2. NBC Labels New Pope But Not Liberal Critic, Raises Nazi Past
3. On ABC, Gibson Stresses Pope Out of Touch with U.S. Catholics
4. CNN and NPR Like the "God's Rottweiler" Epithet for Pope
5. Kondracke: "Appalling" Pope Delivers "Dictatorship of Certitude"
Editor's Note: This CyberAlert was compiled and written Wednesday afternoon by Tim Graham, Director of Media Analysis at the MRC.
CBS picked up on Wednesday morning right where they left off Tuesday night, with The Early Show aggressively pounding on the pontiff as a disappointment to "many Catholics." John Roberts called him "the man who was seen as far too controversial to head up the Church," adding: "Many Catholics...found nothing to celebrate." From Germany, Sheila MacVicar maintained that "this Pope's rigorous fundamentalism worries many here." Sharyn Alfonsi insisted "many American Catholics have a strong opinion of the new Pope," which isn't what the latest Gallup poll found. Co-host Harry Smith baldly asserted, without any evidence, that American churches and seminaries aren't simply dwindling in attendance, they're "empty." Smith also fretted about the "our way or the highway" attitude of the Catholic church.
MRC analyst Brian Boyd identified labels starting right from the show's beginning, with co-host Julie Chen reporting: "The election of conservative Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger is drawing mixed reviews among the faithful."
After noting the new Pope stressed his humility, he added: "Many Catholics though found nothing to celebrate. His election would appear to dash reformers' hopes that the Vatican would strike out in a new direction after the conservative reign of John Paul II. But the men who put their faith in Benedict XVI appealed to the faithful to give him a chance." Roberts concluded that the smoke signals were indecisive before pilgrims jammed into St. Peter's Square "for a first glimpse at the man who has sparked many questions about the future of the Catholic Church. Ratzinger was the most visible member of the Church in recent days, leading the funeral for Pope John Paul II and the pre-conclave mass. It was his performance at those events and his words about sticking with the strict teachings of the Church said cardinals who elected him that pushed him over the top."
From Germany, reporter Sheila MacVicar found some disappointment and betrayed religious illiteracy by describing the Pope with a Protestant term, "fundamentalism," instead of simply saying orthodoxy: "Throughout Germany as bells rang, small groups gathered to celebrate mass. Newspapers hailed him as a native son of many communities. But even here the election of this German Pope, a source of national pride for some, is a disappointment to others. 'I'm personally not so happy' says this woman, 'he's very conservative.' This pope's rigorous fundamentalism worries many here where the issues of the German Church are familiar to Americans: dwindling attendance, too few priests, and a great divide between the teachings of the Church and people's lives."
Next, CBS turned to America, with reporter Sharyn Alfonsi outside St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. She began: "Good morning. Well, it's been less than 24 hours but already many American Catholics have a strong opinion of the new Pope. The plume of smoke that signaled his election may have been confusing, but the image of Joseph Ratzinger in the U.S. already seems clearly defined." A woman declared: "He's older, he's German, he's very conservative."
That's not true. The first CNN/USA Today/Gallup quickie poll of 616 Catholics found: "Asked their opinion about the new Pope, 60 percent said they did not know enough about him, while 31 percent said they had a 'favorable' opinion and 9 percent said they had an 'unfavorable' opinion. Nearly half of those polled, 48 percent, said they were unsure what direction he would lead the Church." See: www.cnn.com
Alfonsi added: "But some parishioners say they were disappointed with the choice, a Bavarian theologian is not what they had in mind...Church scholars say many Americans were hoping for a more progressive pope, with Ratzinger, their prayers have certainly not been answered."
Interviewing Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, co-host Harry Smith baldly asserted, without any evidence, that American churches and seminaries aren't simply dwindling in attendance, they're empty: "It's so interesting going through this funeral of Pope John Paul, the emotional outpouring. There was so much love for this man, but especially looking at the Church in the United States, the seminaries are empty, there are a lot of places where the church pews are empty, as well. What does this man bring to the Church that could re-inspire the faith of American Catholics?" Cardinal George, in Rome, disagreed with the "empty" claims.
Smith stayed on the liberal line: "Along the same lines, you know, we look at the polls and there are so many American Catholics that are out of line with so many of the doctrinal teachings of John Paul and now especially enforced by this new pope. Do you see any room for resolution here?"
In the 8am half hour, John Roberts closely hewed to the CBS narrative. While he touted the Pope's intellect, he repeated: "But the election of a strict conservative ideologue was a disappointment to reform-minded Catholics who had hoped the new pope would moderate the Church's position on the ordination of women, contraception and other issues."
Smith then interviewed a panel of three American Catholics: a liberal, a moderate, and a conservative, beginning: "It's no secret that Pope Benedict XVI has some very big shoes to fill. But critics fear that instead of being a unifying force like Pope John Paul II was, the new Pope could instead, perhaps, drive a wedge into the Catholic Church. We brought together a round table of concerned Catholics with some different views." The guests were Sharon Toffey with the left-wing group Call to Action, which opposes almost every Catholic tradition; Leon Suprenant of the traditionalist Catholics United for the Faith, and in the moderate chair, local New York parishioner Jerry Morrissy.
After a round of first impressions, Smith hinted at his unease at expecting Catholics to obey Church teaching: "We talked with Cardinal George from Chicago a little while ago, we've had a lot of conversations with him over the last couple of weeks and he said it's almost, it's our way or the highway. These are the teachings of the Church. If American Catholics don't, they need to convert, they don't need to argue. What is your feeling about that?" After the left-wing activist answered, he added: "I get the sense that you think that by being so clear in his doctrine that this can be a unifying force as opposed to a divisive force."
Smith pounded the polling issue again: "Because here we look at our American Catholic Church and all the polls for years have said maybe priests should marry, what about contraceptives, what about the women's role in the church and everything we read about him thus far is, things aren't going to change very much. What is that going to mean in your own parish do you think?"
Then he once again insisted on empty Catholic churches: "We saw the millions and millions of young people in St. Peter's Square last week. The millions and millions of people are not in the Catholic churches in the United States today, especially in the suburbs."
An April 5 story in the Washington Post carried numbers from a Georgetown University study that found the number of priests is declining, but the number of American Catholics is increasing, up to 67 million last year. For that story, see: www.washingtonpost.com
NBC's Today kept up the labeling of the new Pope on Wednesday as "hardline," "hard edge," an "instinctive conservative," and a "staunch conservative," but liberal priest Andrew Greeley drew no liberal label during his interview. Couric reminded Greeley that "Ratzinger's past includes a brief membership in the Hitler Youth movement" and service "with the German army in World War II" and demanded: "Given his past associations do you think that will create a rift between Christians and Jews and what can he do to fix that?" Couric described the liberal view simply as favoring "reform" as she claimed: "The majority of Catholics in this country, in recent polls, indicate that they do advocate reforms."
In the show's opening minutes, MRC analyst Geoff Dickens caught how co-host Katie Couric promised "the former cardinal Joseph Ratzinger received a rousing welcome when he was introduced to the world on Tuesday as the new Pope, but he is also a slightly controversial choice because of his positions and his past." The labels kept coming. From Vatican City, NBC's Lester Holt noted: "In Pope Benedict XVI's first public appearance since he appeared above St. Peter's Square on Tuesday, he promised to welcome everyone with love and simplicity and mindful of his hardline image he promised a sincere and open dialogue." He added: "The new Pope, often described as a doctrinal hardliner, today pledged to reunify Christians while signaling a commitment to church traditions."
Up next was a Katie Couric interview with liberal priest Andrew Greeley, who drew no label in his introduction: "Father Andrew Greeley is a prominent American writer and sociologist who's been critical in the past of the man who is now Pope. Father Greeley, good morning to you."
Couric noted that Father Greeley had written he'd be "dismayed" if Cardinal Ratzinger were elected, and then returned to the sex-abuse issue: "I know that many American Catholics were upset with the Vatican, with what they saw as the Vatican's slow response to the sex abuse scandal that rocked the American Catholic Church. And in fact, as Matt mentioned earlier, Cardinal Ratzinger was quoted blaming the American media for a planned campaign. What did you think of those remarks and do they bother you?" Greeley, in Rome, replied that in his position, Ratzinger was "very efficient" in facing the abuse issues.
Even later in the show, the labeling continued. A report from Peter Alexander sounded repetitive: "But while historic the selection of Pope Benedict the XVI, a staunch conservative, is also controversial even disappointing to some. Like his predecessor Benedict does not believe priests should marry, nor that women should have an expanded role within the Church."
Dickey answered with another usage of the "fundamentalism" term to describe Catholic orthodoxy: "I don't think we'll see any changes in terms of doctrine, no. I mean he was the enforcer for doctrine for more than 20 years and was, very much, John Paul's right hand man on all of these issues. So I don't think we'll see changes there. What's interesting is whether we'll see some sort of change of tone in this papacy? There was already a big change from the homily he gave 36 hours ago and the homily he gave this morning. One, one was all about basically being proud of fundamentalism and the second one, this morning as Pope, was all about opening up to rest of the world. So we'll see, we'll see. I think there's gonna be a real change of tone."
Couric concluded that giving in to liberals will have to be an "evolutionary" process: "So, you know Chris, you do believe there's a change of tone because I was gonna ask you about so many American Catholics and Father Greeley was on earlier and he was saying according to their surveys it's not just American Catholics pushing for reform within the Catholic Church. Even Catholics in Germany want apparently some changes in church doctrine. So is this a slow evolutionary process or do you think it's going to be pretty much status quo?"
ABC's Charles Gibson was still worrying about the new Pope's stand against relativism on Wednesday, asking the Cardinal of Baltimore, William Keeler, if that stand will fly in America, since "obviously this Pope does not agree with American Catholics" on social issues. Keeler replied one problem is "many of our people are very confused, because their educator is not the Church, but the news media." Reporter Kate Snow insisted: "For conservative Catholics, Pope Benedict XVI is truly a Godsend.... But American Catholics are generally more liberal." Snow failed to distinguish between churchgoing Catholics and those who haven't been inside a church in decades.
On Wednesday morning's Good Morning America, MRC analyst Jessica Barnes found co-host Charles Gibson asked Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore about reports that Pope Benedict's health is questionable before he turned to the usual questions about doctrine: "Cardinal Ratzinger has been, as Cardinal, was very specific in comments that he made about the need to stick with what he called absolute values. His last homily in that final mass before you went into conclave, he spoke out against relativism. I wonder how you think American Catholics will respond to this Pope." Cardinal Keeler said all he was doing is "teaching Catholic teaching...He reminds me of my mother. My mother was a loving person, but very clear in what she taught us."
Snow failed to distinguish between churchgoing Catholics and those who haven't been inside a church in decades. In presidential campaigns, the networks quickly focus on registered voters, and then hone in even closer on likely voters. But as they try to tell the Catholic Church how it should operate, they often make no attempt to exclude those who would never show up at church to cast a vote against church teaching.
CNN and NPR's Wednesday morning shows were so enthralled with the "God's Rottweiler" label for the former Cardinal Ratzinger that they each used it twice. CNN reporter Chris Burns even claimed Ratzinger was "long dubbed" with the dog tag, even though the New York Post found "there are no significant published references to it before two weeks ago."
MRC analyst Ken Shepherd noted that on American Morning Burns checked in from Germany: "In his native Bavaria, surprise and jubilation by his supporters. In Munich, where Joseph Ratzinger, the son of a policeman, studied theology, then became archbishop and cardinal. Though even in Germany's conservative Catholic stronghold, criticism of the new pontiff, long dubbed God's Rottweiler, who was the Vatican's chief watchdog for doctrine."
The suggestion that the Rottweiler gibe is well-aged is dubious, according to an editorial in the New York Post: "Actually, though it's been reported as his longstanding nickname, there are no significant published references to it before two weeks ago." For the April 20 editorial, go to: www.nypost.com
Burns concluded: "Well, obviously the papers here are paying great attention to the new Pope. And in fact in Bavaria here, their headline of course is, '€˜A Bavarian is the Pope,' and take a look at this national newspaper... We Are the Pope.' A great sense of pride among many people. This country being half Protestant, or at least 27 percent Protestant, 27 percent Catholic. A lot of people still claiming his as their own, looking the other way at the moment about certain issues on which he's very strongly a traditional conservative. Giving him a break at the moment and trying to see exactly what policies he takes as a Pope."
MRC analyst Tom Johnson noticed that the Rottweiler lines were also prominent on NPR's "Morning Edition" Wednesday. Reporter Emily Harris noted the new Pope "has been called 'God's Rottweiler' for his fierce stands supporting Church traditions and against religious pluralism, local traditions incorporated into Catholic services, and issues of concern to many American and European Catholics, such as women's role in the Church and acceptance of divorce."
From Italy, reporter Sylvia Poggioli echoed: "As head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, once known as the Holy Inquisition, [he] earned the label 'Mr. No.' He said 'no' to the Latin-American movement liberation theology...He upheld the primacy of the Catholic Church, branding other Christian denominations as deficient...The newly elected pontiff's hardline stands on doctrine have earned [him] the label '€˜God's Rottweiler.'"
In another story, reporter Kyle James was very aggressive in his labeling, noting Pope Benedict's "conservative views," "conservative stance," and (again) "conservative views," all in about thirty-five seconds, wrapped around a soundbite from a papal supporter.
On Tuesday night's Special Report with Brit Hume on FNC, Mort Kondracke of Roll Call channeled the harsh left-wing line that the new Pope was "appalling," and a tyrant: "He said in his homily, on the death of Pope John Paul, that the world faces the menace of a dictatorship of relativism. And what he seems to represent is a dictatorship of certitude."
MRC analyst Megan McCormack reported that on the April 19 panel with Charles Krauthammer and Mara Liasson, Kondracke told substitute host Jim Angle: "I don't know what -- exactly what the politics were, but what the meaning of this, I personally find appalling as a viewer of all this. I mean, he said in his homily, on the death of Pope John Paul, that the world faces the menace of a dictatorship of relativism. And what he seems to represent is a dictatorship of certitude. I mean, one of his biographers said that he wanted to fight political totalitarianism in the world with ecclesiastical totalitarianism. Now, that's fine for Catholics. You know, he can be the enemy of dissent, and the enemy of reform, and all that kind of stuff. But he's also very political. He said that Muslim Turkey should not be admitted to the European Union. He said that Catholic bishops in the United States should not give communion to Catholic politicians who favor abortion. He sort of implied that Catholics in the United States should vote against politicians who favor abortion, etcetera, etcetera. I mean this'€"so he's not only, you know, going to govern the Catholic Church with an iron hand, but he's also trying to impose his viewpoint on politics."
Kondracke did not explain how Catholics are under a "dictatorship" when they're allowed to leave the Church for another faith at any time. Using his logic, since he doesn't get to vote to determine the policies of the Fox News Channel, he's suffering under the Rupert Murdoch dictatorship.
-- Tim Graham