My MSM Rules of Thumb

Rule One: Take off 50 IQ points whenever the Mainstream Media (MSM) covers religion, and bump that up to about 100 points whenever the religion is the Catholic Church.

Exhibit A: some months back Pope Benedict gave a homily during Ordinary Time restating basic Catholic teaching about our duty as stewards of the earth to care for the natural world. It was absolutely Not News to anybody with a passing familiarity with Catholic teaching. So how did the MSM treat it?

They explained that Benedict had chosen to wear green vestments to emphasize his new role as the “Green Pope”.

It is to laugh—or weep.

But of course, ignorance doesn’t explain everything. For good measure, you should also remember Rule 2: Sometimes naked cowardice and the urge to bully is what prompts a story. This becomes more urgent as Radical Islam continues to press on the West and chicken-hearted journalists want to feel brave in the face of theocratic fascism but don’t want to, you know, actually do something requiring bravery. Solution: mock the Catholic Church, because Rome does not issue fatwas.

Recognizing this immunizes you against a lot of pain and frustration. When some clever people in San Francisco advertise the Folsom Street Fair (“the world’s largest leather event”) with a billboard depicting the Last Supper as a kinky gay-sadomasochist fete complete with sex toys, you don’t have to spend a lot of useless energy wondering why the MSM has absolutely nothing to say, but spends a huge amount of time carefully tiptoeing around Muslim sensitivities by not reprinting the Danish cartoons. You already know: Cowards insult people whose creed commands them to turn the other cheek, not people who threaten to kill them.

This combination of ignorance and cowardice explains why—when there are a half a dozen spiritual guides such as St. John of the Cross or Fr. Benedict Groeschel who might have given us some really helpful insights into the phenomenon of the Dark Night of the Soul that Blessed Teresa of Calcutta experienced—the MSM chooses a Christopher Hitchens to sneer and gloat.

Finally, remember Rule 3: the primary function of the MSM is not to inform but to sell beer and shampoo. Informing and enlightening are entirely secondary to that overriding capitalist value. So given the choice between understanding and ratings-grabbing sensationalism, the MSM will choose sensationalism every time: especially when it comes to religion and particularly when it comes to the Catholic Faith. Who wants to hear some dry academic say that the gnostic gospels are a boring falsehood? Let the news shows go on about The Da Vinci Code as if it is something besides baseless second-rate twaddle. For Catholic Faith is not merely exotic (and therefore good television) what with all those smells and bells, it is also the enemy of sensationalism. The MSM therefore gets a twofer whenever it bashes the Faith: 1) it helps to keep people ignorant of ways of thinking that might jeopardize its grip on how we process information and 2) it helps to sell beer and shampoo.

That’s why MSM headlines periodically blare things like: “Was John Paul II Euthanized?” You can practically see them rubbing their hands with delight. Wouldn’t it be great if the most beloved Pontiff of the past century was himself put to sleep in direct defiance of all that stuffy Catholic teaching? What a joyous kick in the Church’s teeth!

Here’s the thing: John Paul II refused a feeding tube. That’s rather a different thing than being denied one. Very often, the dying simply lose all interest in food and drink. There is no moral obligation to ram food and drink down their throats anyway. In contrast, somebody like Terri Schiavo was not dying. She was forcibly made dead by judicial fiat which decreed that she be killed by thirst. John Paul was neither thirsty nor hungry. So it’s rather a stretch to say the man was euthanized. But such elementary distinctions between murder and allowing natural death are way too much to expect of the MSM. Especially if they sell beer and shampoo.

Bear all that in mind whenever the press covers Benedict too. Sending an MSM journalist to report on the Faith is like sending a color-blind man to do an art review. They can see, but they can’t (and often won’t) perceive because the major factor in the story—the gospel of Jesus Christ—is inaccessible and inconvenient to them.

Mark Shea

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Mark P. Shea is a Catholic author, blogger, and speaker.

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