Why did a Right-Wing Group Give The Co-Editor of CNN Belief Blog an Award?

Becky Garrison reported Tuesday for Religion Dispatches that Eric Marrapodi, co-editor of CNN’s high-profile “Belief Blog”, will be receiving the Vine and Tree Award from the Becket Fund for “Excellence in Reporting on Religious Liberty Issues.”

For those who don’t know The Becket Fund, they’re staunchly conservative, having given awards to Mitt Romney and National Organization for Marriage co-founder Charles George in the past. So what they mean by “Religious Liberty Issues” couldn’t be more clear. They’re honoring reporting on “religious liberty issues” that impact Christians, that restrict their “freedom” to oppress LGBT folks, their “freedom” to deny contraceptive coverage to women.

So why Marrapodi? The Becket Fund indicated Marrapodi’s greatness by linking to an article about the post-Katrina cleanup work he’d done in New Orleans. Which is awesome, but it’s not why he’s winning an award.

The Becket Fund seems to be recognizing Marrapodi largely for an article he wrote on the Hobby Lobby/Obamacare brouhaha, since it seems to be the only article he’s written in the last six months that even touches on the “religious freedom” issue. For those who’ve forgotten: Hobby Lobby felt that since they were a “Christian” business, the first amendment provided them with an exemption to Obamacare’s contraception mandate.  Marrapodi’s article is generally thorough and informative. However, looking at the article in light of the award it won, some definite gaps become apparent,

  1.  The article neglects to quote persons, other than members of the United States government, who disagree with Hobby Lobby.
  2. The article neglects to quote a Hobby Lobby employee who might be adversely affected by Hobby Lobby’s refusal to provide birth control (for example, a woman)
  3. The article does not challenge Hobby Lobby’s statement that contraceptives are “abortion-inducing”, a statement which misrepresents how contraceptives work.

In addition, Marrapodi cites The Becket Fund twice in his short article. But if it wasn’t for the subsequent award, this would all seem pretty trifling, more indicative of small oversights,time constraints, and space constraints than some sort of grand conservative bias.

Still, Marrapodi’s award should serve as a reminder that journalism doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Regardless of how “unbiased” a journalist’s work might be, people will still use it to support their preconceptions. In fact, people tend to be more inclined to try to make works of journalism fit into their own point of view: due to the percieved “unbiased” nature of these works, they can be taken as “objective” proof of one’s own ideology. In my mind, what happened is that The Becket Fund saw in Marrapodi’s piece a lot of things that fit into their own point of view and few that didn’t. In other words, Marrapodi’s article easily fit into their own ideological framework.

Garrison’s article on The Vine and Fig Tree award cited religion scholar Jay Michaelson, who called the Becket Fund the “nerve center” of the campaign to redefine religious liberty. In this context, the Vine and Fig Tree award feels like part of an Orwellian political agenda rather than an earnest attempt to honor quality journalism. It’s an attempt by The Becket Fund to redefine the debate, using the perceived “objectivity” of journalists to advance their own agenda.

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