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The Pastor in the Basement: Discourses of Authenticity in the Networked Public Sphere


Direct all correspondence to Kevin Healey, 629 Willow St., Apt. 1, Mamaroneck, NY 10543; e-mail:


Applying Altheide's method of ethnographic content analysis, this article tracks competing discourses of authenticity in media coverage of Jeremiah Wright and Sarah Palin. The “pastor problems” of the last election demonstrate a bias toward issues of sincerity and authenticity in the networked public sphere. Pundits and bloggers use viral videos to construct rival representations of candidates’ backstage identities. Such debates favor “flat” notions of authenticity, however, and decontextualization tends to thwart the critical gatekeeping functions of journalism. Religion serves as a proxy for issues of race, prophetic critique is demonized, and apocalyptic thinking is normalized.