Covering two stories at the same time

img home togetherDue to a busy class schedule, I have not had the time to address much of the new coverage of the liturgical meetings between Pope Benedict XVI and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, celebrating the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle. I think most of the symbolism and the substance in those meetings will be included in the major stories tomorrow and I should be able to catch up a bit.

Meanwhile, you can see some of the major texts and a collection of stunning official photographs at the official website of the patriarchate. You can also find materials at the Vatican home page and at

However, I want to address a question raised in the comments pages.

Tmatt, would you grant that while the Orthodox-Catholic discussion is important theologically, any objective person looking at the world scene today would have to say the Catholic-Islam dynamic (and within that, the push for reciprocity for the Orthodox community) is far more important in its ramifications? In that sense, I don’t think Time really missed the big picture.

Posted by Jens at 11:07 pm on November 29, 2006

This is an important question, especially since some GetReligion readers may be thinking that I want the mainstream press to focus on the ecumenical side of this story because of my own interest in the topic, since I am a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy.

As I wrote earlier this week, it’s clear that stories linked to the pope and Islam will be hot, even if not much happens on that front. I know that and I agree that this story is important.

Nevertheless, my point was that we had reason to hope that mainstream reporters would not — as that one Time report did — lock in on the Islam issue and ignore the original purpose of the trip, which was the pope’s desire to reach out to Eastern Orthodoxy as part of a move to promote the human rights of minority groups in Turkey. This story, in turn, is linked to another major issue — whether Turkey will ever enter the European Union. In fact, I would arge that the question of whether Turkey can enforce the rule of law and defend essential human rights is the key issue in the EU debates (along with a rising Islamist tide in Turkey).

I am happy to report that it is possible to blend coverage of both of these major stories into one report. Three cheers for the New York Times report today that did precisely that. And the Los Angeles Times report by Tracy Wilkinson was especially graceful in its inclusion of nice details.

So here is the essence of one major theme in the Los Angeles Times story:

The day saw the pope shifting his focus from Muslim reconciliation to Christian solidarity. The Vatican on Wednesday also responded to a statement from Al Qaeda in Iraq denouncing the “crusader campaign” of the pope in Turkey as an affront to Islam. Spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said such threats were precisely the reason violence must be separated from religion, which he said was the core of the pope’s message. Lombardi added that the pope was not worried about the threat.

Then there is the second major theme that needs to be reported. The story ends with a look at the first of the liturgical encounters between the pope and the patriarch.

The two religious leaders, in flowing robes and sparkling capes, followed a procession of priests who held long candles the color of honey and sent wafts of smoky incense into the air.

The city called Constantinople was the capital of the Byzantine Empire for nearly a millennium, and the center of eastern Christianity. Turkey today is a country of about 70 million Muslims. Christians are dwindling in number, to perhaps 100,000, and those that remain complain of harassment and discrimination. Among the problems they suffer are severe restrictions on their ability to buy and sell property and run schools to train their clergy.

… The dilemma for Benedict is that as he offers support for Christians he risks again offending the Muslims he is seeking to engage.

I especially like that, at the end, Wilkinson does precisely what needs to be done — linking the two topics. It is hard to defend the rights of minorities — especially Christians — in a supposedly secular Muslim state that has to worry about the rising rage of an Islamist minority in its midst.

Well done.

Photo from the press pages at

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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.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    “I am a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy”
    tmatt–I think more media columnists and reporters should be as upfront about their religious affiliation-or lack thereof–as you are. It is why I forthrightly use my Church position with my name. It helps people evaluate where I am coming from and what spin I might accidentally or on purpose put on my comments.
    The only Boston Globe columnist who is regularly paid to write on Catholic topics is an angry ex-priest, James Carroll. However, I find few people know he is an ex-priest for he and the Globe seem to make a point to never mention it. At the end of his column they usually identify him merely as a “Globe columnist” or sometimes as the “writer of”–and then mention his latest book–usually fiction–he is not an historian to my knowledge, but he is constantly pontificating–frequently erroneously– on Catholic Church history.
    It would really give the media more integrity and a better reputation if they found ways to more clearly give relevant religious information about those writing on religion for them.
    Considering all the nasty, intemperate, insulting columns about things papal and Catholic Carroll has written, it is understandable why his Globe employers wouldn’t want too much notice to be paid to the fact he is an ex-priest—for it makes it very obvious that many of his columns are mere sour grapes and axe-grinding because the Church wouldn’t jump to his demands to radically liberalize–and now is payback time through his status as a columnist at the Globe who probably hired him for just that reason–to be their reliable attack dog as Catholic issues come up in the news.

  • tmatt

    Well, I am at the columnist and professor stage of my life. But there are examples — think London Times — of major religion writers who are just as candid.

    The key is that you have cleared your strategy with your editors. Play by the rules and, when on a hard news beat, have others help you evaluate your work for accuracy and fairness.

  • Irenaeus of Lyons

    NY Times gets something right? I’d better call my local theologian to see if hell has frozen over.

    Where do you teach?

  • Irenaeus of Lyons

    Uh…I just read the NYT report, and basically the headline and the first paragraph mention schism, while the rest of it deals with the Pope-Islam angle, as well as Turkey’s EU bid. I think we’re thwarted again by the MSM. I bring it up on my blog (

  • Wonders for Oyarsa

    So what do you think, Mr. Mattingly? Reunion in 2054? Perhaps the distinguished EU country Turkey will allow them to rent the Hagia Sophia museum for the ceremony? It seems like the sort of thing a European government would arrange.

    Hope I live to see it…

  • Dan

    The Wilkinson article you quote is not bad but Tracy Wilkinson generally refuses, or lacks the capacity, to report the message Pope Benedict is seeking to deliver. If you followed the Catholic Church based solely on Tracy Wilkinson’s reporting, about the only thing that you would know about the Regensberg address is that it was dense and quoted an insult of Islam (this latter fact is repeated in virtually every single article Wilkinson writes about the Pope). Either she didn’t understand the Regensberg address, thinks her readers are too stupid to understand it, or for ideological reasons does not want the readers to know about it. Whatever the case, the substance of the address was never explained in any news article in the LA Times. Without understanding what is in the Regensberg address, it is impossible to understand the Pope’s trip to Turkey. Thank God for the Internet.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Matt–I agree that a news reporter should let someone help evaluate their work for fairness and accuracy. The irony I have discovered, at least on the Catholic scene, is that liberal reporters (meaning most reporters) habitually turn to like-minded liberal–even radical– experts and then say a professor or a priest confirmed that he is accurate and that there is no liberal spin in the story. (The blind leading the blind.)
    A few years ago I was in contact with a conscientious young NY Times reporter, Ari Goldman, who had just been given that paper’s religion beat. He is Jewish. I had written to him because his story about something the pope had said or done was spun about as far left-radical as you could get and contained quotes only from all the usual far left suspects leaving the impression that the pope was opposed by every Catholic in America. He told me he had tried to thoroughly research all available Catholic opinion based on Catholic people and publications and organizations which were listed on the NY Times computer for reporters to contact. He read me the list. ALL–ALL were from the far to radical left. This decent young man was hoodwinked by the liberal systemic bias at the Times into writing a liberally twisted and distorted story.
    I suggested a long list of middle-of-the road to
    conservative Catholic sources he could contact to make his stories more balanced. And to his credit as a journalist, the next story he wrote on something Catholic was quite balanced and he had used some of my suggested sources to help create the balance.
    By the way, he was given the whole religion beat because he had graduated from a Jewish University (Yeshiva, I believe) and he admitted he knew absolutely nothing about the various shades of friction or differing points of view in the Catholic Church Community.

  • Alexei

    2054? Well…

    The issues haven’t been resolved in the last 1000 years. Why should we think it will happen in the next 50? We’re talking about two completely different theological frameworks, here.

    Still, it was nice to see them together…

  • Wonders for Oyarsa

    Alexei –

    Well, the theological frameworks were quite different long before 1054, and yet the Communion wasn’t broken. Why should we think the division should be allowed to last more than a thousand years?

    Thanks for the link to the pictures, TMatt. Some of them are rather breathtaking – the meeting of East and West both attire and architecture.

  • Alexei

    Right, which is why the schism seems, at least to me, a consummation of all of those differences. Put it this way: how many Catholic theologians are ready to give up the papacy? How many Orthodox are willing to accept it?

    This is just my totally uninformed view, so I’m glad to hear any other opinions.

  • MJBubba

    I believe the NYT story perpetuates a troubling inaccuracy: “They said they had still not forgotten the speech in September, in which he cited a quotation that criticized Islam as violent.”
    Most Muslims did not object to the discription as “violent,” but to the description as “evil.” This distinction has been totally lost by the American media of all descriptions.