Got news? Vatican, China and crickets

Story selection is one of those media criticism topics I wish we could address more. So often we’re responding to what did get written rather than what didn’t. Arguably the decision about which stories to cover and which to ignore — or which to cover ’round the clock and which to cover once and move on — contributes more to our perception of the world than how those stories or written.

Here’s a recent example. You recall how the media handled the most important Catholic news of 2010. I speak, of course, of Condomania, which we looked at in its early days here and here. It got Pope Benedict XVI almost named Time‘s man of the year. (Don’t read that last link if you care about accuracy, by the way.)

Condomgate was based on a brief passage in a lengthy book where the Pope expounded on various Catholic teachings. I certainly think it was newsworthy, just that the highly nuanced position was ill described by many media outlets, though not all.

OK, so what happens when the Vatican takes on one of the world’s most repressive regimes? Crickets, mostly. I’ll let John L. Allen from National Catholic Reporter explain the latest news:

A blistering Vatican statement today accuses China of “unacceptable and hostile acts” during a recent government-orchestrated assembly of Chinese Catholics, which it said smacked of “fear and weakness,” a “repressive attitude” and “intransigent intolerance,” producing a “grave loss of trust.”

Why is this significant? Again, we’ll let Allen explain:

Not only is it unusual for the Vatican to target a specific country in such public fashion, but today’s statement also ruptures the quiet diplomacy that has characterized the Vatican’s “China policy” since the papacy of Paul VI.

Most observers say the current row marks the most serious crisis in Sino-Vatican relations in recent memory, with one prominent Catholic expert on China gloomily claiming that things are headed “back to the time of Mao.”

The events leading up to this latest Vatican move have been covered a bit. Here’s an Associated Press story from last month about China ordaining a bishop without papal consent. And the Washington Post had a foreign service story — that explained the stunning news — a few weeks ago.

But this saga in general, including this latest story, just hasn’t resulted in much coverage outside of religious media. The same could be said for many other stories about religious freedom. Here’s another recent one from China that flew below the radar.

Do journalists really want to argue that the sexual revolution reigns supreme as the ultimate liberal value, much higher than human rights, religious liberty, free speech or the actions of a police state? Courage.

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  • joye

    Catholic blogger Mark Shea has often said that the primary purpose of news journalism is to sell beer and shampoo (that is, to be popular so that advertisers will buy space and pay the bills). Take a look sometime at pretty much any news website or aggregator’s “most shared” or “most viewed” stories. The last time I checked it on Google News, it contained not one but three stories about Justin Bieber.

    Maybe we get the news we deserve.

  • Jerry

    One big problem is that the American media is inward looking. Listen to BBC news sometime and you’ll hear stories from all over the world that are missing in American media outlets. So the real comparison is not how the US media treated the two stories but how the media in the UK and elsewhere treated the two stories.

  • Mollie


    I thought the same thing. I was looking at some of the “top 10″ lists that people run at the end of the year and all of the stories seem more America-centric than they really should be.

  • tioedong

    It’s not just Catholics: There is a major crackdown on (Protestant) house churches too. LINK

    there churches are mainly responsible for the huge increase in Chinese Christians in the last ten years.

  • Bill P.

    Yes. (Many) journalists really want to argue that the sexual revolution reigns supreme as the ultimate liberal value, much higher than human rights, religious liberty, free speech or the actions of a police state.

    The war waged against the Church since Humane Vitae grows each time the Church reaffirms its positions. As my dear niece once informed me, the Church is just not progressive!

    A related question: Why hasn’t there been much (or any?) coverage of JPII’s Theology of the Body? I would argue because it counters too many of the hopes and desires of the Sexual Revolution with those annoying concepts of sacrifice and selflessness, and it does so in a very pastoral, sophisticated and unexpected way.

  • Jay Casey

    We lived in Shanghai until recently and attended several Protestant churches – one “official” and the others unofficial – mostly Korean churches. The official church was so controlled (sermons had to be approved in advance) that it was just singing basically. The unofficial churches kept getting shut down and chased around the city – constantly changing locations. Sometimes we were asked not to attend because as foreigners we brought too much scrutiny from the police. And this in one of China’s most “modern” cities.

  • Jeffrey

    Journalists in the West are often slow to focus on religious liberty violations. We saw that in the lack of attention to the Bosnian genocide of Muslims, the inattention to Palestine and the religious rights of non-Jews in Israel, and crackdowns on Christians in China and the Middle East.

    is it a lack of courage? Hard to tell. There are pressures not to report the stories. There is pushback (look at attempts to cover the religious liberty deprivation issues involved in the Ground Zero mosque dispute).

  • Dan

    In addition, very recently the Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith issued a “clarification” concerning the Pope’s comments concerning condom use and the clarification contradicts the spin that nearly all media outlets gave to the Pope’s statement. So far I have not seen anything in the media about this. When the hoopla first began, The New York Times ran a front page article the gist of which was that the Church was “coming around” on condom use. If the NYT is interested in accurately reporting the status of the issue in the Church, its readers deserve a front page correction. But I’m not holding my breath.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    For what it’s worth, I was just catching up on some issues of the Economist and came across these stories: