The Bias Against Benedict

The Pope speaks to journalists aboard the papal plane March 17.
The Pope speaks to journalists aboard the papal plane March 17. (photo: CNS/Reuters)

Wondering why papal spokesman Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi recently felt impelled to state that Pope Benedict XVI and the Church won’t be intimidated by “media campaigns”?

Teresa Benedicta of the Papa Ratzinger Forum cites an April 27 New York Times commentary as a classic example of the anti-Benedict bias that has infected so many Western media outlets.

“It’s a demonstration piece for everything that’s wrong in journalism today — and a standard MSM putdown of the Pope,” Benedicta says in an April 30 post on the Papa Ratzinger Forum.

The Times commentary asserts that Pope Benedict XVI is the one who is suffering from a communications ailment — namely, foot-in-mouth disease. And while John Berwick claims in his NYT commentary that the Pope’s supposed misjudgments and blunders have sometimes led to a good outcome, he intimates this happens only in the face of the Holy Father’s “folly.”

In fact, Benedict is an extraordinarily thoughtful man who is a brilliant and eloquent communicator. The problem arises not because the Pope has a penchant for “bloopers,” as Berwick claims; the problem arises because the media has a penchant for publishing crude and inaccurate reductions of the Holy Father’s profound insights.

Case in point: the media outcry over his comments about condoms while flying to Africa in March. Scores of press articles claimed the Pope’s assertion, that condom distribution is aggravating HIV transmission in Africa rather than alleviating it, were both false and a public relations disaster.

In fact, the most knowledgeable international experts on AIDS transmission confirmed the Holy Father, not his media critics, was right about the consequences of condom distribution. And contrary to the impression generated by the negative press coverage, Benedict was greeted with massive public acclaim and affection in both of the countries on his African itinerary, Cameroon and Angola.

No one suggests the Vatican’s somewhat unsophisticated communications apparatus is perfect in terms of getting the truth out about what the Pope is saying and doing. But the simple fact is: Many media outlets look constantly for ways to misrepresent his actions. It’s difficult to know how any Vatican communication strategy could overcome that deliberate bias.

Keep this bias firmly in mind as you watch and read the reports in the secular media about the Holy Father’s historic Holy Land trip later this month. Given their sorry record of misreporting Benedict’s previous trips, don’t be surprised if news outlets attempt to spoil this occasion by misinterpreting and misrepresenting the Pope’s words and actions while he’s in the Holy Land or traveling there.