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"60 Minutes" and the Vatican Hater

While so many in the media have found it outrageous that Bill Clinton could be accused of having "blood on his hands" over administration inaction on violence in America, for CBS it is perfectly acceptable - even worthy of nationwide TV promotion - to charge a Pope had the blood of six million Holocaust victims on his.

On March 19, CBS's "60 Minutes" promoted the book "Hitler's Pope," by British journalist John Cornwell. If an author of Cornwell's disposition were writing about Bill Clinton, CBS would have no trouble dismissing him as a "Clinton hater," as a vicious tool of a "vast right-wing conspiracy."

Cornwell could be portrayed as a professional "Vatican hater," but CBS reporter Ed Bradley promoted him as a "practicing Catholic." The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights begs to differ, arguing that Cornwell said in 1991 he was "increasingly convinced that human beings were morally, psychologically, and materially better off without a belief in God....As I entered middle age nothing short of a miracle could have shaken these firm convictions."

How CBS finds this unshakeable atheism the thinking of a "practicing Catholic" is truly beyond logic. It is, however, firmly in keeping with Cornwell's blatant anti-Catholicism. In a previous book exploring whether Pope John Paul I was murdered in 1978, Time noted Cornwell portrayed the Vatican as "a palace of gossipy eunuchs" and "a sea of brilliant bitchery."

No matter. "60 Minutes" wanted to smear the Catholic Church and its Pope. Ed Bradley devoted most of his piece to Cornwell's theories, with backing from Jewish activist Gerhard Reigner of the World Jewish Congress. He dutifully interviewed Vatican expert Peter Gumpel, who said the book was "totally worthless." This, the network would have us believe, is "balance." But CBS gave credence to the utterly false charge that Pope Pius XII didn't lift a finger to prevent the killing of Jews during World War II, and that this happened because he was an anti-Semite who felt the Jews deserved everything they received - a slander of the highest order.

The low point came when Bradley explained: "Cornwell says that the turning point in his research came when he found a letter written by the future pope when he was a papal representative in Germany after the First World War. In it, he poured scorn on the physical characteristics of a group of Jewish socialists, describing their leader as 'pale, dirty, with drugged eyes, vulgar, repulsive, with a face that is both intelligent and sly.'"

Then Cornwell dragged out the smears: "It was the sort of expression that would-one would find in "Mein Kampf" during the same period." Ed Bradley underlined his emphasis: "So you're saying that what Hitler wrote would have been similar to what Pius XII - the man who would become Pius XII - wrote?" Cornwell: "Absolutely."

This was hardly the verdict of Newsweek religion specialist Kenneth Woodward, who reviewed "Hitler's Pope" last fall. He not only called Cornwell's charge of Pope Pius's anti-Semitism "bizarre," he called the book "a classic example of what happens when an ill-equipped journalist assumes the airs of sober scholarship...Errors of fact and ignorance of context appear on all most every page. Cornwell questions [Pope Pius's] every motive, but never doubts those who tell a different story. This is bogus scholarship, filled with nonexistent secrets, aimed to shock."

Woodward explained that Cornwell ignored how Allied planes dropped 88,000 copies of the Pope's first encyclical over Germany hoping to get his guarded anti-Nazi message to the people. He also noted Cornwell acknowledges that Pius XII put himself and the Catholic Church in danger by secretly aiding a 1940 plot to overthrow Hitler. Do these sound to anyone like the record of "Hitler's Pope"?

Unfortunately for CBS viewers, this is the second time this year that "60 Minutes" has offered free publicity to sloppy, unsubstantiated authors making wild and reckless charges. On February 13, Lesley Stahl interviewed J. H. Hatfield, whose book "Fortunate Son" made the unproven allegation that George W. Bush was convicted of cocaine use in the 1970s. CBS promoted the segment on its Web site, suggesting Hatfield would explain that his inconvenient conviction for ordering a car bombing shouldn't hurt his credibility as an author. Although Lesley Stahl was tough on Hatfield, CBS aired the segment just in time for the release of a new edition of Hatfield's book.

Our national media claim to pride themselves on devotion to solid, substantiated journalism no matter where it leads. But outlets like "60 Minutes" show you that today's reporters are often more interested in inflicting pain and disrepute on institutions like the Catholic Church , even if "60 Minutes" insults 60 million American Catholics in the process.