note, as the Anchor States, “Alright, the First Amendment I guess.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxSpQ62rw5o

On the contrary, San Diego’s News Source offers very neutral coverage that contrasts that of Fox News’ coverage. Instead of the Fox News format, which featured very little of the Atheist Spokeswoman and a lot of local pedestrians, this coverage includes equal airtime to both parties, and even features a interaction between Atheist Spokeswoman and the Pastor of a local Church. In this coverage, the views of the local Church is represented by a local Pastor, instead of the religious “community” in the Fox coverage, which was really just a group of pedestrians. In this local coverage, the two sides debating this billboard get equal coverage. Each side gets to make various claims and reactions, and although the two sides do inevitably take some jabs at each other, the coverage remains neutral, and even features a respectful comment from the Pastor regarding the billboard, stating, “Ah this is great, I welcome the debate!”  Additionally, both sides claim there is no “fight.” When asked whether or not this is a “fight,” Debbie Allen replies, “Not necessarily” and the Pastor “I don’t think they’re trying to pick a fight necessarily, they’re just trying to spread their message.” Unlike the Fox News coverage, this local story gives equal respect to both sides in terms of airtime, and features respectful interviewees who don’t resort to negativity simply because they don’t agree with someone else’s beliefs.

This comparison offers us a great look at how Fox engineered a situation in the media to fit its political agenda regarding atheists, by contrasting it with a neutral local news station. If an audience member had seen the Fox News coverage rather than the local program, they would probably have very different viewpoints about the billboard “situation” and about Atheists in general. The Fox source features universally biased approach, with negative reactions and comments featuring Atheism, stating it’s a negative philosophy and implying that the Atheists shouldn’t even be displaying this billboard, while the local coverage features an fair and respectable interaction between a local Atheist leader and a local Pastor. These differences in portrayals could certainty affect how an audience members forms an opinion of Atheists and their intentions, and really shows how Fox covered this situation to sway public opinion instead of to just provide unbiased covered of a local event.

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This brings me to my next point regarding Fox News. This report focused primarily Fox News coverage, and you might write off their viewpoints because they are often very biased towards the political and religious stances they have. However, does that really matter? Fox News is one of the largest media corporations in America, and their messages are going to be heard, regardless of the underlying viewpoints or political stances. Simply because some people may not see Fox News as a credible news source does not affect its presence in the Media. Millions and millions of people from various different political and religious backgrounds watch Fox News and other Networks that share similar views, and it is absolutely possible that audiences could be influenced by the way in which this News Outlet covers Atheists and Atheism in general.

Since Fox is such a prominent Publisher of Media, it is important to analyze the implications that this coverage has on the public perceptions of Atheists and Atheism. If a viewer of Fox News constantly sees these portrayals of Atheism and Atheists as aggressive, hateful, and “Un-American,” there is a very strong possibility he or she will take those portrayals as reality, which would contribute to and perpetuate the strong dislike and distrust of Atheists in America due to unfair predjudices. The media often manufactures situations and coverage in order to fit certain stances or viewpoints they might have, and it is very important that viewers are aware of this. All media coverage must be taken with a grain of salt in order to avoid biases that may affect the way audiences view certain issues or groups of people in America, and around the world, and this was very prominent during my research about how Atheism is portrayed by the media.

Works Cited 

Barooah, Jahnabi. “Atheism Rises, Religiosity Declines In America.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 14 Aug. 2012. Web. 12 Dec. 2013.

Conlon, Kevin. “‘Under God’ Part of Pledge of Allegiance under Review in Massachusetts.” CNN. Cable News Network, 04 Sept. 2013. Web. 10 Dec. 2013

Fox News. “Atheist Billboard – San Diego, CA – San Diego Coalition of Reason.” Online Video Clip. Youtube. Youtube, 30 Jan. 2013. Web. 10 Dec. 2013.

Fox News. “Bill O’Reilly Responds to Those Who Don’t Think ‘War on Christmas’ is Real.” Online Video Clip. Youtube. Youtube, 6 Dec. 2012. Web. 10 Dec. 2013.

Fox News. “Dana Perino is ‘Tired of Atheists’; Fox News Host Says ‘They Don’t Have to Live Here.” Online Video Clip. Youtube. Youtube, 6 Sep. 2013. Web. 10 Dec. 2013.

Fox News. “Texas Town Braces for Battle with Atheists Over Nativity Scene.” Online Video Clip. Youtube. Youtube, 22 Dec. 2012. Web. 10 Dec. 2013.

Fleet, Josh. “Study Explores Distrust Of Atheists By Believers.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 30 Nov. 2011. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.

Grewal, Daisy. “In Atheists We Distrust.” Scientific American. ScientificAmerican.com, 13 Jan. 2013. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.

San Diego News Source. “Atheist Billboard – San Diego, CA – San Diego Coalition of Reason – Local News.” Online Video Clip. Youtube. Youtube, 30 Jan. 2013. Web. 10 Dec. 2013.

 

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