MediaWatch: April 20, 1998

Vol. Twelve No. 5

Clinton Communion Condoned

Catholics may have been upset by President Clinton taking communion at a Catholic church in South Africa, but no network ran a full story on it and NBC contended Clinton did nothing wrong. In the week after the March 29 incident, 30 seconds on the CBS Evening News was all the network time the controversy earned.

On Palm Sunday, April 5, New York’s Cardinal O’Connor condemned Clinton’s action, but ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN all skipped the dispute. By April 7 ABC’s Good Morning America caught up, but couldn’t have given it lower priority: 22 seconds at 8:30 am.

On April 8 Today showed Father Andrew Greeley a clip of O’Connor calling Clinton’s action "legally and doctrinally wrong." Greeley argued that "a lot of priests in this country and in other countries too push the envelope. They say at weddings and funerals they invite people to receive communion so that those in mixed marriages, the families of the non-Catholic spouse won’t be offended or feel excluded. This happens... everywhere."

Co-host Katie Couric put the burden on O’Connor: "President Clinton has been really severely criticized in this whole thing. Do you think some of that criticism is fair or what do you think is motivating Cardinal O’Connor?" Greeley attacked another President: "I wouldn’t try to guess the Cardinal’s motivations. I do know that when Ronald Reagan who was technically a fallen away Catholic in a marriage the church wouldn’t recognize, when he received communion back in the early 1980s nobody protested. So maybe there’s special rules for Republicans."

Clinton offends millions of people of religious faith, yet NBC managed to turn that into an opportunity to denounce Ronald Reagan.