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Catholic Culture Dedication

Chuck Colson: the life the secular media didn't notice

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Apr 23, 2012

Chuck Colson, one of the most prominent Evangelical leaders in America, died on April 21 after suffering a brain hemorrhage. For a short time in the 1970s, Colson was known as a “dirty tricks” expert in the Nixon administration. After undergoing a religious conversion he ignored the advice of his lawyers, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, and served a prison term to pay the debt to society for his misdeeds. Then for 30 years he dedicated his life to the Gospel, becoming a popular author, lecturer, and ecumenical activist. Few leaders of what is sometimes called the “religious right” commanded so much respect or wielded so much influence. An interesting life, by any standards. When he died at the age of 80, how did the headlines sum up that life?

Notice anything about those headlines? None of them mention anything whatsoever about Colson’s religious ministry. The Watergate affair was over 30 years ago; his leadership in ecumenical affairs was far more recent and far more long-lasting. Yet the headlines didn’t mention it. (Technically, Colson wasn’t even a “key figure” in the Watergate scandal. His prison term was for a different offense. But if “Watergate” is taken as a code word for abuse of executive power, the headlines aren’t too far off in that respect.) 

The Detroit Free Press did a little better: Tough Nixon aide turned to faith: He founded prison ministry after Watergate. That’s accurate, although the Prison Fellowship Ministries that Colson founded represent only one aspect of his Evangelical work. The New York Times headline wasn’t too bad, either: Charles W. Colson, Watergate Felon Who Became Evangelical Leader, Dies at 80. And USA Today actually captured the two noteworthy aspects of a very full life: Watergate figure, Christian leader Charles Colson dies.

The headlines tell only a part of the story, of course. The full obituaries generally concentrated on Colson’s career in the Nixon White House, and virtually ignored his subsequent work: his books, his lectures, his advocacy—all the contributions that led to his receipt of the Templeton Prize, putting his name on a list alongside such luminaries such as Mother Teresa, Chiara Lubich, Billy Graham, and Alexandr Solzhenitzyn. It's not that the obituary writers criticized Colson for the stands he took. No doubt liberal pundits would have criticized those stands, if they had taken notice of them. But they didn't. They ignored them altogether.

Why didn’t the newspapers mention Colson’s accomplishments as a religious leader? Because secular journalists hadn’t noticed those accomplishments. The reporters and editors who put out those newspapers, and their colleagues in the secular broadcast media, don’t read Christianity Today; they don’t have Born Again or Evangelicals and Catholics Together on their bookshelves at home; they don’t attend Evangelical prayer meetings; they don’t consider the Manhattan Declaration an important news story. Chuck Colson was visible to secular reporters while he was in Washington. Then he became a Christian activist and slipped off their radar screens. 

The media bias against conservatives—and especially against religious conservatives—isn’t simply a matter of hostility (although that is surely a factor). Remember what I wrote earlier in this space. Call it Lawler’s Law. From the perspective of liberal journalists, conservatives are invisible.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: John J Plick - Apr. 23, 2012 5:30 PM ET USA

    The problem is not so much that "they" ignore us..., but that "we" ignore each other, and thus doing empower the Devil, who empowers our advesaries.... How often do "Catholic journalists" "honor" protestant holy men and women..., and conversely, how often is it seen that the "protestant" press "honors" our catholic holy men and women? Let us be honest about it and confess our sins of jealousy and ambition which all too often have nothing to do with advancing the cause of Christ.