Jack Blessington and Liz Kineke of CBS News Religion and Culture spoke to 25 religion writers and communicators on Tuesday, May 28, 2013 in a conference room at the Latter Day Saints’ office near Lincoln Center in Manhattan.
Blessington said he was dumbstruck when his name was called after winning a special Wilbur award in Indianapolis on April 6, 2013. Blessington had been moved to tears by the Wilbur awards winners who preceded him to the podium. In particular, Blessington recalled Richards Paul Evans’s story of jealousy and forgiveness between Evans and his brother and the Michael Martin’s book on the inspiring life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. “I was lost,” Blessington explained.
But Blessington did not lose his gift for gab this week. He chatted about his early days as a headmaster at Whitby Montessori School in Conn. and his upcoming commencement address. He talked about covering religion for more than 30 years at CBS News.
He called the work of religion writers and communicators vital, especially in covering protests. “The fight is on again, led by the women, the women on the bus,” he said referring to the Roman Catholic nuns who took to the road in 2012 to dispute vice presidential candidate Ryan’s conservative compassion for the poor.
On receiving the special Wilbur award, which honors stories of faith in mainstream media, Blessington said, “Getting the award was lovely, but I have loved the work.”
Liz Kineke spoke about her latest project for CBS on why people are leaving organized religion. The reasons, Kineke reported, are connected to what Christian historian Diana Butler Bass has called the lost decade. After 9/11, attendance dropped, as people perceived religion as too political, too exclusive, and too embroiled in society’s fights, like the struggle for gay marriage.
Upcoming CBS Religion and Culture shows in production, Kineke reported, are on the topics of: religion and humor featuring Lewis Black, Father Jim Martin, and Rev. Susan Sparks; human trafficking; and an “explainer show” on Jainism, Christian Science, and Tibetan Buddhism.
The topics are chosen by an Interfaith Broadcast Committee with input from viewers.
While religion may be losing its hold in society, the subject remains important to CBS News. “Scott Pelley (evening anchor) wants religion to be covered in the evening news,” Kineke said.
The two kept the crowd laughing as they took questions.
Kineke reported that Butler Bass had answered church people who ask, “When are all the young people coming back? There’s no evidence they are.”
In answer to questions on religion’s demise, Blessington described TV’s ubiquity as a resource for educating on values as well as a vehicle for ruining faith and values.
Blessington said he saw society returning to the hedonism of the roaring 1920s.
Neither Blessington nor Kineke, the CBS producers, pushed for one faith above another in their reporting. They both emphasized the value in all faiths, although Blessington frequently joked about his Catholicism as the “one, true religion.”
He also joked that there were too many Methodists in this week’s RCC gathering as there were last month at the RCC awards in Indianapolis. He chided Kineke for sitting at the Methodist’s “naughty table” at the awards ceremony.
At the end of the luncheon, Blessington became serious. “I’m not pushing for religion. I am pushing for a sense of humility in God’s creation.”
Blessington, 80, said his work has been to look for goodness. “If you love this life like I do, you want it to go on.”