CBS Most Egregious in Applying Ideological Labels to New Pope --4/20/2005
2. ABC & CBS Quick to Tag "Rottweiler" Ratzinger as "Controversial"
3. ABC's Gibson April 4: "Extreme Conservative Views" Doom Ratzinger
No honeymoon on CBS for the new Pope. All of the networks, broadcast and cable, on Tuesday afternoon and evening, focused at least some coverage on the conservative theological views of the new Pope, Joseph Ratzinger, and the disappointment by some Catholics, particularly women, in his selection. But none were more egregious in applying labels than the CBS Evening News which led with Mark Phillips asking: "He has taken the name of a healer, but where will this arch-conservative lead the Catholic Church?" Anchor Bob Schieffer tagged Ratzinger as "very conservative" before John Roberts described him as "a doctrinal conservative" and "an unswerving hardliner." Phillips then declared that "the cardinals picked the most polarizing figure in the Catholic Church" who has been "labeled by some as 'God's rottweiler.'" After all of that, Sharyn Alfonsi, whose story featured a Catholic woman lamenting how the new Pope is "very conservative," relayed how "some say...people have been too quick to label this Pope."
Nonetheless, Schieffer proceeded to tag Ratzinger as a "hardliner" and insisted that "a lot of American Catholics were looking for a Pope who might liberalize some of the rules of the Catholic church." Schieffer quizzed two Catholic experts about whether Ratzinger will change church rules on birth control, women in the priesthood or divorce.
Phillips ominously concluded his earlier story: "In the last U.S. election he said pro-choice candidates on the abortion question should be denied communion. In other words, denied salvation. As a Cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger took no prisoners. As the Pope, his policies now have the stamp of infallibility."
A rundown of papal coverage on the Tuesday, April 19 CBS Evening News as tracked by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth.
At the top of the newscast, from Rome reporter Mark Phillips teased his upcoming story: "He has taken the name of a healer, but where will this arch-conservative lead the Catholic Church? I'm Mark Phillips with that side of the story."
Anchor Bob Schieffer at CBS in New York City led the broadcast: "Well, it happened faster than anyone predicted -- just four votes over two days -- but in the end, the cardinals chose the man who was the heavy favorite in the beginning, Cardinal Ratzinger, the first Germanic Pope in a thousand years, the very conservative dean of the College of Cardinals who presided over the conclave itself. We have a team of correspondents in Rome again tonight, and we begin with John Roberts."
John Roberts, in Rome, ran through the day's events and concluded with these points: "In some ways, Ratzinger seemed destined for the job. He led the Pope's funeral, guided the cardinals through the nine days of mourning, and in the pre-conclave mass, projected an image of someone who was almost pre-ordained. And there was one other twist to the day's events: A doctrinal conservative, Ratzinger took his papal name from Benedict XV, a moderate -- an attempt, perhaps, to soften his reputation as an unswerving hardliner. From the moment he accepted the job, Benedict XVI assumed all the powers of the Pope. All that's left now is his ceremonial ascent to the throne of St. Peter, the inaugural mass planned for this Sunday."
Schieffer next set up a profile of the new Pope: "Pope Benedict is 78 years old, to be specific. He was 78 on Saturday. He was born in Bavaria. He was forced to join the Nazi youth movement at age 14, but he deserted the German Army during World War II and, for a time, was a prisoner of U.S. forces. He was ordained a priest in 1951. He became the bishop of Munich, was elevated to cardinal by Pope Paul VI, and John Paul II brought him to the Vatican, where Mark Phillips now picks up the story."
Over video of the new Pope addressing the crowd, with "Polarizing Figure" beneath, Phillips began: "In choosing Joseph Ratzinger, the cardinals picked the most polarizing figure in the Catholic Church. No one was more respected as the student of theology, but no one was more feared as a chief enforcer of Vatican orthodoxy."
Schieffer moved on to the American reaction: "The new Pope speaks perfect English and has been to the United States a number of times. CBS News correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi has been sampling the reaction of Catholics here to his election."
From a Manhattan street, Alfonsi reported: "From Milwaukee to Los Angeles to Miami, a symbolic welcome for the next pope, a man whose image in the U.S. is as clear as the sound of the bells that toll for him."
CBS then went to a taped segment of Schieffer sitting in a living room type chair opposite one guest with another on a TV screen in the background.
Schieffer explained: "To talk a little more about what American Catholics can expect from the new Pope, two men with considerable insight: In Washington, Monsignor Brian Ferme, Dean of canon law at Catholic University, who knew Cardinal Ratzinger while he was posted in the Vatican; and with me here in New York, Monsignor Bob Wister, professor of church history at Seton Hall.
ABC and CBS had a rapid response to the announcement of the new Pope in live coverage minutes after he appeared at the Vatican: He was an "extremely controversial choice," complained ABC's Cokie Roberts, because he "is seen by the world as the most conservative voice of Catholicism." George Stephanopoulos brought up Cardinal Ratzinger's "very controversial" position on denying communion to "pro-choice" politicians and ABC's producer in Germany asserted that "there's widespread doubt here that he will be able to overcome his reputation as the intimidating enforcer, punishing liberal thinkers and keeping the Church in the Middle Ages." On CBS, John Roberts quickly turned to the new nickname: "His conservative bent, his strict adherence to conservative Catholic doctrine has earned him the nickname in some circles as 'God's Rottweiler.'" Bob Schieffer dubbed him a "hardliner" and Mark Phillips called him a "polarizing" pick. CNN got into the act, with Jim Bittermann, who recited Ratzinger's "strict fundamentalist" and "hardline" views, calling him "a really astounding choice."
Much later in the day, on ABC's Nightline, Ted Koppel raised the "rottweiler" label and Cokie Roberts charged that Ratzinger is "really lacking in the theological virtue of charity."
After bringing up the "rottweiler" label with Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, who appeared from Rome, Koppel followed up: "I think people who use that particular epithet are concerned that this is a Pope who may be so conservative in his outlook, particularly to some of the social issues, that particularly here in North America, maybe it will take some doing before people can embrace Pope Benedict XVI, the way they embraced John Paul II. What are your thoughts on that?"
Later, Cokie Roberts opined: "But the problem, Ted, is that the Vatican II talked about church in different terms, talked about the church as people of God. And that includes all of us. It's not one guy sitting in Rome and saying this is the truth and handing it down. And to say that the church should be leaner, and the people who do not follow exactly what his dictates are should then just leave, is really lacking in the theological virtue of charity."
[Based on quotes provided by the MRC's Jessica Barnes and Brian Boyd, the MRC's Tim Graham submitted to CyberAlert the rundown below of ABC and CBS coverage, which was much more slanted than NBC's, in the half hour or so the broadcast networks stayed on the air after the new Pope appeared at about 12:40pm EDT.]
As the clock struck 1pm EDT, Charles Gibson began ABC's questioning of the new Pope's views, asking from his New York City anchor chair if it was a controversial choice and noting: "I'm curious as to how American Catholics will respond to this, because he is a conservative man of doctrine, and if memory serves, back at the beginning of this century, in the year 2000, he was the author of a document that talked about the primacy of the Catholic Church, and I see quote here, I'm reminded of the word that condemned other denominations as deficient which raised a lot of eyebrows at the time."
The September 2000 document, titled Dominus Iesus, did stir up some controversy for asserting the historic Catholic position that the Church is the one true Christian faith handed down from Jesus. But, unsurprisingly, ABC never reported on this supposedly wildly controversial document at that time.
Gibson went to George Stephanopoulos, who quickly turned the issue to John Kerry as viewers saw Stephanopoulos in a small inset box in the corner of full-screen video of the Vatican crowd:
(Back on the March 27 This Week, Stephanopoulos made the same charge and Washington's Cardinal Theodore McCarrick corrected him: "He said that if you, if you vote for a pro-choice politician because that person is pro-choice -- is against life -- then you're committing a sin. But if you vote for that person for other proportionately grave reasons, then you are not. Then that is what we call remote material cooperation." See: www.mediaresearch.org )
Sounding upset, ABC's Cokie Roberts, whose mother was the Clinton administration's Ambassador to the Vatican, declared: "This is an extremely controversial choice. This is a choice of the person who is seen by the world as the most conservative voice of Catholicism, and whether his papacy gives the lie to that or not, we have no way of knowing. But he has been responsible for removing theologians from their positions in American institutions. He has been responsible, you brought up the document that he wrote about other religions -- where priests in this country went into the pulpits and apologized for that document coming out of the Vatican. Apologized! To the people of America because they thought it was so offensive to other religions."
A minute later, Gibson brought up the new Pope's homily as the conclave began: "But I read him as saying 'look, we need to be absolutely true to the doctrine of the Church.' And, I didn't hear him really entertaining the idea of any kinds of reforms at all. And, I seem to hear him say 'if we have to accept a smaller and more pure church, as opposed to one that is more expansive in the doctrine it might accept, then so be it.'"
Helen Alvare, a law professor at D.C.-based Catholic University, sounded like a debating partner for the supposedly objective Cokie Roberts, objecting to the media's harsh first draft: "I think that the American public is going to take some of its early cues from what the media is saying. But I think they really ought to explore the full teachings, which are vast - Cardinal Ratzinger has written an enormous amount of theology - before pigeonholing him on simply some of the sexual issues which are, you know very prominent in the media, but not in Americans consciousness all the time."
Over on CBS, at 12:45pm EDT, anchor Bob Schieffer, from New York, was already asking Monsignor Robert Wister with him at CBS in New York: "Would it be fair, Father Wister, to say he's a hardliner?" At 1:06pm, reporter John Roberts in Rome noted: "He's not the sort of person, it seems, who has a whole lot of tolerance for cafeteria Catholics." Two minutes later, he asked Father Paul Robichaud about the canine nicknames: "You know, his conservative bent, his strict adherence to conservative Catholic doctrine has earned him the nickname in some circles as 'God's Rottweiler.' Now, is that fair or unfair?"
At 1:10pm EDT, Roberts said the church wouldn't be moving "very far forward" under Benedict: "And certainly, there is a lot for the new Pope to listen to, issues from collegiality in the Church to contraception, the ordination of women, whether or not priests may ever be able to marry. It would seem to me from the, just on the surface, that these are probably issues on which Benedict XVI is not going to move the Catholic Church very far forward during his papacy, but certainly issues that are going to be on his table."
Four minutes later, CBS went to a pre-taped report from Mark Phillips: "Joseph Ratzinger was probably the best known of all the cardinals in this conclave and easily the most controversial and polarizing. As Dean of the College of Cardinals, he officiated at the funeral mass for John Paul II, cementing his position as a frontrunner with his pope-like demeanor and impressing many with his touching homily to his old boss."
Writer Margaret Hebblethwaite generously praised the homily. Phillips then turned negative: "Joseph Ratzinger's job under John Paul II as head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the old Inquisition, cast him in the role as chief of the Vatican's theological thought police. And it's a role he assumed with relish, banishing liberal dissent from the Church's mainstream, sometimes banishing it all together. His reputation is one of being highly respected but feared."
Then, another clip from Hebblethwaite: "He has the most appalling reputation around the world as someone who has squashed theology, persecuted theologians. The chief of the thought police. The master of the Inquisition."
Phillips soon repeated the "Rottweiler" trope again: "But his reputation within the College of Cardinals is of the custodian of the work begun by John Paul II. He represents continuity and given the affection shown for the last pope, continuing his approach in the form of a Ratzinger papacy has obvious appeal to the princes of the Church. Ratzinger supporters say the image which produced the nickname '€˜God's Rottweiler' is misplaced." Father Richard John Neuhaus then declared: "He, himself, is absolutely not the iron-fisted enforcer, arch-conservative that he's depicted as being."
Phillips again channeled the view of liberals, with conservatives labeled regressive: "Many saw this contest as a final showdown between progressive and regressive forces within the Church. Between those who think its doctrinaire approach to issues like contraception and the role of women has driven the otherwise faithful in the West away and those who think sticking to traditional teachings is the required response to modern secularism. The election of the conservatives' champion, Joseph Ratzinger, is conclusive proof as to which side has won."
Father Andrew Greeley complained: "If the chief heresy hunter of the Church becomes Pope, well then that by itself means regression. And while he is a good man, I would not want to deny that, he doesn't have anything like Pope John Paul's charisma."
Like ABC, CBS live coverage did have someone more supportive of the new Pope on the air. Brian Ferme, Dean of Canon Law at Catholic University, disputed the image of a closed-minded pontiff: "But from my own personal knowledge of him and having worked with him, he's a very, very humble person, and I've, really, a number of examples and anecdotes of that. And he's also in the classic line of those academics who were always prepared to listen to the other side and to try and understand the argument of the other side. And I think he will have a very positive impact, especially on the Church in western Europe."
On CNN, the MRC's Ken Shepherd noticed, minutes after the new Pope showed his face, Jim Bittermann fretted from Rome: "Well, it's hard for me to believe that there wasn't at least some controversy in the decision of Cardinal Ratzinger. I, it's amazing to me, because, for one thing, he's a curial cardinal, he's not a pastoral man. We heard from so many cardinals around the world, that the fact is they felt that a pastoral cardinal would have to fall into John Paul II's shoes. He is also a very strict fundamentalist, and we heard that in the speech that he delivered just as the conclave was beginning. He had the last word as the conclave began and basically said that the Church should stick to fundamentals, so I think that you can expect a pontificate that is going to be very hard-line indeed on doctrinal issues. He is, for instance, very much opposed to any kind of outreach to homosexuals who are practicing homosexuals. He's very much opposed to gay marriage. One of the things, he's sort of known as Cardinal No for some of his positions that he's taken, very hard-line positions. Would he moderate them as pope? Hard to say, but it is a really astounding choice and it does set a very clear path for the church I think we're going to see a church here that's going to going to go down a very clear line over the next few years..."
The selection of Joseph Ratzinger as the new Pope sure surprised ABC's Good Morning America. On Tuesday morning, co-host Diane Sawyer picked up on how Italian newspapers are "saying that conservative Cardinal Ratzinger of Germany, they're saying that he would have made it on one of these first two ballots if he were going to make it, so evidently he is not going" to be the pick. Back on April 4, co-host Charles Gibson insisted Ratzinger's "extreme conservative views and his age might be his undoing when votes are cast in the Sistine Chapel." On Tuesday, Sawyer also touted how some women in Chicago "had a gathering to send up pink smoke because they were saying where are the women making decisions about women in the Church?"
The MRC's Jessica Barnes took down part of Sawyer's April 19 session with Father Keith Pecklers, of the Gregorian University, who appeared from Rome as Sawyer hosted from Times Square:
Sawyer: "Well, let me ask you about what the Italian papers are saying this morning. They're saying that conservative Cardinal Ratzinger of Germany, they're saying that he would have made it on one of these first two ballots if he were going to make it, so evidently he is not going. What do you think?"
Back on the April 4 GMA, as recounted in the April 5 CyberAlert, Gibson asserted: "German-born Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is also mentioned, but his extreme conservative views and his age might be his undoing when votes are cast in the Sistine Chapel."
-- Brent Baker