Tuesday, April 19, 2005

New Pope: Look for Media Bias in Full Flower?

Just today from the Media Research Center, recent coverage of Cardinal Ratzinger:
Just as Germany’s Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has emerged in the media as a leading papal candidate, the U.S. media have decided to do their best to discredit him by applying extreme and pejorative labels to him and portraying him as the enemy of progress. On Sunday, NBC’s Jim Maceda referred to “the ultraconservative Ratzinger” and reported that “he was briefly a member of Hitler’s youth group in Nazi Germany.” On Monday morning, Katie Couric asserted that Ratzinger is “known to be quite conservative. He’s been called ‘God’s rottweiler’ because of his strict adherence to Catholic doctrine and ‘The Enforcer’ as well.” Echoing Couric, ABC’s David Wright said “he’s been dubbed ‘God’s rottweiler,’ a staunch conservative...” After her viewers voted Ratzinger the “Person of the Day,” CNN’s Paula Zahn on Monday night lamented how “he’s butted heads with theologians and teachers, silencing dissent, shutting down debate over issues such as homosexuality and the ordination of women.”

Picking up where the broadcast networks left off on Sunday night, CNN’s Paula Zahn on Monday night devoted a lengthy story to how “many Catholic women are praying that the white smoke from the Sistine Chapel chimney will signal” a “revolution” which will change policy on abortion, birth control and women as priests. Zahn showed protests, complete with pink smoke “to symbolize what they see as a critical absence of women in the papal election process,” as she centered her piece around the views of the Women’s Ordination Conference, led by a woman who is supposedly “like many Catholic women in the United States -- devout but discouraged.”

Zahn ended with a plea from a 12-year-old girl: “I would ask the Cardinals if they could just, like, let the girls be priests or participate more in the church because, like, girls should get the same opportunities as boys.”

NBC’s Katie Couric asserted on Monday morning that “according to a recent poll, 78 percent of American Catholics would like the Catholic Church to be less conservative,” but the only current poll the MRC could locate with such a finding was an early April CNN/USA Today/Gallup survey of Catholics which found 78 percent said the next Pope should “allow Catholics to use birth control.” But Couric cherry-picked the number she liked since the poll also determined that when asked if the next Pope should “make church doctrine on abortion less strict,” only 37 percent said he should compared to 59 percent who responded that he should not. And, contradicting Couric’s thesis, asked directly if the next Pope should be “more conservative than John Paul II, about the same, or more liberal than John Paul II?,” 59 percent endorsed the conservative status quo.
Will the election of Ratzinger quell the bias a bit, as the media accept a fait accompli and perhaps defer to the sensibilities of Catholics in their audience? That’s possible. They might even hold out the hope that Ratzinger will “grow” in the job and prove less conservative than they fear.

But the simple fact will remain that their worldview is radically different from his, and to succeed in the job he will need to do that Ronald Reagan and John Paul the Great did: go around the media and appeal directly to the people.


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