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The Press Let the Pope Off Easy

In Blog on July 29, 2013 at 12:13 am

I am a Catholic, but even I thought that the coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to Brazil could have used a bit more hard-nosed journalism.

World Youth Day, occurring biennially, brings hundreds of thousands of young Catholics from all over the world to celebrate their faith and meet with their pope.  The fact that this event occurred in Brazil this year, early in the tenure of this new Latin American leader of Catholicism, gave the pope just the positive exposure that the Vatican PR machine must have hoped for.  Reporters like to cover events that are unpredictable, that evoke emotions, and that can be told with much drama.  In all aspects, the pope delivered. It didn’t hurt that the pope was visiting a country that had lost hundreds of thousands of Catholics, many to evangelical Christianity, adding a bit of political intrigue to the event.

There was nothing wrong about the chronicling of the pope’s dramatic  visit to Rio’s slums, and his eagerness to reach out to the poorest of the poor, or the millions flocking to hear him say Mass on the Copacabana beach.  

And the pope deserved praise for preaching social justice to a country that has been wracked by corruption and income inequality.  The pope is considered one of the world’s moral leaders, and his message of concern for the struggling and homeless, has been a powerful symbol of a new direction for the Church.  But that should not make him immune from scrutiny.

Many reporters seemed reluctant to criticize his decision to reject a pope-mobile and to open the windows of his Fiat sedan as it was mobbed by a crowd as crazy as a bunch of girls at a Justin Bieber concert. Indeed, the Associated Press enthused that this reckless conduct was a powerful symbol of recapturing “the dynamism” of the Church and going out into the streets. To its credit, The Wall Street Journal raised concerns about the pope’s decision to flaunt security protocols. But generally, the media was ready to blame everyone but the pope for the security problems, and focused more on the pope’s lack of fear than his heedlessness.

Again it isn’t that all aspects of the pope’s trip, including its roughly $50 million cost to the Brazilian government, weren’t covered.  It is just that they were asides. And protests from Brazilians about the costs certainly didn’t dominate coverage. For example, CBS’s Dean Reynolds did do a morning news report that included footage of the protests, but that story didn’t appear to make it to the nightly newscast:

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