I didn’t go to the Catholic News Agency’s web site tonight looking for a media bias column; I usually go there to find “positivity” posts for my home blog. When I clicked on an item with an intriguing title (“The Pope’s Young Army”), I expected that the author, Father Robert Barron, would regale me with inspiring vignettes from the Pope’s recently completed World Youth Day in Madrid.
Well, at first he did just that. But then Father Barron’s fine column took an interesting turn. Check out his reactions to how the international press covered the event, and his remarkably insightful conclusions (bolds are mine; additional paragraph breaks added by me):
I would like to focus my reflections on a phenomenon that would actually be funny if it weren’t so tragic. I’m talking about the mainstream media’s extraordinary capacity to miss the point.
Every night that I was in Madrid, I would return to my room after an incomparably rich day moving among the throngs of pilgrims and I would watch the news on CNN and the BBC. World Youth Day was, invariably, among the top stories, but the coverage was, not to put too fine a point on it, just bizarre. “Protestors descend on Madrid as the Pope arrives,” the BBC announcer would gravely intone; “The Pope was met today with strong opposition from secularists, gay rights activists, and Spaniards angry over World Youth Day’s cost to taxpayers,” the CNN anchorwoman would say, frowning into the camera.
By the admission of the news reporters themselves, the number of protestors never reached beyond a few thousand, and not one event of World Youth Day was interrupted in the least by their demonstrations. There were, at most, a few scuffles between pilgrims and the protestors.
But judging from the tone of the coverage, the average listener in the UK or the United States would have concluded that the Chicago riots of 1968 had broken out in the streets of Madrid. I actually laughed out loud when I focused in on some video of a “confrontation” between protestors and World Youth Day participants and noticed that at least half of the people in the picture were camera crews and reporters!
A million and a half young Catholics from all over the world come to celebrate their faith and to declare their solidarity with the Pope—and the networks obsess over a handful of protestors! I know that controversy sells papers and pleases sponsors, but anyone who was on the ground for World Youth Day couldn’t help but conclude there was something more at work in the gross discrepancy between reality and reportage.
The dirty little secret is that the actual World Youth Day doesn’t fit the standard secularist narrative, according to which Catholicism is a corrupt, backward-looking, moribund ideology, destined to fade away as science advances and subjectivist moral relativism becomes normative. A small percentage of priests engage in sexually deviant behavior? Blanket coverage. An international army of young people marches through the hot sun and then sits patiently through a rainstorm to see the Pope? Ho-hum. That’s called reporting the news according to a set of fairly rigid ideological assumptions and imperatives.
The Catholic Church—at least in the West—is passing through a dark period, largely of its own making. But has the Catholic Church lost the future? The mainstream media wants you to think so. But any of those who experienced World Youth Day first hand would say, “Don’t you believe it.”
The good priest’s take on the establishment press’s mindset is well-stated and spot-on. Excellent job, Father Barron.
Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.