Doug Underwood. (2002) From Yahweh to Yahoo!: The Religious Roots of the Secular Press. (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press). xv + 346 pp. ISBN 0-252-02706-X. $ 34.95 (hardcover). Notes, bibliography, index.
This serious volume concentrates on how the history of religion in the United States has been intertwined with the growth of mass media. Underwood has researched the topic exhaustively, although it is unlikely that all readers will agree with his thesis. Nevertheless, he makes a good case for the similarities between the press and religion, and refuses to restrict his thinking to conventional or traditional mass media content.
It is divided into four parts and 19 chapters. Part 1: "The Religious Roots of the Mass Media," moves from moral outrage, through H. L. Mencken, to pragmatism. Part 2 deals with "Research, Religious Beliefs, and the Ethics of the Press." Part 3 covers "Secularism and the Newsroom Search for Substitute Faiths" (from the "cult of science" to the "gospel of public journalism and civic virtue"). The fourth Part, "Journalism after Jesus," provides some fascinating speculation. For example, "Jesus without Journalists" wonders what Jesus' miracles and mysteries would become if there were no media reports. "Visions of Mary and the Less than Visionary Press," "Proselytizing and Profits: The Growth of Televangelism and the Collaboration of the Mainstream Press," and "Pluralism and the Press's Blind Spots" each provides the kind of ideas that sorely need consideration by scholars, religionists, policy makers, and journalists alike.
The above article was published in Media Ethics , Fall 2004 (15:1), p. 53.