The final count is in. From the day of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation announcement to the day of his retirement, the networks unabashedly attacked the pope and the Catholic Church, adding to a pope resignation coverage tally of referencing the church as troubled 157 times and using the world “scandal” 105 times in 118 reports.
A previous Culture and Media Institute tally noted the frequency ABC, CBS, and NBC referred to the church as troubled, aired the word “scandal,” and ran late night comedy show clips cracking pope jokes. Pressing for church modernization and calling for a change in regards to women and gays also made the list.
Add in analysis of coverage Feb.28, the day of Pope Benedict XVI’s retirement, and the grand total came to calling the church troubled 157 times, using scandal 105 times, airing late night show jokes 9 times, calling for church modernization 38 times, with references to women 8 times and gays 18 times.
Late night comedians are all fun and games, but when show clips appeared during the news with pope jokes on a regular basis – nine times during the pope’s retirement transition – the giggles seemed more like digs.
The laughs continued the day of the pope’s resignation, February 28, on CBS “This Morning.” The first clip featured Jon Stewart’s commentary on Pope Benedict XVI: “This guy could just make himself pope again by clicking his heels together three times – and repeating ‘there’s no place like Rome.’”
Jimmy Fallon appeared in the second clip to wipe away audience worries, saying, “Pope Benedict said he is not abandoning the Catholic Church, like most Catholics, he’ll be back for Christmas and Easter.”
The Church: Scandalous Trouble
Lest viewers forget that the Church has its problems, the networks dwelled on the negative and played up scandals.
For Pope Benedict XVI’s retirement, ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos began the trend during “Good Morning America” and called Pope Benedict XVI’s role a “papacy, still shadowed by scandal” before pointing to the Italian press and suggesting the pope resigned after reports of various scandals. He also happened to be “struck by” John Thavis’ book, “The Vatican Diaries,” which noted that Pope Benedict XVI’s mission was to “decontaminate the church.”
Scandals trumped the pope’s departure as CBS’ Mark Phillips highlighted that “[Pope Benedict XVI] leaves people still demanding justice for children abused by clergy” during “Evening News.” “Nightly News” followed along as NBC anchor Brian Williams called the pope’s departure as “a television event by and for a Catholic Church actively dealing with scandal so close to the pope himself, that it has affected the very number of cardinals who will be allowed to vote on the new one.”
CBS’ foreign news correspondent Keir Simmons later noted, “The church has been plagued by scandals in recent years: stories of children sexually abused, by priests, cover ups, allegations of financial management, the pope’s butler leaking secret documents...”
CBS also demonstrated selective choices for experts to comment on the pope’s decision. “Evening News” featured Barbara Blaine, founder and president of the Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests. “This Morning” invited in Notre Dame Professor of Early Christianity Candida Moss, who also happened to write a book, “The Myth of Persecution,” which “reveals how the early church exaggerated, invented, and forged stories of Christian martyrs.” As CBS anchors Norah O’Donnell and Charlie Rose repeatedly questioned her on church reform and Vatican scandal, Moss said Americans see Pope Benedict XVI as a “traditional pope” with a “hard-line position on issues like abortion, contraception, and gay marriage” who was not attentive enough to “broken trust.”
The networks continued to shove change down the church’s throat and pushed for church modernization 32 times.
During “Good Morning America,” on February 28, ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos commented on author John Thavis’ suggestions for the Vatican to move forward, saying “makes for a modern papacy” and ABC anchor Diane Sawyer wondered if a pope might “emerge from the changing world” during “World News.”
In the End
The networks lavished the idea of covering the pope in scandal and attacking the Catholic Church. They even enjoyed adding a bit of exaggeration in the name of storytelling. In concluding his papal coverage, CBS anchor Scott Pelley, during “Evening News” described the end of Pope Benedict XVI’s papal role in the church: “And when the sun went down, Benedict’s reign came to an end – like a story out of scripture and a scene out of Hollywood.”
Hollywood, perhaps. The network coverage of the Pope’s resignation was as farcical, shallow, uninformed and contemptuous as a script churned out by left-wing Tinsel Town hacks.