Pod People: CBS asks if Pope is breaking with Vatican

The previous week gave us a lot to talk about here at GetReligion. Check out these GetReligion posts from Friday alone for a few bad examples of media coverage (here, here and here).

In the latest Crossroads podcast, host Todd Wilken and I chatted about some of the early problems with media coverage of Pope Francis’ remarks on blackmailing people for sins they’d repented of. See my posts Pope Francis’ 1st miracle: media coverage of mercy and Media obsession dangers: Pope and gay priests. We also talked a bit about the struggle to cover denominational news when there is no  major or easy-to-understand controversy on which to report (News crisis: when people agree (Lutheran edition)). And we discussed the difficulties of reporting on lawsuits or other one-sided updates (When lawsuits attack).

Whatever the Pope says is news. Every time a pope gives an interview, except headlines. This was an intriguing and open and flowing interview. Headlines are proper and to be expected. At the same time, it’s important to accurately convey the news in the headline. It’s worth taking some time to understand the context of remarks (such as the gay mafia issue which was the focus of the question that generated the headlines). And it’s important to make sure that one’s own biases and obsessions aren’t coloring the way the news is being presented.

All that to say that I have a favorite example of media mis-steps on this. It comes from CBS and was caught by a conservative criticism site. You can read their full coverage here but they feature Dean Reynolds asking a man who left the Roman Catholic priesthood in 2006 over his belief that individuals with same-sex attraction would be purged. It’s an interesting choice for a single source bit, but that’s neither here nor there. Check out this exchange:

MICHAEL HERMAN: I don’t think gay people in general have felt loved in this church for a long time. So, to have any indication of being loved and being welcomed is huge.

REYNOLDS: Michael Herman is a gay Catholic who quit the priesthood in 2006, after he felt the Church intended to purge gays. In the past, the Church has called homosexuality a depravity, contrary to natural law which can never be approved. Pope Benedict XVI said, as recently as 2005, that homosexuality was incompatible with the priesthood. But Herman says this pope’s tone will have a ripple effect….

HERMAN: …The effect that that will have on parents who have gay children – on gay Catholics themselves, I think, is extremely positive – when all we’ve heard, for many years, is negative, negative, negative.

REYNOLDS: Do you think he’s breaking with the Vatican?

Do you think the Pope is breaking with the Vatican. So much wrapped up in that question, no?


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