They must get a kick out of their power.
Bertolt Brecht once said, “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.” News reporting is clearly an artform for some.
The writers and editors at AP took fifteen minutes, max, to find some quotes that at least obliquely fit into their story, then they throw in some others from respectable-enough sounding institutions, insinuate their own “reporting” of facts and missing facts and “no-comments” into the flow such that it seems to be a legitimate interpretation of the facts, then laugh into their sleeves as the institution they’ve targeted scrambles to undo the damage their “story” has caused.
There’s a special place in Purgatory for people like that.
This morning brings another breathless report from the AP which was given the headline, “Conservatives at odds with Vatican over condoms” !!!!!! ! !. ….
Natch, that’s hardly the case. It’s like they’re shaking the ant farm just to watch the ants go nuts. Let’s try to untangle this piece of “reporting.”
Problem 1: They quote John Haas, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, saying, “It’s a mess…I’m not ready to say that the pope said what Lombardi said.”
Rev. Frederico Lombardi, papal spokesman, said something about what the pope actually said about condom usage in his new book, Light of the World, also applies to women and even transsexuals.
Analysis: Even if we accept that the pope said what Lombardi suggests, there’s no problem: no matter who the person is, if they work as a prostitute and decide to begin using a prophylactic out of a desire to reduce the risk of HIV infection, that represents on their part a movement toward a more human way of experiencing sexuality. It doesn’t represent a moral present, but a movement toward a moral future.
Problem 2: The story says:
The pope did not suggest using condoms as birth control, which is banned by the Roman Catholic Church, and said condoms were not a “real or moral solution” to the AIDS crisis.
Still, his remarks were a watershed in the long debate among theologians and church officials over the morality of using condoms for disease prevention.
Analysis: No, it wasn’t a watershed moment. He said nothing that changes anything. He said a person who is committing, if you will, two gravely immoral actions, but who chooses to reduce the risk of commiting one of them, is not thereby legitimized in the continuing immorality of that action, or of the unabated immorality of the other.
Problem 3: They report:
Jenn Giroux, executive director of Human Life International America, which promotes Catholic teaching on contraception, abortion and other moral issues, said more clarification from the Vatican was needed.
“I am watching very carefully, as everyone is right now, before making a final pronouncement,” said Giroux, a registered nurse and mother of nine. “We just got something from a spokesperson. As always, we look to church doctrine on statements like this.”
Analysis: That looks to me like her saying a whole lotta nothing. “We’re not saying anything.” “We’re waiting for the actual authorities to act.” “This was just something from a spokesperson, not the real McCoy.” And, importantly, “Church doctrine reigns.” But since the reality of what “Church doctrine” is doesn’t resonate with AP reporters, that last was undoubtedly seen by them as a retreat by an ignorant footsoldier who is waiting for orders, whatever they may be, rather than her taking the strongest position one can take vis-a-vis questions of Church teaching.
Problem 4: My personal favorite: “Catholic teaching has never totally barred condom use for protection against HIV and the Vatican has no official, authoritative policy on the issue.”
Analysis: The Vatican also “has never totally barred,” in the manner they mean those words, smashing your neighbor’s pumpkins at Halloween. Sure it’s generally covered under a one or more of those Commandments, but there’s no doctrinal statement on pumpkin smashing… so I guess it’s fair game then? Hardly.
Problem 5: They report:
In 1987, the U.S. bishops’ conference issued the statement, “The Many Face of AIDS,” that stressed limiting sex to marriage as the best protection against the virus, but said public education “could include accurate information about prophylactic devices” to prevent transmission. The document was criticized at the time by conservatives and some Vatican officials.
Analysis: First of all, the USCCB is not an authoritative body of the Church. They can certainly seem that way to outsiders, and they can certainly muddy the waters of teaching clearly when they are more Bernardin than Dolan. But educating the public with accurate information is a fairly important task, provided it is accurate and complete information. And in this case, accurate and complete information about condom usage in the prevention of the spread of HIV would have been, basically, “it’s a false solution.” Which is what Benedict said in his remarks also.
Problem 6: They report: “Years ago, Vatican officials reportedly began studying the topic, with the goal of writing a document on the morality of condom use as protection against AIDS, but no statement was issued.”
Analysis: This is akin to problem 4, above. They insinuate a lacuna in Church teaching, combine it with the media-generated confusion, and voila! the suggestion that the impermissible is at least somewhat permissible has been born in the reader’s mind.
Problem 7: They then wrap up with some of the best stuff, but cast in a shroud of doubt and reaction:
The pope’s comments in a book interview do not amount to an official teaching, a point conservative Catholics made repeatedly and vociferously Tuesday. They argued that the pope was only noting that by using a condom, a person with HIV is displaying some moral sense about the consequences of his behavior.
“I maintain that nothing new has happened, that the church’s teaching hasn’t changed,” said the Rev. Joseph Fessio of Ignatius Press, the English publisher of the book, in a phone interview from Rome.
Yet, the pope’s remarks are still seen as significant and must be analyzed and explained by church leaders.
Analysis: It looks like they took a statement from Father Fessio that came later in the interview, after he had made the compelling arguments, explained everything clearly, and was fielding questions, and, with all the context of the teaching of the Church preceding his statement, he said, “I maintain…”… of course, without the context, it looks like he’s just voicing his personal opinion and not offering any context or background or reason, and thus his “I” makes his position a bit weak.
Ending: They close with a good wrap-up by Russell Shaw:
“We’re in for a long period of confusion,” said Russell Shaw, a writer for the Catholic publication Our Sunday Visitor and former spokesman for the U.S. bishops’ conference. “The bishops — and clergy especially — will have to go home now to their own dioceses and whether they like it or not start speaking very clearly about what just happened.”
We get a season of confusion, the AP gets another laugh at our expense, watching us dance and scramble about, while they completely ignore the parts of the explanation that show their “reporting” to be more an attempt to craft reality than to report it.