Fox News asks: Is Air America engaged in a "War on God?"

››› ››› NIKI JAGPAL

During the 9 a.m. ET hour of the October 9 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, co-anchor Bill Hemmer teased a segment about Air America Radio's decision to broadcast the atheist program, FreeThought Radio, by asking, "Is this the new war on religion?" His question was accompanied by an image of former Air America hosts Al Franken and Katherine Lanpher* with the on-screen text reading: "War on God?"

War on God?

During the next hour of the program, Hemmer teased the same segment by asserting: "Also, do you think religion is a sickness? If you think so, the radio guys at Air America have ... got one heck of a show for you. Straight ahead: on the air and godless." Hemmer's statement was paired with an image of Franken and the words "Godless Programming."

Godless Programing

During the 9 a.m. hour, Fox News religion correspondent Lauren Green noted that Franken is "not actually -- not really working for Air America anymore." According to the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, Franken left Air America Radio on February 14, 2007, the same day he announced his bid for as a Democratic candidate for one of Minnesota's U.S. Senate seats. According to her website, Lanpher* left Air America Radio in the fall of 2005.

Later that day, on the noon ET hour of Fox News Live, co-anchor Jon Scott also spoke with Green about the FreeThought Radio program. While teasing the segment, the on-screen text read: "Shocking Show?"

Shocking Show

During the segment itself, Fox News showed an image of Air America's logo and website above on-screen text reading: "Godless Radio: Air America Radio Launches New Show on Atheism."

Godless Radio

From the October 9 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:

HEMMER: In a moment here, a liberal radio network launching a new show aimed at folks who do not believe in God -- Air America, promoting a nationwide show focusing on atheism. Is this the new war on religion? We'll check that out.

[...]

HEMMER: Also, do you think religion is a sickness? If you think so, the radio guys at Air America have -- they've got one heck of a show for you. Straight ahead: on the air and godless.

[...]

MEGYN KELLY (co-host): Well, if you don't believe in God, or if you have a problem with organized religion, there's a new radio show just for you. The liberal radio network Air America has a new show called FreeThought Radio. The promoters say the show is for people who reject, quote, "the illness" of religion. So, what exactly is this all about? Well, Fox religion correspondent Lauren Green joins us with more on this story. Hi, Lauren.

GREEN: Hey, Megyn. Well, you know, it's not exactly a war yet, but it is the atheist movement fighting back against the wealth of conservative and religious radio programming that now dominates the airwaves. The first national atheist radio broadcast kicked off last weekend. The one-hour program is hosted by co-presidents of the Freedom From Religion Foundation -- that's Al Franken, who's not actually -- not really working for Air America anymore -- but the atheist radio program now is airing on 15 markets across the country, and liberal talk radio Air America is giving voice to the group, which says the program offers irreverent views, news, music, and interviews, including a feature called "Theocracy Alert."

Now, the atheist radio show won't exactly be preaching to a large choir, though. A Fox News poll -- results show that about 90 percent of Americans believe in God and 56 percent of Americans say they pray every day. Atheists make up about 3 to 7 percent of the general population, but it hasn't stopped the rise of popularity of authors like Christopher Hitchens, who wrote God is Not Great and was the first guest on the show, and also author Richard Dawkins of God Delusion fame, who, just last week, sparred with Christian scholar John Lennox in a debate sponsored by a Christian organization.

DAWKINS [video clip]: Religion teaches us to be satisfied with not really understanding. Every one of these difficult questions that comes up, science says, "Right, let's roll up our sleeves and work on it. Religion says, "Oh, God did it."

GREEN: Well, now, Christians argue that science has limits because it can't answer the elementary questions of a child, like, "Who am I, and what is the purpose of my existence?" And also, science can tell you what will happen if you put strychnine in someone's tea, but it can't tell you if it's morally wrong. And those interested in listening to the program for themselves can tune in every Saturday at 1 Eastern on Air America.

KELLY: Hmm. Well, I'll look forward to that.

GREEN: Sure.

KELLY: Lauren Green, thank you.

From the noon ET hour of the October 9 edition of Fox News Live:

SCOTT: New show hitting the radio airwaves courtesy of Air America. Just wait 'til you hear who it's aimed at -- we have details.

[...]

SCOTT: If you don't believe in God, or if you have a problem with organized religion, there is a new radio show just for you. The liberal radio network Air America has a new program called Free Thought Radio. Promoters say the show is for people who reject the quote-unquote "illness" of religion. So, what is this all about? Our Fox religion correspondent Lauren Green joins us with more on the story. That's -- that's the topic.

GREEN: Absolutely, absolutely. Well, you know, the idea is, will they have a big audience? And of course, no, because the atheist population is about 3 to 7 percent, so they'll be preaching to a very small choir. But, remember, the audience is actually growing. And one of the reasons you can point to probably are that atheists occupy very elitist positions -- in college -- positions, professors make up about 24 percent of atheists, so they're in influential positions as well.

SCOTT: But are they expecting that they're actually going to be able to draw an audience with a show like this?

GREEN: Well, they're only on once a week, and they are creating this program to compete with the sort of programming of conservative and Christian radio broadcasts that are out there. They are filling the airwaves -- I mean, Focus on the Family, Al Mohler, Christian radio, they're all -- Christian radio stations and religious radio stations that are out there. So, their feeling is like, "Well, we just want one hour a week so far," and they're hoping to gain an audience, but whether or not they're going to get an audience is another question. They're not really in any serious competition with the Christian or religious radio stations that are out there.

SCOTT: No, clearly. And Air America, in and of itself, has had trouble finding an audience. It would seem that this --

GREEN: Exactly.

SCOTT: -- would be kind of, I mean, a stab in the dark at getting people to tune in.

GREEN: And they say that the radio program will be irreverent, it will have all of these ideas, so of course they're going to go against the grain of any kind of conservative value kind of radio stations that are out there. Right now, they don't have a big audience, but who's to say in the future, but right now, they are no competition for anyone.

SCOTT: It -- you know, I think about a guy like Rush Limbaugh. Rush -- a significant part of Rush's audience is liberals who like to listen to get mad at him. Are they thinking that maybe they'll get a bunch of, I don't know, Christian conservatives or other people of faith --

GREEN: It's possible.

SCOTT: -- to listen to this show?

GREEN: It's possible. You've got people like Christopher Hitchens, you've got Richard Dawkins, who are very popular and have many Christians come out, even having them sign their books because they're curious about them, because they want to know if their arguments are sound.

And usually people come away with thinking what they already thought before -- their beliefs were affirmed. If they believe in God, then their beliefs are affirmed by, you know, their arguments. If they don't believe in God, they think, "Oh, yes, you know, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens really told them." So, the idea is that they're not going to be changing their minds.

SCOTT: What about, you know, organized religious response to this? Anything from -- I don't know -- Focus on the Family or any of those groups?

GREEN: No response yet, I mean, because the arguments against atheism have been the same for pretty much decades, if not centuries. The arguments have really not changed. Most people who don't believe in God believe that science proves that there is no God. People who believe in God say science actually does prove that there is a God -- that is evidence there is God. So, the arguments have remained the same, the players have just changed.

SCOTT: Lauren Green, gonna be fun to watch --

GREEN: Sure.

SCOTT: -- or listen. I won't be, anyway -- thanks.

Correction: 

This item originally stated that Fox News aired "an image of former Air America hosts Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo with the on-screen text reading: 'War on God?' " The item also stated that "in a September 14, 2006, article, The New York Sun reported, 'Recently, a host of an Air America talk show, actress Janeane Garofalo, left the network to pursue other professional opportunities.' " The image Fox News aired was actually of Franken and Katherine Lanpher, Franken's former co-host on Air America Radio. Media Matters for America regrets the error.

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