Is a global fast for Syria a local news story?

Is a global fast for Syria a local news story? September 9, 2013

According to Catholic News Agency:

Pope Francis made a global petition on Sept. 1 asking that everyone, regardless of religion or location, to fast and pray during the whole day of Sept. 7 for world peace, particularly in Syria.

I noticed that various friends and acquaintances were participating in a special day of prayer and fasting — some sent the word along to join in, some merely mentioned that they were doing it, some shared how their particular parish was taking up Pope Francis’ call. I had seen a few wire reports leading up to the day of fasting and prayer, but I was curious if this would be considered a local news story.

The answer is, it varied.

The New York Times didn’t consider it a story. Period. If you run a query for “Francis” and “fast” for the last seven days, nothing comes up. Rod Dreher has an absolutely fascinating commentary on what the New York Times decides from its perch is newsworthy and what it doesn’t, using just this week’s coverage as an illustration. Let’s just say that nothing about Christians and Syria registers. But, you know, if you want a touching story about an elderly gay couple reminiscing about lots of public sex or a lengthy look at an all-nude gay resort in the Ozarks — two stories that were featured prominently — that is definitely your paper of record.

What’s particularly odd about the New York Times‘ inability to mention Pope Francis’ call for a day of fasting and prayer against war in Syria is that the paper ran a big story headlined, “Obama Falls Short on Wider Backing for Syria Attack.” I don’t know if the reporters and editors attempted to leave religion angles out of the story but when even a world leader like the Pope doesn’t make the cut, you have to wonder what is going on.

The Washington Post didn’t have anything in the Sunday paper, but it did have an Associated Press report online. Not about the global fast so much as Francis and some pilgrims to St. Peter’s Square. Nothing at all about local Catholics or other religious adherents who joined in.

But while the Post and the Times didn’t think local (or global!) participation in days of fasting and prayer were particularly newsworthy, some news organizations did:

Catholics unite in prayer before Syria vote
News 12 Westchester – 10 hours ago
Pope Francis asked Catholics to fast and pray for the refugees in the civil war-torn nation,and for a quick and peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflict. (6:17 PM). WESTCHESTER – Catholics across the Hudson Valley united in prayer during Sunday Masses …

NC residents take part in global day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria
News & Observer – ?Sep 7, 2013?
PEACEMASS0908. Members of the congregation pray the rosary during a special mass led by Bishop Michael F. Burbidge at Sacred Heart Cathedral on Saturday, September 7, 2013 in Raleigh, N.C. The mass was held in observance of Pope Francis’ call to join in a worldwide day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria. … At Sacred Heart Cathedral in Raleigh, dozens of people filled the pews at a Mass for Peace organized quickly after the pope spoke out last week against Western military intervention in Syria.

Actually, This News & Observer piece is worth a quick look:

RALEIGH — As tens of thousands of people congregated in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City to participate in a global day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria, smaller but just as ardent crowds gathered Saturday in the Triangle to echo Pope Francis’ opposition to threatened military strikes.

At Sacred Heart Cathedral in Raleigh, dozens of people filled the pews at a Mass for Peace organized quickly after the pope spoke out last week against Western military intervention in Syria.

As the United States and its allies debate how to respond to a chemical weapons attack, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of the Catholic diocese in Raleigh delivered a homily asking his listeners to set aside their anger and anguish. “We speak for peace,” Burbidge said and echoed the pope’s call on Sept. 1 for a culture of dialogue over confrontation.

“Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake,” Burbidge said, recounting the pope’s words. “War begets war. Violence begets violence.”

My one thought is that the piece is solely focused on the worship service and not really on the folks who participated outside of a worship service. Still, kudos for recognizing that when the pope calls for a global event, that event may even hit readers in your area of news coverage.

I don’t mean to suggest, incidentally, that this day of prayer and fasting is the sum total of Christian and other religious opposition to getting involved on the rebel side of the civil war in Syria. It’s definitely not. But the lack of coverage does suggest something about what news outlets consider important and what’s not important — either in terms of social values or even in terms of voices being paid attention to in the drumbeat for war. Do let us know if you see any particularly good or bad examples of related coverage.

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5 responses to “Is a global fast for Syria a local news story?”

  1. There are a number of probable reasons that the pope leading Catholics (and others) in prayers for peace is a non-story for the Times:.
    First reason is that they probably consider prayer a waste of time.
    Second, prayer isn’t a juicy religious scandal.
    Third, it is none of the Church’s or religious believers business (How dare the pope and other Christians breach the wall of separation between Church and State???)
    Fourth, anyway it’s time to ethnically cleanse the Middle East of those indigenous Christians: Coptic, Chaldean, Orthodox, Catholic, or whatever. (According to a number of recent accounts Islamic groups Obama wants to side with have already started giving Christians their choice–become Moslem–or be beheaded.)

  2. The media were, in fact, completely out of their element. You can’t see or photograph or video or record someone fasting (nor, according to Our Lord, should it be obvious that someone is fasting, for that matter). And those who were at home, watching the Pope on EWTN, and following along on their Rosaries, or were on their knees praying their Hours, their litanies, and their individual prayers for peace during the day made for a bit of a quandary for the MSM: how do you report what you can neither see, nor hear, nor interview (nor, for that matter, understand)?

    • Well, you can see 100,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square. Or gathered for local events. Although to be fair, Pope Francis gave less than a week’s notice. I know it caught a lot of American Catholics off-guard, so it might be that the media were likewise unprepared.

  3. I think that local news media could have at least added one paragraph about what was happening locally, but after searching a couple of US dioceses in southwestern USA– nada! Not in the MSM, that is.