MAKING THE AMERICAN RELIGIOUS FRINGE: Exotics, Subversives, & Journalists, 1955–1993

Sean McCloud, Author . Univ. of North Carolina $49.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-8078-2829-8 ISBN 978-0-8078-5496-9

For decades people of faith have expressed dismay at the print media's coverage of religion and religious issues. McCloud's thorough and scholarly analysis of stories in leading newspapers, newsmagazines and consumer magazines over four decades offers tangible evidence of the reasons for their complaints. Starting with the transition away from the 1950s coverage of annual denominational meetings, prompted in part by the emergence of "California cults," McCloud traces the media's nearly homogeneous approach to covering such groups as the Nation of Islam, Hare Krishna, the Jesus People, Satanists, Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church and Jim Jones's Peoples Temple, culminating with the Branch Davidian tragedy in Waco in 1993. Some stories took on a life of their own, such as accounts of the widespread—and unconfirmed—existence of Satanic cults in mainstream society. Coverage spilled over from newsmagazines into local newspapers and consumer magazines like Vanity Fair and Ms. , perpetuating rumors that grave-robbing Satanists were lying in wait to abduct children for their human sacrifice rituals. Throughout, McCloud depicts some journalists as "heresiologists" who, through the events they chose to cover, the attention they gave to those events, and the very words they used, became self-appointed arbiters in determining what was mainstream religion and what was not. McCloud also examines journalistic accounts of brainwashing by cults and the deprogramming of cult members. McCloud's outstanding work should leave little doubt about the manipulation of public opinion by the news media—whether intentional or not—and the subconscious biases reporters bring to their work. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 01/19/2004
Release date: 00/00/0000
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Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-8078-5496-9
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