On the January 4th edition of FOX News Sunday, Brit Hume gave this surprising advice to Tiger Woods in the wake of his marital infidelity: “He is said to be a Buddhist. I don’t think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. So, my message to Tiger would be, ‘Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.’” While not out of character for FOX News, these words triggered an immediate debate over the place of religious proselytizing in broadcast journalism.
Satirizing Hume’s statement, Jon Stewart gave his interpretation of the incident:
Stewart: Of course it’s not proselytizing. He’s not saying Tiger Woods badly needs to come to Jesus to save his soul.
Brit: I think that Jesus Christ offers something that Tiger Woods badly needs.
Stewart: A time machine?
The blog of the Buddhist periodical Tricycle expressed a more serious reaction, asking, “What planet is Brit Hume living on?” Along the same lines, Columbia University Buddhism scholar Robert Thurman said it “is insulting to Buddhism to indicate that Buddhism doesn’t take care of its own believers and followers. But I think he will discover that Buddhists are very forgiving about his stupid statements.”
Coming to Hume’s defense was Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, an evangelical Christian and former Bush speechwriter. Criticizing the assumption “that proselytization is the antonym of tolerance,” Gerson wrote that “true tolerance consists in engaging deep disagreements respectfully.”
Others wonder whether criticizing religious traditions without serious study of their teachings constitutes respect. Writing in USA Today’s Monday religion column, Boston University Religion Professor Stephen Prothero criticized Hume’s fundamental ignorance of Buddhist thought and practice. A long-time advocate of religious literacy, Prothero asked why we should “tolerate a journalist mouthing off about a religion about which he knows next to nothing?”
Meanwhile, FOX News has continued to milk the Hume controversy for all it is worth, featuring him on an episode of The O’Reilly Factor.