Mother Teresa died ten years ago this week, just days after Princess Diana perished in a car crash, displaying a very interesting comparison in media reactions. Princess Diana, molded by so much positive publicity over the years into a "secular saint" when she died, drew superior coverage, both in amount and in tone. Mother Teresa's publicity was also very positive over the years, of course, but the media seemed more willing to solicit harsh criticism of her life, even at the time of her death. Brent Bozell chronicled that story in his column ten years ago:
In a sense, it was fitting that Mother Teresa's death should come five days into this frenzy, if that's what it would take to sober us up and put the world back into its proper perspective. In today's celebrity-dominated network "news," perhaps it's too much to expect reports of Mother Teresa's death not to be drowned out by the unceasing Diana juggernaut. Only ABC led with Mother Teresa the evening of her death. That night, NBC devoted seven times as many minutes to Diana as Mother Teresa, CBS three times. As one "network insider" noted to the Hollywood newspaper Variety, Mother Teresa "wasn't even a blip on our radar screen compared to Diana."
But what was really stunning was the quality of coverage, comparatively. News reporters have devoted untold hours to wholly uncritical stories on Diana's good works, both real and imagined. (Didn't anyone have the courage to report how pointless, no matter how well-intentioned, were Diana's calls for a worldwide ban on land mines with monsters like Saddam Hussein being responsible for the atrocities?)
No such treatment, remarkably, awaited Mother Teresa. Her primary concern - protecting the sanctity of life - was first simply ignored, and then along with her other "fundamentalist Catholic" beliefs, made into controversy.
On the "Today" show, Newsweek religion writer Kenneth Woodward noted "She said any country that allows abortion the way this country does commits violence and she said this to a President and a First Lady whose one consistent principle was choice." (Note which party in this exchange was driven by opinion, and which by "principle.") To which, Matt Lauer added: "And many people were critical of that. Other critics chimed in because of the fact that she would take money and sometimes appeared she had tunnel vision. She would help the individual in front of her without stopping to look back at the larger picture that surrounded her in a particular country."
On CNN, reporter Richard Blystone quickly identified Mother Teresa as the enemy of Earth worship: "The forceful personality and unswerving beliefs put her in conflict with several Western liberal ideals. Among them, the notion that feeding the poor only perpetuates poverty, and hunger should be attacked at its root with seeds and hoes and population control. Not her job, she said.... And her opposition to contraception, divorce and abortion drew active and vocal criticism, but she was not to be turned."
But the most classless media attacks on Mother Teresa came from National Public Radio, especially Scott Simon's "All Things Considered" obituary on the night she died, which awarded a platform to the wretched Christopher Hitchens and his book-length, tastelessly titled attack, "The Missionary Position."
Simon declared: "It wasn't her support of the Church so much as her tolerance of tyrants and criminals that began to draw criticism in the 1980s. She accepted millions for her missions from the dictatorial Duvalier family in Haiti, and from convicted savings and loan executive Charles Keating in the United States....Hitchens criticized Mother Teresa's enthusiasm for the dignity of poverty as 'Middle Age theology,' a destructive comfort to keep people poor, rather than give them the means or inspiration to rise up." There you have it: the life of an angel, reduced to dirt by a reprehensible Marxist guttersnipe.
The coverage of Mother Teresa's death illustrates the anxieties of a secular liberal media. MSNBC proclaimed Diana a "secular saint," whatever that means, and the rest of the media echoed that same spirit in their reports. Now suddenly faced with having to cover a real one, their discomfort was palpable.
Several years ago, Mother Teresa came to Washington, DC, and I had the honor to hear her speak before a standing-room-only audience. In that heavily accented voice, she begged America to embrace the sanctity of life. Words could never do justice to the visual when this stooped, diminutive, old lady with the weather-beaten face begged America to end the slaughter of the unborn. "And if you don't want your babies," she said sadly, before stretching out her frail arms and bursting into a glorious, welcoming smile, "give them to me!"
The cameras were all there that day, and captured the moment, but that night no one reported it. How sad that they didn't see - and many still don't realize - that right before our very eyes was the Saint of the Gutters, the face of God.
Rest in peace, gentle lady.