Free the cardinals!

Yesterday tmatt asked readers to submit links to papal coverage that was particularly good or bad. I’m going to go ahead and put my responses in a separate post.

It begins, as all our best material does, with a comment thread from last week:

Julia says:

Can’t find it now, but there was an article on MSNBC.com (I think) that said JPII, in the 1990s, changed the ancient conclave rules so that the Cardinals could be let out of the Sistine Chapel now and then to sleep and eat, if necessary. I’m not kidding.

And it said that in the new hotel/residence on the grounds, the Cardinals are locked into their rooms!!! Where do the get this stuff? There are plenty of reliable sources, people and authoritative websites with the basic information.

And then there was this:

Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz says:

I couldn’t quite believe what you were saying, Julia, so I went looking — and you were right!It’s the last paragraph. Yikes!

Here it is, and it’s actually from NBC:

The conclave process, in which cardinals are locked into their rooms until reaching a decision, was a tradition that began in 1271 following frustration at the failure of the church to agree on a replacement for Pope Clement IV, who died in 1268. Eventually, cardinals were locked inside the papal palace in Viterbo by exasperated magistrates.

Pope John Paul II changed the conclave rules in 1996, allowing cardinals to leave the Sistine Chapel during conclaves to eat and sleep if necessary.

Wow is that quite the collection of Dan Brown-level conspiracy thinking and attention to historical detail.

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NPR ‘looks’ at role for Catholic women

Yesterday, reader Ivan (aka @SlavicPolymath) tweeted:

NPR Weekend Edition interviewing LCWR sister. Hoping beyond hope for balanced coverage, or I’ll sic @GetReligion on them.

I asked him how it went. He replied by linking to his subsequent tweet, which read, simply:

…NOPE.

There was no transcript available at that time so I listened to the interview. You really have to listen to get the full Schweddy Balls effect. It is, if anything, even funnier than the Saturday Night Live sketch sending up public radio interviews. Both the host and the interviewee are so very quiet that I had to turn the volume up all the way on my computer. But it’s the pregnant pauses and exasperated sighs accompanying the questions that make them almost beyond parody.

There’s a transcript now, so let’s look at some of the questions asked in the piece headlined “With Papacy In Flux, A Look At The Role Of Women“:

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST: We just heard Sylvia outline some of the issues facing the Catholic Church during this leadership transition, including the role and status of women within the church. This past week, I spoke with Sister Pat Farrell, the former president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. It’s the most influential group of Catholic nuns in the United States. Last spring, the Vatican publically reprimanded the group for promoting, quote, “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic Church.”

I asked Farrell about the role of women and what she describes as a critical moment for the Catholic Church.

MARTIN: What do you see as the role of women in the modern Catholic Church? Here we are in 2013, what is women’s place when it comes to leadership in the church right now?

MARTIN: Would you go as far as to support women’s ordination? Or is that something you think is too far?

MARTIN: It’s worth noting, here in this very momentous chapter of the church – the papal conclave – of course the cardinals taking part in the conclave are all men. I wonder, is that frustrating to be a woman who has dedicated her life so much to this church, yet women are excluded from the most important decisions at that level.

I find it intriguing how obsequious some in the media are to leadership of progressive religious groups, particularly in comparison to the devil’s advocate position they tend to take on leaders or even just members of traditional religious groups. For instance, when Farrell uses a lot of words to not answer the second question, there’s no follow-up.

What’s interesting off the bat is the choice of interview subject. It’s pretty much impossible to achieve balance on the topic of the role of women in the Catholic Church when you’re interviewing only one source and it’s someone who is part of a group that has been chastised by the Vatican for, among other things, teachings that contradict the church on this topic. It would be less of a problem, I guess, to interview someone supportive of official church teaching (say, Christendom College’s Donna Bethell) — and only her — on the same topic. And yet it would still limit the instruction of the listening audience unduly. And yet I highly doubt you’d see a one-source story with a conservative woman who supports Vatican teaching.

In the same vein, if NPR were facing a change in leadership, I highly doubt we’d see a story where only one highly interested taxpayer — say James O’Keefe or other committed critics — were interviewed for his thoughts on what the future would be for, say, media treatment of conservatives. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if in a similar situation, we wouldn’t see any critics interviewed at all.

But more than all that, it’s that last question that I found so telling. I get that the host and probably the vast majority of people in the media hold the doctrinal position that women should be ordained in Christian churches. I really do get that. But is it so much to expect that they understand that many of us don’t hold that doctrinal view? Now, maybe it’s because I’m in a church body (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) that retains the practice of male ordination, but I’m kind of shocked at how disdainfully some folks dismiss these beliefs held by Roman Catholics, Orthodox, confessional Protestants and others. I was at a sponsored talk at a religion newswriters conference and one of the panelists flat-out said that women weren’t represented in churches that have male-only clergy. My tablemates and I — who happened to belong to such churches — gave looks to each other and quietly ate another bite of food. It seems so obvious to me that I have trouble explaining it.

The media seem to hold the position that women can only be represented by women and not by men. They fail to explain how, exactly, that works. I mean, in the same way that Martin doesn’t represent me, even though she and I both have lady parts, my pastor does represent me, because we share a confession of faith that, among other things, requires him to represent me and all other members of our congregation. There are so many assumptions wrapped up in that last question. And that might be fine, but it happens without any seeming awareness of those assumptions and how they don’t make sense to those who don’t share that particular theology.

I did think the final question was better:

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Self-described way-devoted super-Catholics and the press

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I already used this YouTube as art in a post last week but it really fits for this story. Really fits. In the clip above, Lutheran Satire makes fun of the type of “Catholic” used by the media in stories about the Roman Catholic Church.

Somehow this video was stripped of satire, transformed into print and placed directly onto the pages of the Washington Post. It’s uncanny.

You can watch the video above but some people had trouble hearing the dialogue, so I’ll sum up and quote from it. The premise is that we’re watching “the latest edition of everybody’s favorite ecclesiastical game show Choose Your Pope: the game where bishops compete for the right to be selected the supreme pontiff by a representative from the uneducated court of public opinion.”

The contestant is Kaylee McMurphy:

A recent college graduate, Kaylee earned a BA in Advanced Feng-Shui Marketing. A self-described way-devoted super-Catholic, Kaylee has attended mass almost 7 times — therefore making her opinions on the theological direction of the Catholic church entirely valid and perfectly worthy of public attention.

The contestants are Cardinals Ouellet, Turkson and Scola.

McMurphy: “Question #1: Since I have absolutely no interest in knowing the scriptural and historical reasons for the male only priesthood, and since my Religious Worldviews in the Feminist Paradigm professor told me that, like, five of the apostles were totally women, I think the Catholic Church is finally ready for women priests. You guys agree, right?”

Ouellet: “No.”
Turkson: “No.”
Scola: “No.”

McMurphy: “Whatever. Question #2: Like most devout Catholic women who don’t go to Mass and don’t believe anything the Church says, I use birth control because babies are a lot of work and my boyfriend and I totally need to re-tile our master bathroom. That’s cool with you guys, right?”

Ouellet: “No.”
Turkson: “No.”
Scola: “No.”

McMurphy: “You guys are lame. Question #3: I like the aesthetics of the Catholic Church but don’t like its theology. I support no-fault divorce, abortion rights, gay marriage, gender-neutral language, and think that it’s mean to criticize Islam. I couldn’t be more of a liberal Episcopalian if Katherine Jefferts-Schiori formed me from the dust from the ground, and yet I still inexplicably identify myself as a Catholic.”

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Is Politico as partisan as The Weekly Standard?

Today is Washington Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton’s last day. You can read his memo to staff here.

To mark it, I’m ruminating on a Twitter exchange I happened across last night. So telling. It begins with John McCormack, a reporter for The Weekly Standard, writing:

Politico article on abortion issue includes two quotes–one from Planned Parenthood and one, for balance, from ACLU

It’s a particularly bad example of what we see on abortion coverage every day, as well as coverage of many other hot-button issues commonly found on beats linked to religion and politics. Even though this is only six paragraphs long, it’s a bad example.

But what I found interesting was the response from Andrew Kaczynski, a reporter for the supposedly mainstream Buzzfeed:

Lot of balance in those Weekly Standard Chuck Hagel stories.

This is a reference to The Weekly Standard‘s work opposing the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense. But the Standard (where my better half works) is an avowedly conservative opinion journal. It’s whole purpose is to spread adoption of a particular set of conservative values.

Do you see the problem here?

BuzzFeed and Politico (and the Washington Post, and countless other media outlets) present themselves as mainstream media outlets doing straight news. I’ll let Twitter do my work for me:

@QuinHillyer Weekly Standard is an opinion journal. Politico claims to be straight news. Big difference in what’s expected

@McCormackJohn Well, at least they’re more balanced than Buzzfeed’s articles on gay marriage. Also: We don’t pretend we’re not ideological.

@IMAO_ He’s very clearly saying that Politico is as partisan as the Weekly Standard.

We’ve been talking about this a lot recently, because it’s a major change in the stated objectives of mainstream media. This is also a topic closely linked to media-bias studies about religion news.

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Why is the pope so old? (And other media questions)

A few days ago, the Washington Post tweeted out a link to a piece on its web site with the tease “Why is the pope always so old?” and a link to an article. Within moments, a bunch of people responded negatively to the tweet. I attached a screen shot here, but the comments included:

#facepalm

Um…

Why is the press always so stupid?

And why is he always so Catholic?

The article itself has the headline “Why is the pope always so old? (Video)” and it’s more a blog post on two items from outside the paper than an article. The first is an explainer video on how someone becomes a pope. It has almost nothing to do with the pope “always” being “so old.” It does have a few errors (on whether priests can be married and that whole catholic/Catholic thing we’ve been discussing) but you can peruse it on your own. Or watch it here, what do I care?

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The Post blog piece itself isn’t awful, but it is kind of silly. It explains that becoming pope is a lot like becoming president:

But unlike politics, becoming pope basically requires you to work your way up the ladder, step by step. The political equivalent would be advancing from local office to state office to federal office to leadership in Congress and eventually to president. While any Catholic can technically be elected pope, it’s really a race between 100-plus cardinals who have spent their entire lives climbing that ladder.

One hundred-plus indeed! Anyway, then it takes a graphic from The Guardian about papal tenures and how old people are when they become popes and leave the papacy.

I was going to defend the headline but then I imagined a headline like “Why are presidents always the age of your dad?” or “Why aren’t there more toddlers competing in the Olympics?” and I don’t quite have the heart to do it. Neither do I think this is worth getting terribly upset about it.

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Playing the same-sex marriage card

Over the weekend, the better half stirred up quite a hornet’s nest for a post noting that some in the media aren’t the slightest bit interested in covering the same-sex marriage debate with any degree of impartiality or nuance. The verdict she reached is damning, and that conclusion can be reached simply by accurately quoting journalists about why they don’t bother quoting gay marriage opponents.

In any event, this lack of nuance and unwillingness to dig a little deeper tends to make a hash out of even the most basic reportage on the issue. And so we have this report from the Baltimore Sun, “‘Superman’ author’s gay rights opposition prompts local boycott.” The gist of the story is that DC Comics recently hired Orson Scott Card to write a new Superman series. Card also happens to be a practicing Mormon and a board member at the National Organization for Marriage. One comic book store in Baltimore, citing Card’s opposition to gay marriage, won’t sell the series. Here’s how the Sun introduces Card and characterizes his views:

Card, who is on the board of the National Organization for Marriage, has campaigned vigorously against gay marriage. Opinion pieces the author has written have linked same-sex marriage to the end of civilization.

“[M]arriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy,” he wrote in 2008 in the Mormon Times.

More than 14,000 people have signed an online petition asking the company to drop Card.

“We need to let DC Comics know they can’t support Orson Scott Card or his work to keep LGBT people as second-class citizens,” wrote the petition’s creator, All Out, an organization that supports gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights. “By hiring Orson Scott Card despite his anti-gay efforts, you are giving him a new platform and supporting his hate.”

The controversy comes as marriage equality gains momentum nationwide. In November, Maryland, Maine and Washington voters approved referendums legalizing same-sex marriages, making a total of nine states and the District of Columbia that allow them.

First, saying Card is “well-known” is a bit of an understatement. He’s a legend in the world of science fiction. When NPR polled 60,000 people on what their 100 favorite science fiction novels were, Ender’s Game came in third behind Lord of the Rings and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Published in 1985, Ender’s Game is about a future where, facing the annihilation of humanity, child soldiers are conscripted to fight a war against insectoid aliens.The book largely revolves around the moral implications of that terrifying scenario, and aside from being deeply resonant with a popular audience, Card’s mediation on what happens to your essential humanity when you are forced to kill for survival landed it on the reading list that the commandant recommends for the entire Marine Corps. Now Card can be excitable — he once wrote he would work to “destroy” any government that redefined marriage. But on balance, he’s hardly a fringe character, nor are his views outside the mainstream.

I understand that it’s in the interest of gay marriage advocates to make anyone who vocally opposes their agenda subject to a blizzard of negative press, but the Sun‘s report is premised on pretty thin gruel. The justification is that one local comic book store saying they won’t carry the Card-authored Superman series, and an internet petition with 14,000 signatures. There’s also the obviously loaded language — “The controversy comes as marriage equality gains momentum nationwide.” (Hmm. I was unaware that Card was opposed to ‘equality.’) And in a spectacular bit of editorial judgment, the article is also paired on line with a TMZ-esque video report about a comic book store owner in Dallas who is uncritically quoted as saying Card is a “bigot,” fond of “hate speech,” and “venomously anti-gay.”

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Catholic or catholic? Or, so that’s what catholic means!

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A religion writer passed along this piece from the Wall Street Journal with the instruction to pay attention to the 4th paragraph. So let’s do that:

Cardinal Timothy Dolan said he was praying a lot as he prepared to travel to Rome to participate in the selection of a new pope, but he also has made time to exchange travel tips with his colleague Cardinal Francis George of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

“Cardinal George told me to make sure to bring some peanut butter because you can’t get it in the conclave,” Cardinal Dolan said Wednesday following an event at the Carmel Richmond Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center on Staten Island.

It will be Cardinal Dolan’s first time voting in the conclave, the gathering of Roman Catholic cardinals expected to cast ballots next month to pick a successor to Pope Benedict XVI following the pontiff’s announcement earlier this month he would step down. The cardinals head to Rome amid speculation they may defy tradition and name a pope from outside Europe.

“The Holy Spirit knows no boundaries and the church by her nature is Catholic, it’s international, it’s world-wide,” said Cardinal Dolan. “So the prospect of a pope from Latin America, from Asia, is phenomenal and could happen, who knows?”

Heh.

So let’s have a brief discussion about the difference between catholic and Catholic. The definition for the adjective “catholic” is:

1. broad or wide-ranging in tastes, interests, or the like; having sympathies with all; broad-minded; liberal.

2. universal in extent; involving all; of interest to all.

3. pertaining to the whole Christian body or church.

And for the adjective “Catholic”:

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Guess which WPost reporter refuses to cover you fairly

This weekend, we looked at the Washington Post ombudsman column that revealed that the newspaper has an extremely serious problem with doing basic journalism when it comes to the thorny issue of whether marriage should be redefined to include same-sex couples.

The ombudsman column is something that could be discussed for many reasons, but I want to narrow it to just one point of discussion: anonymity. Should the ombudsman have granted anonymity to the reporter who was revealing his or her bigotry and egregious ignorance against the people he or she is supposed to cover intelligently and fairly?

Again, you can read my piece “WPost: Yes, we fear and loathe religious traditionalists” for the details of this breathtaking admission from the Post, but for our purposes the relevant portion is this:

Here are excerpts from that dialogue, with the reader’s and reporter’s names kept out of it at their requests.

Now, I don’t get as animated about anonymity as many journalists do, although I do agree it poses serious problems. I also know that I would have written very few stories about waste, fraud and mismanagement in the federal government without granting it.

You know how when people are granted anonymity, reporters write why they wanted it? Say, because they’re not supposed to talk publicly about that personnel decision or sensitive bill negotiations or whatever? Well, one media critic recently suggested that instead of talking about why the source wanted anonymity, reporters should simply say why they granted it.

Anyway, the problem with the anonymity granted to the reporter in this case is that it tarnishes 100% of the reporters at the Washington Post. I was at a party of journalists this weekend where various people named who they thought the reporter in question was. There were a few theories and some were stronger than others. But if I were a decent reporter at the Post, one who did not hold uncontrollably bigoted views against religious adherents or people with different moral or political views than my own, I’d be unhappy to have many of my readers wondering if I seethed with contempt for them.

Let’s look at an interesting Twitter conversation between a few other reporters who discussed the ombudsman’s piece, including the Washington Examiner‘s Byron York, Jan Crawford of CBS News, and James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal:

@Byron York: WaPo ombudsman publishes emails revealing paper’s mindset on social issues. No wonder they want to get rid of him.

@JanCBS: It’s the reporter’s obliviousness to bias (lecturing on what conservatives “should” believe) that’s most revealing.

@JamesTaranto: If he were truly oblivious, he wouldn’t have insisted on anonymity.

@JanCBS: He was emailing with a reader. I assumed he wasn’t anonymous.

@JamesTaranto: See the piece. @wapoombudsman granted him anonymity.

@JanCBS: My point is he/she is saying those things publicly as a reporter. Byline is irrelevant.

@JamesTaranto: But he was suddenly inhibited when faced with the prospect of having his views published in his own paper.

@JanCBS: So what? That he/she initially saw nothing wrong in expressing those views is my point re newsrooms.

@JamesTaranto: Imagine how you’d feel if CBS aired a similar rant by one of your colleagues without identification.

Don Surber, an editorial writer at the Charleston Daily Mail wrote:

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