Bashing Benedict: Networks Make Pope Butt of Jokes, Center of Scandal
A Church In Trouble: Since the Popeâs resignation announcement, networks have characterized the Catholic Church as âtroubled 122 times and used the word âscandalâ 87 times.
Catholics Must Get With The Times: ABC, CBS and NBC have pushed for the church to be more liberal â calling for church to âmodernizeâ 32 times, change its stance on women seven times and on gays 13 times.
Making a Joke of Faith: The resignation of the leader of 1.2 billion Catholics is the time for âŚ making jokes. The networks ran jokes from late night shows about the Pope seven times and even brought on comedian George Lopez to give his sacrilegious perspective on Catholicism.
All They Learned, They Learned From Fiction: ABC was obsessed with Dan Brownâs âDa Vinci Codeâ comparisons, even though Brown was reviled for his attacks on the church and for his outlandish account of Jesus.
A frail, ailing 85-year-old man announces he doesnât have the strength to continue as the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion people. With the humility of one whose entire life has been in service to God and his Church, he says he will retire to quietly live out his remaining years.
Cue the laugh track and gin up the scandal rumors. It was three weeks full of journalistic contempt for the Pope and the Catholic Church.
ABC, CBS and NBC have never been fans of Pope Benedict XVI. They saw the former Cardinal Ratzinger as a âhard-linerâ for âstrenuously condemning divorce, homosexuality, and abortion,â as ABCâs Dan Harris put it in 2008. But the broadcast networksâ coverage of Benedict and the Catholic Church in the weeks since he announced his retirement has been bizarre â relentless negativity punctuated by often inappropriate humor and personal attacks.
From Benedictâs Feb. 11 resignation through the evening of Feb. 27, the day before it took effect, the networks referred to the Catholic Church as a troubled institution 122 times and aired the word âscandalâ 87 times in 112 reports. Anchors and reporters suggested that the Church must modernize (32 times) and pressed for change in issues regarding women (7 times) and gays (13 times). At times, they trivialized the first resignation of a Pope since the 1500s as âworthy of a Dan Brown novel.â(ABCâs Harris again.) and sensationalized it by entertaining theories about other reasons Benedict might be stepping down.
The night before the Popeâs resignation took effect, ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos said he was âknown as Godâs Rottweiler.â
The networks also aired jokes from late-night comics about the Pope and the church, and even asked a comedian for his thoughts on the resignation.
Network bias against the church and traditional Catholicism has never been so clearly apparent as in these few weeks ending Benedict XVIâs papacy.
Laughing the Pope Away
Christians have long suspected that most of what media types know about the faith comes from comic monologues and satirical TV shows. Over the last few weeks, the networks have done their best to confirm it, choosing to air seven jokes about Benedict and the Catholic Church from late night comics.
The most inappropriate injection of comedy into the story came from CBS âThis Morningâ on Feb. 22, during an appearance by comic George Lopez. Lopez, although a Catholic, has repeatedly cracked pedophilia jokes about the church in the past. So of course CBS anchor Norah OâDonnell treated him as an authority on Catholicism, asking, âDo you think weâre going to have a Hispanic Pope?â Lopez had hope, because, after all, âThereâs enough room for his children [in the Vatican].â
Lopez only went downhill from there. He gnawed at the Popeâs resignation saying, âBut first of all, with the Pope now, you donât quit. Listen, thereâs no crying in baseball.â At OâDonnellâs prompting he went on, âThereâs no quitting in Catholicism.â Lopez then said he didnât believe the Popeâs health was the real reasons for his resignation. âYou canât throw in the holy towel and say, listen, Iâm concerned about my health.â Instead, Benedict is âbeing squeezed out by some bad cardinals.â
Over at NBCâs âTodayâ show February12, the hosts expressed a particular appreciation for Jimmy Fallon. They aired a Fallon spoof of a Twitter war between the Dalai Lama and Pope Benedict XVI calling each other names. Willie Geist summarized one of the Popeâs âtweets:â âMy hat is dope says the Pope.â Natalie Morales immediately added, âWe love Jimmy Fallon. We love it. Heâs so creative.â
CBS âThis Morningâ and âTodayâ aired a piece of âSaturday Night Liveâ concerning
the Popeâs resignation on February 18. CBS showed a greater extension of the
clip, beginning with a man declaring, âThere is no God.â SNLâs Jason Sudeikis
replied, âHey, hey, there is a God. He has not abandoned us, OK. All right.
Letâs see whatâs in the news. The Pope resigned. Oh, lord.â
Fallon material turned up again on âThis Morningâ February 12, saying that for
Lent, âSome Catholics will give up chocolates. Some Catholics will give up
alcohol and one Catholic is giving up being Pope.â
next day, âThis Morningâ showed a clip of Jimmy Kimmel quipping about
Benedictâs next occupation: âWhat will the Pope do for â for work from now on?
He could become the most over qualified Wal-Mart greeter of all time âŚâ
Morningâ featured Conan OâBrien twice, on February 12 and February 21. In the
first clip, OâBrien commented on the Popeâs surprising resignation, âYes, a
pretty dramatic change. It means heâll go from wearing a robe all day to
wearing a robe all day.â The second clip showed him turning the papal conclave
into a baseball game: âItâs being reported that the next Pope could be a
cardinal from Boston, which means the Vatican
may soon endorse birth control but only for Yankee fans.â
Letterman also made an appearance on âThis Morningâ in a clip where he said
âThe Vatican is already holding auditions to see who might be the next Pope.
And we â we have one of those auditionsâŚâ The clip ended before proceeding to
Lettermanâs Vatican audition skit, which
turned the cardinalsâ conclave into an acrobatic exhibition.
The jokes themselves were mostly inoffensive, and theyâre entirely appropriate for late-night talk shows. But to choose to feature them on news programs shows a lack of seriousness and respect. Itâs difficult to imagine those shows yucking it up about an important event in any other faith â especially Islam. The Pope is the spiritual father of Catholicism, beloved by the faithful. He, and they, deserve more respect from ânewsâ organizations. Continues after the video.
ABC, Stranger than Fiction
The media donât think much of the real Church and the real
Vatican, but theyâre wild for the fictional and fantastic depictions of
Catholicism that author Dan Brown specializes in, especially ABC.
novel, âThe Da Vinci Code,â which he maintained was â90 percent true,â brutally attacked the center of Christianity and painted the Church as a
sinister, patriarchal conspiracy to cover up the fact that Jesus wasnât God,
was married, and had a lot of dopey New Age ideas about something called âthe
sacred feminine.â No wonder itâs a touchstone for ABCâs journalists.
in September when a slip of ancient papyrus surfaced that supposedly quoted
Jesus talking about His wife, ABCâs Elizabeth Vargas breathlessly touted
the fragment: âReal-life âDa Vinci Code.â Christianityâs biggest mysteries
about to be solved. The tiny scrap of paper that could prove Jesus had a wife.
Why this faded fragment might solve an age old question.â Diane Sawyer cooed
that it was an âancient clue âŚ right out of the âDa Vinci Code.ââ
âGospel of Jesusâ Wifeâ turned out to be a forgery. Whatâs not fake is ABCâs enthusiasm
for referencing Brown and his fable in coverage of the Church. On Feb. 12,
âGood Morning Americaâsâ Dan Harris likened the Popeâs resignation to âThe Da
Vinci Code,â saying, âBenedictâs surprise decision has provoked Vatican intrigue worthy of a Dan Brown novel.â
the intellectual and verbal laziness viewers have come to expect from TV news,
Harris did it again the next evening on âWorld News with Diane Sawyer.â âThe
local papers here [in Italy] read like a Dan Brown novel, teeming with
unsubstantiated talk about Benedict being driven out by internal intrigue.â
colleague David Wright caught the Brown Bug on February 25. During âGood
Morning America,â Wright noted without irony that the Vatican accused the press
of âbringing political intrigue into what should be a sacred process.â In the
next sentence, stated the how the âItalian papers read like a Dan Brown novel âŚâ
Later, on âWorld News with Diane Sawyer,â he commented on the Vatileaks
investigation, declaring, âThis is beginning to sound like a Dan Brown novel.â
Trouble and Scandal
as Far as the Eye can See
Sadly for the gang at ABC, the church is nothing like a Dan Brown novel. On the bright side, theyâve been able to console themselves with the institutionâs real problems â an opportunity the networks rarely failed to grasp.
In the three broadcast networksâ 112 reports since Benedict resigned, there have been 122 mentions of a church in trouble. Reports have referred to âscandalâ 87 times. By network accounts, nothing happened in the church during Benedictâs eight-year papacy except scandal, dysfunction and failure.
CBS correspondent Allen Pizzey stressed on the âEvening Newsâ that, â[Pope Benedict XVI] leaves behind a Vatican beset by troublesâŚâ Anchor Scott Pelley endorsed Pizzeyâs comments, saying, âWhoever that successor is, Allen Pizzey tells us he will be inheriting a church in turmoil.
the Popeâs clear explanation that his health is the reason for his resignation,
the networks couldnât help speculating on whether the sex abuse scandals, the
Vatileaks or other unseemly situations had brought it on.
Norah OâDonnell and Georgetown College Dean Chester Gillis also provided
insight on February 11âs âThis Morning.â When OâDonnell asked if the Popeâs
resignation linked to the sexual abuse scandals, Gillis responded, âOh, I think
everything has something to do with it.â Author John Thavis agreed
on CBSâs âEvening Newsâ on February 25, saying âIt all forms a burden, I think that was placed on
Pope Benedict XVI, and so I think it all went into his decision to resign.â
When asked about the kind of man likely to succeed Benedict, Thavis said, âI think the cardinals are going to want someone who is strong enough, so that he wonât be victimized by all of the malfeasance going on around him inside the Vatican walls.â
19, Pizzey seemed to suggest that Benedict is going on the lam to avoid court. âBecause the Vatican is a
sovereign territory it will also make it impossible for lawyers to try to sue
or prosecute him for the sex abuse scandals ...â A couple days later, on Feb.
22, Pizzey said on the same show, âBy the time his successor has to
confront it (inquiry of Vatileaks), Benedict will be here â the papal summer
residence of Castle Gandolfo.â
Pizzey was at it again on the Feb. 22 âThis Morning,â saying âSpeculation and evidence as to why Benedict decided enough was enough continues to swirl here with reporting focusing on an inquiry by three cardinals into the so-called Vatileaks scandal.â Yes, âevidenceâ from an alleged claim by an Italian tabloid.
CBSâs Gayle King continued to connect the dots, asking, âWe are hearing a lot about the Popeâs health in the wake of his retirement, but what about the health of the church?â on February 19âs âThis Morning.
Pollster and political analyst Frank Luntz convened a CBS
Catholic discussion group on âThis Morning,â Feb. 19. Luntz asked questions like, âWho in this room
would be uncomfortable leaving their children with a priest?â
a Feb. 24 segment, Pizzey reminded viewers, âThe ex-Pope has to disappear
during the conclave even if the scandals that plagued his reign will be in
the Feb. 12 âThis Morning,â speaking with the Archdiocese of Washingtonâs
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, CBS anchor Charlie Rose made the conclave of cardinals who
will elect the next Pope sound more like the selection of a Democratic Chicago
alderman. âI mean, everything weâve ever read about the selection of a Pope
suggests that that there are people who look at this election and the kind of
person who may be Pope having to do with their own agenda for the church and
that there is in-fighting, there is lobbying, there is ambition, there is a
sense of destiny for the church.â
Will the Next Pope be Catholic?
Part of the Churchâs problem, apart from the scandals the networks never tire of remind viewers of, is that its losing practitioners in Europe and the United Sates. And the reason, according to liberal journalists, is the church under Benedictâs guidance has been, well, too Catholic.
So the networks weaved their liberal agenda into the threads
of coverage, calling for the modernization of the church (32 times) and
pressing for change in issues regarding women (7 times) and gays (13 times).
Always there was the assumption that the orthodox Benedict had been the
stumbling block to the kind of liberal change anchors and correspondents deem
the Feb. 12 CBS âThe Morning,â Pizzey stressed this theme. âHe cannot take part
in a conclave to choose his successor but his influence will be felt in what is
being seen as a battle between liberals and conservatives to chart the future
of the church âŚâ
a Feb. 11 segment of ABCâs âWorld News,â anchor Diane Sawyer, lectured New York
Cardinal Timothy Dolan on the need for change. âWhat would you like to see this
next Pope be and do in order to be as inclusive as possible of the American
church and the American views on these social issues?â she asked before adding,
âThere has to be fundamental change.â Shockingly, the Cardinal disagreed.
day ABC correspondent Jeffrey Kofman explained during told Sawyer that Benedict
âmay have been the first Pope to tweet, but as the leader, he tried to hold
back the forces of modernity, refusing to expand the role of women.â ABCâs Cecilia
Vega expressed the same concern during the same segment: âPope Benedict may
have taken a hard line against everything from gay marriage to abortion.â
Also on Feb. 11, NBC anchor Brian Williams said on âNightly Newsâ that Benedictâs resignation could bring on âpossibly a huge period of change.â Correspondent Ann Thompson underlined that point: âSome express the hope a new leader might mean a new attitude about women and married priests or human sexuality.â
That day, ABCâs Cecilia Vega âspent the day gathering American reaction from all over,â according to Sawyer. That reaction was fairly predictable. âFor many American Catholics a world away from the Vatican, there is devotion to a centuries-old institution,â she said. âBut for many others, today meant hope for a modern beginning.â She then took viewers on a tour of the country where â surprise! â she found people who said âsociety is leaving the Church way behind,â who wanted the Church to âallow women the opportunity to become a priest,â and a wanted a Pope âmore accepting of gay people.â