Why Does the Media Hate the Church?

Deal W. Hudson
Published March 31, 2010

It’s sad to watch the New York Times and the Washington Post, along with MSNBC, attack Benedict XVI. The story they concocted over the past few weeks, with the help of retired Bishop Rembert Weakland about Rev. Joseph Murphy, is risibly tenuous.

These once-great newspapers trivialize themselves by publishing front-page stories making obvious their chronic disregard of the Catholic Church and, especially, the Pope. Nothing else but a kind of seething hatred explains their willingness to ignore the canons of credible reporting and comment.

The Church’s staunchest defender in this country is Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, who has been countering this latest attack from the first blow. Donohue calls the New York Timesstory on Father Murphy the “last straw,” but no doubt there will be more straw to ignite Donohue’s flaming pen. (And it won’t be from the pages of the Summa Theologiae, which its author deemed as “so much straw” in the hours before his death.)

I asked Donohue, and a number of other experts, the question, “Why does media like the New York Times and the Washington Post hate the Church and the Pope – what’s the source of the animus?”

Donohue replied, “As I said in today’s New York Times op-ed page ad, it stems from three issues: abortion, gay marriage, and women’s ordination. So, when they can nail the Church on promiscuity, they love it. The goal is to weaken the moral authority of the Church so it won’t be as persuasive on issues like health care.”

Fred Barnes, executive editor of the Weekly Standard, agrees the media wants to weaken the Church. He echoes what his friend the late Bob Novak used to tell me about the mainstream media; it is “the most secular, liberal group in the country. The Catholic Church stands for everything you and I believe (though I’m not a Catholic) and for practically nothing the media likes. But the media cannot ignore the Catholic Church because it is so strong, popular, and enduring. That leaves the media one avenue of attack: Jump on any mistakes or scandals involving the Church and don’t let go.”

Another Evangelical friend of Catholics, Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, wrote to me that the “lamestream media hates the Pope because he exemplifies the vibrancy and relevance of orthodox faith in today’s society, which many in the press find either alien or deeply troubling.” Reed also views the media as alarmed that for the “once divided Evangelicals and devout Roman Catholics, the Pope is a symbol of a faith-based constituency the media views as hostile to modernity and values-neutral ‘tolerance.’”

Some responses to my question were brief and to the point. Bishop Robert F. Vasa of Baker, OR wrote saying, “Deal, Jesus told us it would happen: John 15:18-19. Looking the passage up I found: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (NIV translation).

Another quotation from Scripture came from the founder of Wallbuilders, David Barton, who cited Romans 1: 28-30 to describe what happens to those who directly reject belief in God. “They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed, and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant, and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil. . . . (NIV translation).

The philosopher Francis Beckwith, a recent convert to the Catholic faith, located the source of the media’s hatred in “the narrative of secular liberalism.” “The media doesn’t want to acknowledge that Catholics even have an “intelligent” point of view,” he explained. “This is why they don’t assess arguments, they seek out scandal in order to demoralize opposition. Given its status as an unquestioned first principle, secular liberalism can not allow a divine foot in the door.”

Russell Shaw, who used to deal with the press on a daily basis as communication’s director of the bishops’ conference, also thinks, “The people in charge in those places are secularist ideologues who believe they possess the right answers.” Shaw is not particularly sanguine about the outcome of the struggle: “It would be nice to think there’s a happy ending to this story, but I doubt it. Somebody’s got to win in the end.”

The recurring theme in the answers I received was that of two powers, two opposing moral viewpoints, competing for influence. The secular power of the media detests the traditional moral teachings of the Church but does not confront it directly, preferring coverage of scandal to argument. As Jim Bopp, Jr., general counsel to National Right to Life, wrote to me, “The Pope and the Church are the strongest force making people accountable to traditional moral requirements. It therefore must be destroyed by any means necessary, even though liberals are soft on pedophilia, they are prepared to condemn the Catholic Church for not dealing harshly with them.”

The poet Matthew Arnold wrote in “Dover Beach” about loss of faith that left us on a “darkling plain/Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight.” In this round of attacks on Benedict XVI we are witness to just such a scene. But, as Francis Beckwith reminded me, the Pope knows how to defend his faith. “This scares the crap out of the mainstream media, since it upsets the narrative: only dumb, ill-informed, people disagree with us. The narrative must be sustained at all costs, even if it means engaging in wicked defamation.”

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