New Religious Movements and the Biased Media Essay

New Religious Movements and the Biased Media Essay

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New Religious Movements and the Biased Media

What happened in Jonestown? How could “sensible people” follow the “rantings of a crazed lunatic?” The questions and the simplified answers that are provided by the media coverage of Jonestown and Heaven’s Gate perhaps contributed to their downfall. The feeling of public persecution is a central theme of many new religious movements, and the negative publicity of suicide cults only fuels the fear of other like-minded religious groups. The misleading definitions the media provided for the how, what and why of these new religious movements were symptomatic of the media bias against all such movements. Through examination of the print media response immediately following both mass suicides, I will expose the hollow definitions and explanations provided for tragedies that were much more complex. Moreover, although the Jonestown Suicide occurred twenty years before the Heaven’s Gate suicides in March of 1997, coverage remained ignorant and simplistic of the critical differences between movements, and perhaps exacerbated their cultural alienation.

My research of the media response to the Jonestown suicides concentrates on the coverage of the tragedy in the New York Times because the newspaper is one of the most widely read American newspapers, replete with religion “experts.” Through the coverage in the Times alone, the common response followed a path of initial confusion that eventually led to unoriginal and uncomplicated answers for the how and why these people followed Jim Jones to their death.

The initial coverage in the New York Times exemplifies how the facts of the suicide trickled slowly out of the jungle of Jonestown, Guyana. The day after the suicides, Sunday, November...

... middle of paper ...

...east 900 by U.S., with 260 Children Among Victims at Colony” The New York Times, 26 November 1978, Sec A1.

[6] Elizabeth Gleick, “Inside the Web of Death” Time (April 7, 1997):28-40

[7] Howard Chua-Eoan, “Imprisoned by his Own Passions.” Time (April 7, 1997): 40-42.

[8] Richard Lacayo, “The Lure of the Cult” Time (April 7, 1997): 45-46.

[9] Harvey Hill and John Hickman and Joel McLendon, “On Religious Outsiders- Cults and Sects and Doomsday Groups, Oh My: Media and Treatment of Religion on the Eve of the Millennium,” Review of Religious Research. 43, no. 1, (2001): 24 (15 pages), 26.

[10] Stephen J Hedges, “Mass Suicide in California.” U.S. News World Report. 122, no. 13, (April 07, 1997).

Life After Death for Heaven’s Gate.” U.S. News and World Report. 124, no. 12, (March 30,1998).

[11] Hill, 24.

[12]Hill, 32, 24.

[13] Hill, 35.

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