Confession time: I shrugged it off when I saw this statement by GetReligion’s Terry Mattingly:
This pope’s life is impossible to capture in a few dramatic images, a three-minute sound-bite blitz and a sentence or two about the length of his tenure (second longest ever) and the number of nations he has visited (125 so far).
I believed those limitations applied only to television and radio journalism. Then I took an assignment to write about the life and legacy of John Paul II for Reason magazine. It was torture.
When I splashed over the 1,200 word wall, I had barely begun to scratch the surface of the surface. Probably the best obit that I’ve read appeared in Canada’s Globe & Mail (by ethics and religion reporter Michael Valpy) and I marvel at its compression and wit (at 3,228 words).
I decided to start out by taking a dig at the cable coverage of the event:
As John Paul II’s health was failing unto death, American cable news networks started with the around-the-clock coverage and newspapers over the world started to release their papal death packages. Because of the slow working of the Vatican press office, some members of the Italian media jumped the gun and called his demise early.
The news shot across newswires and websites, which sent television and radio producers frantically scrambling to find experts to tell us what this all means. I caught a few minutes of Larry King Friday night. The suspendered colossus of talk paired Father Richard John Neuhaus with deep thinker Deepak Chopra but cut them both short to make way for James Caviezel.
Next up, Jesus!
And it turns out that National JournalÂ’s Hotline picked up on this particularly wacky episode. A reader forwarded me this:
Today’s Hotline QoD from Larry King (“Jim, you think he’s with Jesus now? We only have 30 seconds”) has inspired a new Last Call! feature: as long as it’s funny, expect a Larry King Question of the Week every Monday in this space.
In the remaining space, I tried to give readers a thumbnail of JPII’s life and rise to the papacy, his style as pope and the effect that this had on the stunned world, his contribution toward bringing down the Soviet Union, and — for American Catholics — his legacy of church governance.
Finally, I gave the piece a super-abrupt ending by jumping into the debate over his response to the American priest sex scandals. Quite a few readers have complained that the piece more stops than ends, but that was all the news that would fit.
Regarding my toss-off line about World Youth Day, Wlady Pleszczynski wrote in,
[World Youth Day ] had to have a case of Wojtyla beating the commies at their own game. Communists every few years organized an International Youth Festival, which was gathered in the various “socialist” capitals and even Havana and did attract Soviet bloc youth and fellow travelers to what I’m fairly certain became a rather (by communist standards) hip and totally godless event. Leading Soviet bloc entertainers attended, among other “celebrities,” and the thing was maybe even popular for lack of anything else. Seems to me the Pope knew what he was doing when he set up an alternative international youth event.
Reason web editor Tim Cavanaugh (pictured) decided to weigh in on the JPII extravaganza to put my effort to shame, but I’ll note that he gave himself over 1,800 words to get the job done.