I love the Catholic Church. But the Vatican stinks at handling press. I mean stinks.
Take the recent issue with the SSPX. Pope Benedict XVI revoked the excommunication of four of the bishops of the SSPX and suddenly a media star was born in Bishop Richard Williamson.
You see, currently Bishop Williamson is the most popular Catholic in the media. Type in “Bishop Williamson” into Google News and you get 3,542 news stories.
To compare – Type in “Bishop Fellay,” who actually is the head of the SSPX and you only get 525 hits.
So journalists hit their macro “Holocaust denying sede vacantists” and erased Mel Gibson’s name and just put in Williamson’s.
That means the media is not getting the story right. It means the media is controlling the story. And as someone who has been both a journalist and a p.r. hack, you do not want the media controlling your story.
The New York Times headlined Bishop Williamson’s suspicion that 9-11 was an inside job. Well that has about as much to do with his standing with the church as his opinion on the price of arugula. And the media could’ve known that if they’d translated L’Osservatore Romano. But today’s media is not known for their work ethic. Their news angles show up in their email inbox. With all the staff cuts at media organization, reporters are assigned to write a few stories each day. They like it easy. They need it spoon fed to them.
And we know that most reporters just don’t do religion so their reflex is typically suspicious of any religious institution (other than Islam.) The Catholic church is so often misreported it is a surprise when a secular media source gets it right. Remember when the Church’s International Theological Commission said limbo reflected an “unduly restrictive view of salvation.” Could the media have taken that more out of context?
Amy Welborn wrote recently:
But the folks in the Vatican, despite their website, radio, television and YouTube channel, are still not grasping the RAPIDITY of communications in the modern world and how intense and deep the dispersal of information is and what power the means of communications beyond traditional venues like wire agencies and such have in pushing stories and determining storylines.
We’ve talked about this before in relation to other issues – other documents and decisions. The Vatican releases it, maybe has a press conference with a few experts, Father Lombardi is available…and that’s it.
As of now, The Vatican issues a press release and the journalist in need of a quote calls the dissident Catholic they have on speed dial who will explain why the Vatican might be very very wrong about this. Often, media offices of the Church don’t even return phone calls and the reporters are left calling parish priests. Fr. Fay Blake of Saint Mary Magdalen recently wrote:
Again and again I have English journalists ringing me, a parish priest with a blog, for background information because the Bishops Media Office are unavailable, or not able to speak to them or simply don’t know. I think it is a scandal, especially as most of the negative news stories seemed to have originated in the English Media.
Could it be better not to have a Media Office?
With this SSPX story, the media has found its hook in this story and the only thing the media’s clear on is that the Pope has “de-excommunicated” (their word) a holocaust denier. That’s how they’ve distilled this story into a soundbyte.
The theological and canonical weeds are thick enough to intimidate journalists but boy oh boy do they understand holocaust denier. Heck, they were probably just surprised that all Catholics aren’t Holocaust deniers.
So I’m thinking that the Vatican needs a course in how to manipulate the media. So who could teach them? Barack Obama? Yeah, he played the media but he had the media at “above my pay grade.” He never really had to work for it.
No. We need an organization that is awful and deadly who has gotten the media to love them. I know, I know. Obama fits that too. But I’m thinking we need Hamas to teach the Vatican about media manipulation. Look, it’s this simple: The Church prays for Jews they get in trouble. Hamas lob 800 rockets into Israel killing innocent civilians and they’re portrayed as innocent rubes who just want peace.
Hamas, while employing an unceasing war to drive Israel into the sea has played the victim card every time Israel strikes back. And it’s worked. The media treats Hamas as the misunderstood victims of an aggressive Israel.
When Hamas fires from school buildings and uses the civilian population of Gaza as a human shield, the media blames Israel for forcing them to do it.
Hamas then parades out video of their fake dead for the cameras and it leads off the nightly news worldwide. And everybody pretends not to notice that the corpse is smiling and breathing.
When Hamas denies the Holocaust, it’s not a source of outrage it’s a sign of the need for more education funding for the poor dears.
Now that’s some media manipulation. The Vatican could learn a thing or two from these guys.