NPR fans: Pope, pope, pope! Enough!

Vatican Microphone.jpgNPR ombudsman — ombudsperson? — Jeffrey A. Dvorkin has posted a very interesting column about listener reactions to the network’s coverage of the life and death of Pope John Paul II. He says that hundreds of NPR regulars have written in to protest, saying that there has been too much coverage and that it has been wildly out of balance — too positive.

Here the letter that Dvorkin selected to demonstrate the tone, from a listener named Bruce Bradberry:

In your understandable attempt to show respect to beliefs that many of us may not share, I believe you are tending to lose both your objectivity and your vital mission to intellectually question any belief systems. (Your Web page currently shows a link to “The Pope: A Final Tribute.”) While I don’t wish to see important leaders, or their followers, kicked while they are (permanently) down, I hope that NPR will refrain from patronizing their views quite so generously.

I think this is a fair reaction, quite frankly. I, too, have winced at some of the MSM coverage. Many of the reporters are trying too hard to be respectful, when what they need to be doing is showing a range of reactions to the pope and his views. I’d like to hear from the pope’s critics on the far Catholic left and from the traditionalist right, for example. Let ‘em rip. Then let some of the cardinals respond. Just do it.

However, Dvorkin is clearly interested in why this issue has rubbed the NPR faithful so raw. He suggests:

First, it seems that any story that is ongoing for more than three days starts to grate on the listeners (and readers and viewers in other media). …

Second, when it comes to stories on religion, many news organizations — including NPR in my opinion — are insecure about how to strike the right tone. The coverage sounded uncritical when perhaps the journalists were simply attempting to avoid any impression of anti-Catholicism.

Third, listeners were concerned that the “television-ization” of the story (the theatricality of Catholic ritual, the drama of the funeral and the gathering of world leaders) was influencing NPR’s coverage, perhaps unduly.

May I dare suggest another reason?

Radio tends to be a niche medium, even when a network has as giant an audience as NPR. Perhaps the NPR flock contains a higher than normal percentage of those who were and are critical of this pope and his beliefs? Perhaps, in striving to sound reverent, the NPR staff ticked off its base?

Yikes! Dvorkin even said that some readers thought the coverage might help the church “to preach and to proselytize.” With tax dollars no less. Then again, sometimes I listen to Fresh Air and I think I’m listening to radio evangelism.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Winston7000

    “Perhaps the NPR flock contains a higher than normal percentage of those who were and are critical of this pope and his beliefs? Perhaps, in striving to sound reverent, the NPR staff ticked off its base?”

    “Perhaps?” As a former liberal, recovering Leftist and past radio listener, NPR is the US answer to the old Soviet radio network. Some of us would rather listen to a jack hammer than NPR.

  • Carl

    I found this blog entry about the Pope at Reason fascinating:
    http://www.reason.com/hitandrun/2005/04/the_papalporte.shtml

    I know GR has some connections at Reason, so you’ve probably all read it, but it’s still quite interesting.

  • Stephen A.

    I will remind you to hearken back a few weeks now to that so-called New York “newspaper” in which an anti-religion bigot, after spewing filth at the pope, explained that he did it because of he feared the positive onslaught of adulation that would come when the pope finally died. He simply wanted to issue a preemptive corrective of sorts, he said.

    His “point” that the media overdoes funerals and weddings and murders and missing children is self-evident to us all. He simply couched his “statement” in anti-religous bigotry, and this time, some people reacted negatively. It doesn’t always happen that way, especially on government-financed NPR.

    I’m only surprised the backlash against anything positive in the media about the pope and his religion took this long. And of course, it started for many TV outlets even during the funeral. Some of it was fair and was legitimate, but much of it was reeking of resentment for religion itself. You could almost see it on their faces.

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