New Report Highlights Papal Focus in Media Coverage of Scandal

As painful as it is to watch and to read, the sex abuse scandal in the Church needs to be covered in the media and covered well.  Solid, accurate reporting will benefit not only the victims, and those who may have been falsely accused, but also the Church.   Unfortunately, in my opinion, that’s not the case with the media recently. They have chosen to use the latest round of stories as an excuse to aggressively attack the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI.  And while a new report from the Pew Research Center stops short of criticizing the news media for their Papal coverage, it certainly points out this issue in terms of the numbers of stories, the media’s obsession with the current Vicar of Christ as well as the impact it has had on his public image.

According to a Press Release from Pew, during the six week period from March 12 through April 27th, 2010 the Pope was a “major focus of more than half of the reports on the scandal in the mainstream U.S media, including print, radio, network television, cable TV, and on-line news sources.”  Pew says newspaper coverage of the Catholic clergy abuse scandal grew more intense this spring than at any other time since 2002, the year the scandal broke in the United States.  The new study examined media coverage of the scandal in 52 secular outlets in the U.S including 11 newspapers, seven network TV programs, 15 cable TV shows, seven radio programs, and 12 news websites. Given the importance of the story, the researchers weren’t surprised by the amount of coverage or even that more was devoted to Pope Benedict, but the focus they said was something new that even top media researchers had never seen. They also noted the negative impact this has had on the Holy Father’s image worldwide.

“The amount of coverage devoted to the pope may not be unusual given his role in the Church and the media’s tendency to focus coverage of scandals on individuals rather than institutions. But the thrust of the recent coverage-dwelling particularly on allegations that the Pope abetted the cover up of abusive priests in his native Germany and elsewhere-has been toxic for Benedict’s image.”

According to a nationwide poll also conducted by Pew, just 12% of the public  said the Pope has done a good or excellent job in addressing the scandal. That’s down from 39% in 2008.  About seven in ten Americans or 71% said Pope Benedict has done a poor or only fair job up from about half or 48% of those who felt that way two years ago.

It’s no surprise that the Church and especially the Pope, have always been counter cultural. The Church must be held to a higher standard because we’re supposed to practice what we preach.  But the media can’t have it both ways.  When Pope Benedict began his Pontificate more than five years ago, the media labeled him “the Rottweiler.”  They compared him to the tough German dog breed because of the Holy Father’s strong defense of Church doctrine and dogma.  The media were extremely critical in 2005 of Pope Benedict because among other things, he wouldn’t call for the ordination of women, and did not back down on the issues of pro-life and traditional marriage-as if a new Pope can just come in and change centuries old teaching!  But now they want to label him as weak and ineffective, and even go so far, as the Pew report points out, to accuse him of abetting a cover up.  This is ridiculous as it was the Pope, who as then Cardinal Ratzinger heading up the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, started to get to the bottom of the scandal and call for change.

Again, as a concerned Catholic and as a journalist I believe the coverage of this crisis should continue to make sure the Church is doing all it can to get to the root of this problem that has plagued the faith now for decades.  But is it too much to ask for the coverage to be at least somewhat fair and balanced and for the media to accurately report what the Pope has actually done to address the issue?  Unfortunately I think I already know the answer to that question. 

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About the Author

Teresa’s latest book, God's Bucket List: Heaven's Surefire Way to Happiness in This Life and Beyond is available on Amazon and one of her other popular books, Extreme Makeover: Women Transformed by Christ, Not Conformed to the Culture has been on the Catholic best-seller list since its release in October, 2011.

Teresa Tomeo is an author, syndicated Catholic talk show host, and motivational speaker with nearly 30 years of experience in TV, radio and newspaper.

In the year 2000, Teresa left the secular media to start her own speaking and communications company. Many of you remember Teresa from her days in the Detroit media, especially her awarding winning radio work and her many years on Channel 7 and Channel 50.

Teresa’s daily morning radio program, “Catholic Connection”, is produced by Ave Maria Radio in Ann Arbor, and now heard on over 150 Catholic stations nationwide. Her talk show is also carried on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio.

Teresa is a columnist and special correspondent for the national Catholic newspaper, “Our Sunday Visitor”. She appears frequently on EWTN Catholic Television, most recently covering the March for Life in Washington D.C. Teresa has also been featured on “The O’Reilly Factor” and Fox News.

In 2008 Teresa was chosen as only one of 250 delegates from around the world to attend the Vatican Women’s Congress held in Rome marking the 20th Anniversary of John Paul the Second’s Letter entitled “On the Dignity and Vocation of Women.”

As a speaker Teresa travels around the country addressing media awareness and activism, as well as sharing her reversion to the Catholic Church. Her first book, “Noise—How Our Media Saturated Culture Dominates Lives and Dismantles Families”, published by Ascension Press is a Catholic best-seller and now in its second printing. Her second book, “Newsflash! My Surprising Journey from Secular Anchor to Media Evangelist” was published in September of 2008. Teresa has also co-authored a series of best selling Catholic books called “All Things Girl” for tween girls focusing on modesty and chastity.

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