Francis’s papacy is not even three days old and the American mainstream media has already begun a campaign to damage his reputation. In fact, the effort began the very day of his election, judging from this article which appeared on the New York Times website on Wednesday. The same (or at least similar) problems are present in the various reports I have read by which this attack is being advanced, but for this post I would like to focus on the Times story, since it is a fairly good illustration of the unfairness, dishonesty, ignorance, and irrationality at work. The complaint has to do with Jorge Bergoglio’s behavior during Argentina’s “dirty war”–the conflict during the 1970s when the right wing military government tried to suppress its opposition.
Here is the first passage of interest:
Cardinal Bergoglio is also a conventional choice, a theological conservative of Italian ancestry who vigorously backs Vatican positions on abortion, gay marriage, the ordination of women and other major issues — leading to heated clashes with Argentina’s left-leaning president.
He was less energetic, however, when it came to standing up to Argentina’s military dictatorship during the 1970s as the country was consumed by a conflict between right and left that became known as the Dirty War.
Can you see the tendentiousness here? As Archbishop of Buenos Aires Bergoglio would be the most prominent churchman in the country and thus in a position to get into “heated clashes” with the government without much difficulty. Probably nobody outside the government (and perhaps the mass media) would have a bigger megaphone. This could hardly be said of him as the Jesuit Provincal back in the 1970s, when most Argentines, including most people in the government, had surely never heard of him. Drawing inferences about the “energy” of his commitments from this comparison is utterly bogus, as can be seen by anyone who stops to think–which tells you something about what the Times thinks about its own readers. It is like saying Barack Obama is known for his heated clashes with House Republicans, but he was less energetic back when an Illinois state senator.
Here is another key paragraph:
After the church had denied for years any involvement with the dictatorship, he testified in 2010 that he had met secretly with Gen. Jorge Videla, the former head of the military junta, and Adm. Emilio Massera, the commander of the navy, to ask for the release of the priests. The following year, prosecutors called him to the witness stand to testify on the military junta’s systematic kidnapping of children, a subject he was also accused of knowing about but failing to prevent.
By the turn of phrase in the first sentence here, the Times tries to suggest some kind of inconsistency, and hence dishonesty, arising from the Church’s denials that it was involved with the dictatorship and Bergoglio’s admission about the meeting to secure the release of those priests. But what fairminded or humane observer would regard such a meeting as culpable “involvement” with the regime? The richest part here, however, is the accusation that he “knew about” but “failed to prevent” government kidnapping of children. What could the Jesuit Provincal of Argentina have done to prevent such abuses? Was the military under his direction? Using the same ridiculous standard, we could say that the editors of the New York Times “knew about but failed to prevent” police beatings of civil rights protestors in the 1960s.
Also revealing of the Times writer’s weird mentality is this remark on a priest who ended up being convicted for taking part with the government in torturing and killing prisoners:
Father von Wernich was allowed to continue to celebrate Mass in prison, and in 2010 a church official said that “at the appropriate time, von Wernich’s situation will have to be resolved in accordance with canonical law.” But Cardinal Bergoglio never issued a formal apology on behalf of the church, or commented directly on the case, and during his tenure the bishops’ conference was similarly silent.
While nobody would defend the behavior of which this man was convicted, it is baffling that the Times could find it somehow improper that he was allowed to celebrate mass in prison. Even supposing he was guilty of all these horrible crimes for which he deserves to punished, what possible harm could come from his celebrating mass? He would either be doing it privately just for himself, or perhaps for other prisoners. How could that be bad?
At any rate, such treatment of Francis demonstrates something that we already knew but that is also worth remembering: there are powerful elements in the American media that are utterly partisan. The partisanship shows itself in several ways. First and most obviously, those who are writing these stories would never treat their own favorites according to the same shoddy standards. Also, it is worth noting that the complaint here is always that Bergoglio “knew about” but “failed to prevent” abuses by the right wing government in the Dirty War. Why no complaints that he “knew about” but “failed to prevent” abuses by left-wing revolutionaries? Because in the minds of many liberal American journalists a right wing government’s use of force is necessarily illegitimate, but the resort to violence by socialist revolutionaries is not to be questioned. Finally, from this behavior we can see that the function of much liberal journalism is not to engage with and criticize non-liberal positions. It is rather to delegitimize those who hold such positions so that liberal readers won’t have to trouble themselves with any rational attention to ideas with which they disagree.