Bashing Benedict: Networks Make Pope Butt of Jokes, Center of Scandal
A Church In Trouble: Since the Pope‚Äôs resignation announcement, networks have characterized the Catholic Church as ‚Äútroubled 122 times and used the word ‚Äúscandal‚ÄĚ 87 times.
Catholics Must Get With The Times: ABC, CBS and NBC have pushed for the church to be more liberal ‚Äď calling for church to ‚Äúmodernize‚ÄĚ 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 ‚Ä¶ 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 Brown‚Äôs ‚ÄúDa Vinci Code‚ÄĚ 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 doesn‚Äôt 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 ‚Äúhard-liner‚ÄĚ for ‚Äústrenuously condemning divorce, homosexuality, and abortion,‚ÄĚ as ABC‚Äôs Dan Harris put it in 2008. But the broadcast networks‚Äô coverage of Benedict and the Catholic Church in the weeks since he announced his retirement has been bizarre ‚Äď relentless negativity punctuated by often inappropriate humor and personal attacks.
From Benedict‚Äôs 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 ‚Äúscandal‚ÄĚ 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 ‚Äúworthy of a Dan Brown novel.‚ÄĚ(ABC‚Äôs Harris again.) and sensationalized it by entertaining theories about other reasons Benedict might be stepping down.
The night before the Pope‚Äôs resignation took effect, ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos said he was ‚Äúknown as God‚Äôs Rottweiler.‚ÄĚ
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 XVI‚Äôs 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 ‚ÄúThis Morning‚ÄĚ 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 O‚ÄôDonnell treated him as an authority on Catholicism, asking, ‚ÄúDo you think we‚Äôre going to have a Hispanic Pope?‚ÄĚ Lopez had hope, because, after all, ‚ÄúThere‚Äôs enough room for his children [in the Vatican].‚ÄĚ
Lopez only went downhill from there. He gnawed at the Pope‚Äôs resignation saying, ‚ÄúBut first of all, with the Pope now, you don‚Äôt quit. Listen, there‚Äôs no crying in baseball.‚ÄĚ At O‚ÄôDonnell‚Äôs prompting he went on, ‚ÄúThere‚Äôs no quitting in Catholicism.‚ÄĚ Lopez then said he didn‚Äôt believe the Pope‚Äôs health was the real reasons for his resignation. ‚ÄúYou can‚Äôt throw in the holy towel and say, listen, I‚Äôm concerned about my health.‚ÄĚ Instead, Benedict is ‚Äúbeing squeezed out by some bad cardinals.‚ÄĚ
Over at NBC‚Äôs ‚ÄúToday‚ÄĚ 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 Pope‚Äôs ‚Äútweets:‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúMy hat is dope says the Pope.‚ÄĚ Natalie Morales immediately added, ‚ÄúWe love Jimmy Fallon. We love it. He‚Äôs so creative.‚ÄĚ
CBS ‚ÄúThis Morning‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúToday‚ÄĚ aired a piece of ‚ÄúSaturday Night Live‚ÄĚ concerning
the Pope‚Äôs resignation on February 18. CBS showed a greater extension of the
clip, beginning with a man declaring, ‚ÄúThere is no God.‚ÄĚ SNL‚Äôs Jason Sudeikis
replied, ‚ÄúHey, hey, there is a God. He has not abandoned us, OK. All right.
Let‚Äôs see what‚Äôs in the news. The Pope resigned. Oh, lord.‚ÄĚ
Fallon material turned up again on ‚ÄúThis Morning‚ÄĚ February 12, saying that for
Lent, ‚ÄúSome Catholics will give up chocolates. Some Catholics will give up
alcohol and one Catholic is giving up being Pope.‚ÄĚ
next day, ‚ÄúThis Morning‚ÄĚ showed a clip of Jimmy Kimmel quipping about
Benedict‚Äôs next occupation: ‚ÄúWhat will the Pope do for ‚Äď for work from now on?
He could become the most over qualified Wal-Mart greeter of all time ‚Ä¶‚ÄĚ
Morning‚ÄĚ featured Conan O‚ÄôBrien twice, on February 12 and February 21. In the
first clip, O‚ÄôBrien commented on the Pope‚Äôs surprising resignation, ‚ÄúYes, a
pretty dramatic change. It means he‚Äôll go from wearing a robe all day to
wearing a robe all day.‚ÄĚ The second clip showed him turning the papal conclave
into a baseball game: ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs 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.‚ÄĚ
Letterman also made an appearance on ‚ÄúThis Morning‚ÄĚ in a clip where he said
‚ÄúThe Vatican is already holding auditions to see who might be the next Pope.
And we ‚Äď we have one of those auditions‚Ä¶‚ÄĚ The clip ended before proceeding to
Letterman‚Äôs Vatican audition skit, which
turned the cardinals‚Äô conclave into an acrobatic exhibition.
The jokes themselves were mostly inoffensive, and they‚Äôre entirely appropriate for late-night talk shows. But to choose to feature them on news programs shows a lack of seriousness and respect. It‚Äôs difficult to imagine those shows yucking it up about an important event in any other faith ‚Äď especially Islam. The Pope is the spiritual father of Catholicism, beloved by the faithful. He, and they, deserve more respect from ‚Äúnews‚ÄĚ organizations. Continues after the video.
ABC, Stranger than Fiction
The media don‚Äôt think much of the real Church and the real
Vatican, but they‚Äôre wild for the fictional and fantastic depictions of
Catholicism that author Dan Brown specializes in, especially ABC.
novel, ‚ÄúThe Da Vinci Code,‚ÄĚ which he maintained was ‚Äú90 percent true,‚ÄĚ brutally attacked the center of Christianity and painted the Church as a
sinister, patriarchal conspiracy to cover up the fact that Jesus wasn‚Äôt God,
was married, and had a lot of dopey New Age ideas about something called ‚Äúthe
sacred feminine.‚ÄĚ No wonder it‚Äôs a touchstone for ABC‚Äôs journalists.
in September when a slip of ancient papyrus surfaced that supposedly quoted
Jesus talking about His wife, ABC‚Äôs Elizabeth Vargas breathlessly touted
the fragment: ‚ÄúReal-life ‚ÄėDa Vinci Code.‚Äô Christianity‚Äôs 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.‚ÄĚ Diane Sawyer cooed
that it was an ‚Äúancient clue ‚Ä¶ right out of the ‚ÄėDa Vinci Code.‚Äô‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúGospel of Jesus‚Äô Wife‚ÄĚ turned out to be a forgery. What‚Äôs not fake is ABC‚Äôs enthusiasm
for referencing Brown and his fable in coverage of the Church. On Feb. 12,
‚ÄúGood Morning America‚Äôs‚ÄĚ Dan Harris likened the Pope‚Äôs resignation to ‚ÄúThe Da
Vinci Code,‚ÄĚ saying, ‚ÄúBenedict‚Äôs surprise decision has provoked Vatican intrigue worthy of a Dan Brown novel.‚ÄĚ
the intellectual and verbal laziness viewers have come to expect from TV news,
Harris did it again the next evening on ‚ÄúWorld News with Diane Sawyer.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúThe
local papers here [in Italy] read like a Dan Brown novel, teeming with
unsubstantiated talk about Benedict being driven out by internal intrigue.‚ÄĚ
colleague David Wright caught the Brown Bug on February 25. During ‚ÄúGood
Morning America,‚ÄĚ Wright noted without irony that the Vatican accused the press
of ‚Äúbringing political intrigue into what should be a sacred process.‚ÄĚ In the
next sentence, stated the how the ‚ÄúItalian papers read like a Dan Brown novel ‚Ä¶‚ÄĚ
Later, on ‚ÄúWorld News with Diane Sawyer,‚ÄĚ he commented on the Vatileaks
investigation, declaring, ‚ÄúThis is beginning to sound like a Dan Brown novel.‚ÄĚ
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, they‚Äôve been able to console themselves with the institution‚Äôs real problems ‚Äď an opportunity the networks rarely failed to grasp.
In the three broadcast networks‚Äô 112 reports since Benedict resigned, there have been 122 mentions of a church in trouble. Reports have referred to ‚Äúscandal‚ÄĚ 87 times. By network accounts, nothing happened in the church during Benedict‚Äôs eight-year papacy except scandal, dysfunction and failure.
CBS correspondent Allen Pizzey stressed on the ‚ÄúEvening News‚ÄĚ that, ‚Äú[Pope Benedict XVI] leaves behind a Vatican beset by troubles‚Ä¶‚ÄĚ Anchor Scott Pelley endorsed Pizzey‚Äôs comments, saying, ‚ÄúWhoever that successor is, Allen Pizzey tells us he will be inheriting a church in turmoil.
the Pope‚Äôs clear explanation that his health is the reason for his resignation,
the networks couldn‚Äôt help speculating on whether the sex abuse scandals, the
Vatileaks or other unseemly situations had brought it on.
Norah O‚ÄôDonnell and Georgetown College Dean Chester Gillis also provided
insight on February 11‚Äôs ‚ÄúThis Morning.‚ÄĚ When O‚ÄôDonnell asked if the Pope‚Äôs
resignation linked to the sexual abuse scandals, Gillis responded, ‚ÄúOh, I think
everything has something to do with it.‚ÄĚ Author John Thavis agreed
on CBS‚Äôs ‚ÄúEvening News‚ÄĚ on February 25, saying ‚ÄúIt 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.‚ÄĚ
When asked about the kind of man likely to succeed Benedict, Thavis said, ‚ÄúI think the cardinals are going to want someone who is strong enough, so that he won‚Äôt be victimized by all of the malfeasance going on around him inside the Vatican walls.‚ÄĚ
19, Pizzey seemed to suggest that Benedict is going on the lam to avoid court. ‚ÄúBecause 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 ...‚ÄĚ A couple days later, on Feb.
22, Pizzey said on the same show, ‚ÄúBy the time his successor has to
confront it (inquiry of Vatileaks), Benedict will be here ‚Äď the papal summer
residence of Castle Gandolfo.‚ÄĚ
Pizzey was at it again on the Feb. 22 ‚ÄúThis Morning,‚ÄĚ saying ‚ÄúSpeculation 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.‚ÄĚ Yes, ‚Äúevidence‚ÄĚ from an alleged claim by an Italian tabloid.
CBS‚Äôs Gayle King continued to connect the dots, asking, ‚ÄúWe are hearing a lot about the Pope‚Äôs health in the wake of his retirement, but what about the health of the church?‚ÄĚ on February 19‚Äôs ‚ÄúThis Morning.
Pollster and political analyst Frank Luntz convened a CBS
Catholic discussion group on ‚ÄúThis Morning,‚ÄĚ Feb. 19. Luntz asked questions like, ‚ÄúWho in this room
would be uncomfortable leaving their children with a priest?‚ÄĚ
a Feb. 24 segment, Pizzey reminded viewers, ‚ÄúThe ex-Pope has to disappear
during the conclave even if the scandals that plagued his reign will be in
the Feb. 12 ‚ÄúThis Morning,‚ÄĚ speaking with the Archdiocese of Washington‚Äôs
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. ‚ÄúI mean, everything we‚Äôve 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.‚ÄĚ
Will the Next Pope be Catholic?
Part of the Church‚Äôs 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 Benedict‚Äôs 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 ‚ÄúThe Morning,‚ÄĚ Pizzey stressed this theme. ‚ÄúHe 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 ‚Ä¶‚ÄĚ
a Feb. 11 segment of ABC‚Äôs ‚ÄúWorld News,‚ÄĚ anchor Diane Sawyer, lectured New York
Cardinal Timothy Dolan on the need for change. ‚ÄúWhat 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?‚ÄĚ she asked before adding,
‚ÄúThere has to be fundamental change.‚ÄĚ Shockingly, the Cardinal disagreed.
day ABC correspondent Jeffrey Kofman explained during told Sawyer that Benedict
‚Äúmay 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.‚ÄĚ ABC‚Äôs Cecilia
Vega expressed the same concern during the same segment: ‚ÄúPope Benedict may
have taken a hard line against everything from gay marriage to abortion.‚ÄĚ
Also on Feb. 11, NBC anchor Brian Williams said on ‚ÄúNightly News‚ÄĚ that Benedict‚Äôs resignation could bring on ‚Äúpossibly a huge period of change.‚ÄĚ Correspondent Ann Thompson underlined that point: ‚ÄúSome express the hope a new leader might mean a new attitude about women and married priests or human sexuality.‚ÄĚ
That day, ABC‚Äôs Cecilia Vega ‚Äúspent the day gathering American reaction from all over,‚ÄĚ according to Sawyer. That reaction was fairly predictable. ‚ÄúFor many American Catholics a world away from the Vatican, there is devotion to a centuries-old institution,‚ÄĚ she said. ‚ÄúBut for many others, today meant hope for a modern beginning.‚ÄĚ She then took viewers on a tour of the country where ‚Äď surprise! ‚Äď she found people who said ‚Äúsociety is leaving the Church way behind,‚ÄĚ who wanted the Church to ‚Äúallow women the opportunity to become a priest,‚ÄĚ and a wanted a Pope ‚Äúmore accepting of gay people.‚ÄĚ