The Conservative Pope and the Secular Media

Over the past few weeks, the Catholic Church has found itself mired in controversy, plagued by an ever-growing sexual abuse scandal unfolding in Europe. The pope himself has come under substantial criticism, to such an extent that a leading German magazine titled a report, “The Failed Papacy of Benedict XVI.”

Yet the media’s growing chorus of criticism reveals as much about itself as it does about the mishaps of Pope Benedict XVI. It reveals much about how the media thinks about itself, and about the media’s worldview of what society ought to be like.

Historically, the Catholic Church and the Western media have always had moments of tension. The two are almost naturally at odds; their philosophical foundations constitute polar opposites. The church is fundamentally a conservative institution, hierarchy-bound and traditional. It embodies a force – religion – which often works in a conservative direction.

The modern Western media could not be more different from this. If liberalism were to be characterized, describing the media could do the job well. The media sees itself as an agent of change, uncovering society’s injustices and working towards reform. Under this view, the world is consistently getting better, and media lies on the vanguard of the forces of progress. Religion, on the other hand, constitutes an obstacle standing in the path to a better world.

To many holders of this belief (i.e. the media), Pope Benedict XVI is moving the church backwards in the 21st century. Unlike his predecessor, Benedict XVI is not considered a hero, nor is he adept at media relations (or particularly photogenic, for that matter). Instead, Benedict XVI is an intellectual traditionalist who spent much of his career attacking liberal reformists in the church before becoming pope.

In many ways, therefore, the media’s negative coverage of the pope is not only due to the current sexual abuse scandal. Rather, it is a critique of everything the media dislikes about the pope – his conservative worldview, his reintroduction of the Tridentine Mass, his apathy towards dialogue with other religions, his lifting of Holocaust denier Richard Williamson’s excommunication, and his many writings condemning the forces of secularism which created the media.

This is not to defend Pope Benedict XVI nor to attack the media. The church’s mishandling of the abuse scandal does indeed merit substantial criticism; its response has been defensive and clumsy. There is plenty of material to justify the media’s criticism; the cases of sexual abuse appear quite outrageous. On the church’s side, the pope’s traditionalist views are genuinely felt while his critiques against moral relativism are often quite legitimate.

Rather, this is to look beneath the surface of the sexual abuse controversy. Its widespread negative coverage constitutes part of a deeper, long-standing conflict between a conservative church and a liberal media. It won’t be the last time the church and the media come into conflict.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

April 14: The Next Landmark Day For Immigrant Equality

Wednesday April 14 will be a landmark day for ensuring the equality of all voices in the American public sphere.  It is the day that Ugly Betty, the popular ABC series chronicling a young Mexican-American woman’s adventures of beating the odds in the Big Apple, will come to an end after four seasons. That same evening, The Opportunity Agenda will convene artists, advocates, and media makers in New York City for conversation and collaboration on the power of arts, culture, and media activities in promoting the dignity and human rights of immigrants in the United States.  What do these two events have to do with each other and the broader fight for equality in America? Everything.

Giving equal respect to the stories and voices of all who live here is an essential democratic value and critical to expanding opportunity in America. Since 2006, Ugly Betty (starring actress America Ferrera) has confronted such hot-button subjects as body image, gay teenagers, and, notably, illegal immigration without becoming expressly political or polarizing. When the first season revealed that Betty’s father, Ignacio Suarez (Tony Plana), was undocumented and could be deported, the show received both cheers and jeers for touching such a sensitive issue at the height of the immigration debate during the Bush administration.

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Immigration: Arts, Culture & Media 2010

A true shift in consciousness can only come when people begin to see the world not as it is, but as it should be. While advocates can provide powerful arguments and compelling data, it is artists and media makers who create a window into the possible.

To truly move hearts and minds, artists, advocates, and media makers must collaborate deeply, developing a shared vision and a coordinated set of strategies for achieving it.

It was with this in mind that The Opportunity Agenda launched our Arts + Culture Initiative. The hope is to create a space for collaboration, strengthening the work of advocates and allowing artists and media makers to make an impact on the issues that matter to them. Designed to move the social justice movement towards greater innovation, the Initiative serves as a catalyst for inspiration and action, incubating new ideas, relationships, and opportunities to move beyond traditional modes of organizing and activating constituencies.

Our next event is entitled Immigration: Arts, Culture & Media 2010; A Timely Conversation with Artists and Advocates. Taking place Wednesday, April 14, the forum will explore the power of arts, culture, and media activities in promoting the dignity and human rights of immigrants in the United States.

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The Night Health Care Passed: Strange Happenings at Fox and MSNBC

Sunday evening, as a long-debated health care bill passed through Congress, something quite strange was happening on the websites of two eminent news organizations.

Here was Fox News, Sunday night:

Fox News, of course, is famous as an embodiment of the right-wing machine. Yet its web page last night looked like a resounding endorsement of the health care bill. There is a dignified picture of the president, in a room full of celebrating aides. The picture is titled, in big white font, “This is what change looks like.”

If one clicks on the picture, the subtitles are sometimes quite left-leaning. On Fox Business: “It’s Here: Democrats Pass Sweeping Health Care Reform.” Below the image: “Obama Celebrates With Hugs and High Fives.” One subtitle implies Republican craziness: “Stupak Called ‘Baby-Killer,” presumably by a Republican.

Then there was the MSNBC response:

MSNBC is often depicted as the liberal contrast to Fox News. Last night, however, MSNBC’s website appeared anything but happy.

Take a look. The title – “House Sends Health Care Bill to Obama” – is far more restrained than Fox’s “This is What Change Looks Like.” There’s a somewhat unflattering portrait of Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

And the details could have come from Fox itself. First, MSNBC assures its readers that the Democrats haven’t won yet; “there’s no certainty that the Senate will pass the House’s ‘corrections’ bill intact.” Then, just below, a poll asks the audience if they’re “jazzed or mad?” On the Stupak deal, an article claims that “Both anti-abortion groups and abortion rights supporters slam Dem’s deal.”

In other words, MSNBC was behaving just like…Fox would. And Fox was behaving just like MSNBC.

So what happened? Did the staffs of Fox and MSNBC suddenly switch places? Did Rupert Murdoch and Jeff Zucker decide to play an early April Fools joke? Was it just coincidence that Fox was acting like MSNBC, and MSNBC was acting like Fox?

We may never know.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

It's Snow News

by Walter Brasch

 Up to two feet of snow hit the Mid-Atlantic and New England states last week, the second storm within two weeks. Wind gusts of up to 50 miles an hour and temperatures in the 20s created severe wind chill and extreme hazardous driving conditions. Pennsylvania ordered all commercial trucks off many of its major highways and Interstates. Schools and colleges throughout the Northeast cancelled classes, many for two days.

 We were warned that this would be a severe storm, because days before we received minute-by-minute predictions from TV weather persons. The snow will be two feet deep. Or maybe only 3 to 5 inches. No, wait, that was last hour's prediction. It's now going to be 5-9 inches. Or, maybe 10 inches. No, wait. That's wrong, it'll be 15 to 20 inches. It'll bury buildings and wreak a path of destruction unlike anything seen in the past four thousand years! It might also be only a half-foot. We'll be revising our prediction to some other number as soon as our assignment editor throws a dart at the Snow Inch Board.

 Most residents, unless they were forced to work, were smart enough to stay home. Also smart enough to stay indoors were TV news directors who sent their reporters and camera crews into the middle of snow-covered roads. Deep-voiced anchors introduced us to the infotainment promotion that has become TV news: "Now, LIVE from the middle of the Interstate, and bravely facing blizzard conditions with EXCLUSIVE coverage ONLY on Eyewitless News 99, your hometown station for LIVE EXCLUSIVE weather coverage is our LIVE reporter, Sammy Snowbound."

 Reporters and meteorologists were soon entertaining us with wooden rulers, which they pushed onto snow-covered tables and snow banks to report snow accumulation, not unlike a radio reporter doing play-by-play announcing for a high school basketball contest.

 The previous week, the local news stations and TV all-news networks identified a crippling snow as "Snowmageddon" and "Snowpocalyse." This week, with its winds, we learned about "Snowicane."

And so for two back-to-back snow-somethings, we had almost unlimited Team Coverage. The teams interviewed business owners—"So, how's the snow affecting your business?" They interviewed residents—"So, how's the snow affecting your plans?" They even interviewed public officials—"So, how's the snow affecting your budget?"

If Jesus came to the Northeast, he'd be watching all-snow all-the-time coverage, and waiting in a green room for his one minute interview. "So, Jesus, how you surviving the snow?"

 The problem of the extended coverage is that when there isn't any snow, local TV news gives us a five minute weather report on the Evening News. Excluding commercials, teasers, and mindless promotion, that's more than one-fourth of the news budget. We learn all about highs and lows, Arctic clippers, temperatures in obscure places, and the history of snowflakes. When a weather "event" occurs, TV has to ramp up its coverage, 'lest we think we can learn what we need to know in only five minutes.

Every weather person will tell you there are no two snowflakes the same. But, we can always count on the same coverage, storm after storm, from the same flakes covering the weather. While the reporters are in the middle of a blizzard showing us snow—and how brave they are—they aren't giving us significant information about how to prepare for and then survive a storm, which may cut off electricity for up to a week. Nor are the TV crews telling us what happens to the homeless, or how the storms are affecting everything from insects to black bears.

Long after the storm passes, we'll still be seeing TV weather reports of about four or five minutes—"It'll be sunny tomorrow, and here's a history of sun." It would be nice if local TV news would spend as much time as it does delivering semi-accurate weather reports to discuss significant governmental and social issues along with its diet of car crashes, fires, and the latest Pickle Festival.

 [Walter Brasch was a reporter and editor before becoming a professor of mass communications and journalism. He is an award-winning syndicated columnist and the author of 17 books, including the recently-published third edition of Sex and the Single Beer Can: Probing the Media and American Culture.]

 

 

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