It’s safe to assume that, at this moment in time, Pope Francis is a rock star when it comes to his relationship with the mainstream news media. It would appear that whatever the man wants to say about a controversial issue is going to be reported and, miracle of miracles, perhaps even graced with an attention-grabbing headline.
Alas, it would wrong to assume this. It’s clear that the pope can speak on issues of global importance and receive very little mainstream coverage of all, if the issues are not related (in the minds of many journalists) to the Sexual Revolution.
Consider, for example, the following news report from the omnipresent and highly respected (by a wide array of Catholics) John L. Allen, Jr., of the liberal National Catholic Reporter:
Three days after an attack on an Anglican church in Peshawar, Pakistan, left at least 85 people dead, Pope Francis on Wednesday urged Christians to an examination of conscience about their response to such acts of anti-Christian persecution.
“So many Christians in the world are suffering,” the pope said during his general audience Wednesday morning in St. Peter’s Square. “Am I indifferent to that, or does it affect me like it’s a member of the family?”
“Does it touch my heart, or doesn’t it really affect me, [to know that] so many brothers and sisters in the family are giving their lives for Jesus Christ?”
OK, that’s interesting — but is there a larger story here? A subject worthy of mainstream news attention? Allen continues with a summary of some brutal facts:
The Sunday atrocity in Pakistan is the latest instance of a mounting wave of anti-Christian violence in different parts of the world. According to the International Society for Human Rights in Frankfurt, Germany, 80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed against Christians.
The Center for the Study of Global Christianity in the United States estimates that in the last decade, an average of 100,000 Christians have died each year in what the center calls a “situation of witness,” meaning for motives related to their faith. Although some experts regard that estimate as inflated, it works out to an average of 11 Christians killed each hour throughout the past decade.
Parts of the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent and regions of sub-Saharan Africa tend to be the greatest danger zones, though there are recent examples of Christians experiencing violent persecution in many other parts of the world as well.
That German human rights report is not unique or unusual. More on that in a minute.
So surely the pope’s remarks — linked to bloody massacres that are still in the news — drew news coverage. Let’s run an online search for “Pope Francis,” “persecution” and “Christians.” Click here for the results. Spot any familiar patterns?
Now, as a member of an Eastern Orthodox body that is based in Damascus, I find this — yes, as a believer — tragic and infuriating. As a journalist? I am not surprised at all.
So with that said, please read the following passage by one of the senior writers at the new online news and commentary site The Federalist. It’s long, but I cannot get myself to cut anything out of this chunk of a long, rather GetReligion-esque analysis, which ran under a familiar byline:
According to one estimate, by the Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, 75 percent of acts of religious intolerance are directed against Christians.”
How well does the media tell that story? And how did they cover this weekend’s events? As Anglicans and other Christians worldwide grieved the brutal attack in Pakistan, the media … did not. The worst attack on Pakistani Christians in history didn’t make the front page of the New York Times. The Washington Post buried the story on page A7 of Monday’s paper. On the front page of the BBC web site, a small headline “Pakistan church blast kills dozens” was below stories on Angela Merkel and the Emmys. By the next day, the story was nowhere to be found.
British blogger Archbishop Cranmer noted, “Without media coverage we in the West cannot smell the fear of those Christians who are persecuted by Muslims all over the world.”
Even when the media do cover violence against Christians, the religion angle tends to be buried or given short shrift. Part of this is because politicians, who are the primary sources for many of these news stories, don’t have a strong incentive to confront the reality of Muslim violence against non-Muslims (or, to be honest, many other complicated problems). Imran Khan, whose party leads the government in Peshawar, suggested that the church bombing attack wasn’t about religion but, rather, an effort to scuttle peace talks. He also blamed U.S. drone strikes for provoking militants. That’s all all well and good, but violence against Christians goes back even before 2001, when Predator drones armed with Hellfire missiles began to be used in Pakistan to assassinate terrorist leaders and their companions. By about 1300 years.
The Christian Science Monitor asked the promising question, “Why did militants attack Pakistani Christians?” and discovered that, well, it was really just a case of militants of unspecified religion looking for a “controversial” target and “more spectacular, attention-grabbing attacks.” Why the church? Certainly not because of any particular animosity towards Christians — it was just that the Christians were “vulnerable.”
Trying to explain the attack in Kenya, Think Progress published an interesting piece headlined “What The Deadly Attack On A Kenya Mall Was Really About.” It talks about the weakness of al Shabaab and the terror group’s efforts to provoke conflict in Kenya. The words Muslim and Islam do not appear in the article. Another article is headlined “Five Things The Kenya Mall Attack Tells Us About Global Terrorism.” Spoiler alert: The Kenya mall attack doesn’t tell us anything about religious violence.
And what about Egypt? Well, as the persecution of Christians has heated up, the press tends to portray the violence against Christians as “sectarian skirmishes” or “clashes” between religious groups. This is about as accurate as describing the Armenian genocide as “clashes” between Turks and Armenians.
Yes, the piece stresses that Christians are not the only religious minority at risk in these settings, with Muslims in minority groups being slaughtered as well. That’s a huge story, too, and a key element of the blasphemy-law culture. Report all of that. Please.
But have journalists actually decided that the slaughter of Christians is — what? — normal? Is this an awkward topic because too many conservative, as well as many liberal, Christians are crying for the attention of the world’s press? These martyrs have the wrong friends? What is the issue here?
IMAGE: Caravaggio’s classic, The Crucifixion of St. Peter.