One reason to have good religion journalism is to keep track of the various forces that seek to shape and then influence institutional religion.
So I'm glad that The National Catholic Reporter has done a four-part series on the Eternal Word Television Network, commonly referred to simply as EWTN. The first article in the series by writer Heidi Schlumpf can be found here. In a side note found with that story are links to the other parts of the series.
If you are Catholic you almost certainly have heard of EWTN and maybe been a consumer of its many offerings. EWTN will be much less familiar to non-Catholics, though the information NCR has turned up about EWTN's reach and influence is a cautionary tale for any community of faith.
Here's a quick summary of EWTN, in NCR's words: "EWTN's 11 networks — broadcasting 24/7 — claim a reach of more than a quarter of a billion people worldwide in more than 145 countries and territories. EWTN programming is available through more than 6,000 TV affiliates as well as on ROKU, Apple TV, Amazon Fire and YouTube. In addition to the Orange County studio, ETWN has studios in Washington, D.C., and at the company's headquarters outside Birmingham, Alabama.
"And that's just the television portion of the business.
"EWTN also provides free radio programming to more than 500 domestic and international affiliates and on SIRIUS/XM and iHeart Radio, as well as through its worldwide shortwave radio station. It also owns and operates the largest Catholic website in the United States, as well as the National Catholic Register newspaper, an English- and a Spanish-language online news wire service, a book publishing arm and a religious goods online catalog.
"It is truly a global media empire, one so diversified and complex it can be difficult to estimate its total budget or net worth."
What has EWTN been doing with that amazing reach and power?
What consumers are getting, NCR says, "is a very particular slice of Catholicism from EWTN and its affiliate organizations, one not necessarily representative of the U.S. church as a whole. Polling and ongoing studies of the Catholic population in the United States consistently finds a far greater diversity of views and tolerance for questions than is the case on EWTN broadcasts. EWTN has become the only regularly televised image of Catholicism in America."
Programs often mimic Fox News in supporting Republicans who would identify themselves as conservatives. But, the NCR piece notes, "In addition to its slanted political coverage, EWTN and its affiliate journalistic enterprises also have connections to economic libertarian ideologues. . ."
Each media outlet, of course, must decide on its own editorial policy, as NCR does for itself. And in many ways NCR represents the voice of progressive Catholicism in the U.S., meaning its content often will be quite different in perspective and tone from EWTN's. But whereas NCR readers can be counted in the tens of thousands, EWTN consumer numbers dwarf such figures.
Which is another good reason to understand what EWTN is and how it approaches its work.
I wish there were more religion journalists at work doing the kinds of investigate reporting NCR has done in this series. One reason religion journalism isn't a larger national enterprise is that readers don't demand it. It's time to fix that.
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ATTACKING SIKHS IN CALIFORNIA
In the P.S. below, I mention my column about construction of a new Sikh temple in Kansas City. In that column I make note of several ways Sikhs have been attacked in this country. It just happened again in California, as this story reports. The amount of ignorance and hate related to religion here and abroad sometimes astonishes me, though by now I should expect it.
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P.S.: My latest Flatland column -- about what it means that a new Sikh temple is being built in suburban Kansas City -- now is online here.