Francis coverage unfair to atheists?

And now for something completely different in the coverage of the election of Pope Francis — complaints from Viennese newspaper Der Standard that some coverage was unfair to atheists.

In an editorial discussing the press coverage of the election of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as the 226th Bishop of Rome the left liberal daily took the state TV broadcaster ORF to task for its one-sided and uncritical reporting.

Im ORF wurden in den verschiedensten Nachrichten-Formaten die Bilder gezeigt, wie sich der Papst bei Argentiniens Staatspräsidentin Cristina Kirchner für ein Präsent mit einem Wangenküsschen bedankt, was angesichts des gespannten Verhältnisses zwischen den beiden zwar eine Nachricht wert ist. Die Nachrichtenzeit wurde aber lieber für das tapsige Auspacken von Kirchners Mitbringsel verwendet, anstatt auf die Hintergründe der Anspannungen zwischen den beiden hinzuweisen, die unter anderem in der Gegnerschaft Bergoglios für Rechte von Lesben und Schwulen liegen. Mag sein, dass ein Verhütungsverbot, die Dämonisierung von gleichgeschlechtlicher Liebe oder die Kontrolle über den Körper von Frauen für Päpste, Kardinäle, Bischöfe und auch für viele gläubige KatholikInnen normal sind. Für sehr viele BürgerInnen ist es das aber nicht. Das Ereignis Papst-Wahl verleitete viele Medien dazu, zu vergessen, dass nicht nur religiöse Gefühle verletzt werden können, sondern auch atheistische.

[Austrian state TV broadcaster] ORF showed the pope thanking the Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner for a gift with a kiss on the cheek, which considering the tense relations between the two was certainly newsworthy. But instead of going into the background of the tensions between the two, which arise among other things from Bergoglio’s opposition to rights for gays and lesbians, the report followed the clumsy unwrapping of Kirchner’s present. It may be that a ban on contraception, the demonization of homosexual love and exercising control over women’s bodies are normal things for cardinals, bishops and many faithful Catholics. But for many citizens they aren’t. The papal election’s status as a major event has led many media to forget that not just religious feelings can be hurt, but atheistic ones too.

I’ve taken to task on the pages of GetReligion some American newspapers and broadcasters for their hypercritical reporting on Pope Francis. The argument put forward by Der Standard, however, can be distinguished from my criticisms of CNN, et al.

Raising the issue of Pope Francis’ conduct during the “dirty war”, when he served a superior of the Argentine Society of Jesus province, is a proper journalistic endeavor. I contrasted the French reporting on this issue which laid out the facts and noted the denials and strength of evidence to CNN’s coverage which framed the issue against Francis. CNN took as gospel the accusations but was skeptical of the defense.

That is a different argument from automatically rejecting out of hand any harsh words about the new Pope. Der Standard has a point. The exchange between both Francis and Pres. Kirchner, hitherto fierce political rivals in Argentina’s culture wars, should have been put in context. I am not persuaded by the editorial’s argument that this was a disservice to atheists. But I agree this fell short as journalism.

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  • Will

    As far as I can understand it, the argument here seems to be assuming that “atheists” automatically take a particular stance on the hot-button issues… something that Atheists for Life, for one, would presumably dispute.

  • Did they ever complain that stories of politicians are unfair to anarchists?

  • Will

    Right. They NEVER cover Obama like that.

  • Jerry

    What you’re criticizing is an editorial not a news story. I would never hold an editorial up to the same standards as a news story, so I find it surprising that you did.

    But as contrast, there’s opinion pieces like this Why even atheists love Pope Francis and the Pope’s statement that atheists “precious allies” in the effort “to defend the dignity of man, in the building of a peaceful coexistence between peoples and in the careful protection of creation.”

    So while I don’t hold an editorial to journalistic standards, in this case it entirely missed the point when it created a false dichotomy between Pope Francis and atheists.

    • geoconger

      No. The ORF story was criticized. This post agreed with Der Standard’s critique of the reporting.

  • It seems as though ORF just threw “atheists” in there to represent “people who are not Roman Catholic.” (With “Roman Catholic” standing in for “any religion”.) They might as well have complained that the coverage was unfair to Lutherans or Buddhists, since it didn’t make any reference to their particular concerns, either.

    Beyond lazy.