Media Coverage of the Faith-Based Initiative in the First Six Months of 2001 and 2009

  • August 12, 2009

When he took over the White House in January 2009, President Barack Obama quickly adopted much of the "faith-based initiative" put into place by his predecessor, President George W. Bush. The initiative was designed to expand the role of faith-based and community organizations in the delivery of social services.

But a new study by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life finds that Obama's faith-based initiative has so far generated little of the contentious press coverage associated with Bush's effort. And the program is not as closely associated with the current president as it was with the man he succeeded.

The new study examines newspaper coverage of the faith-based initiative during the first six months of the Obama and Bush administrations and finds that the topic received nearly seven times more coverage in the first six months of 2001 than it did during the same period in 2009.

The faith-based initiative was an early priority of the Bush administration – "one of the first items on his agenda as president," as described by The Washington Post. But the program met resistance from both religious and nonreligious leaders, who voiced concerns that the effort was being politicized and fears that the initiative would undermine church-state boundaries. The controversial nature of the initiative became the focus of much of the early 2001 press coverage.

But when Obama established his own faith-based initiative, the press coverage focused primarily on procedural matters – including the renaming of the office as the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships; its new director, Joshua DuBois; and a new, 25-member faith-based advisory council – as well as questions about how Obama would address issues that arose during the eight years of Bush's faith-based initiative. The one controversy that generated a relatively significant amount of coverage in the first six months of the Obama administration concerned whether faith-based groups that receive federal funds should be able to consider a potential employee's religion when making hiring decisions.

Read the full report Media Coverage of the Faith-Based Initiative in the First Six Months of 2001 and 2009 on the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life's Web site.