Is the MSM Being Lazy or Malicious in It’s Notre Dame Controversy Reporting?
posted at 8:50 pm on May 15, 2009 by Jimmie Bise, Jr
I’m not a Catholic but I empathize with practicing Catholics who are watching their beliefs get dragged through the muck over the controversy at Notre Dame
Here’s the story in a nutshell. The University of Notre Dame, the most iconic Catholic college in the country, has invited President Obama to its commencement ceremony where he will give the commencement speech and receive an honorary degree. It is the degree which has caused the problem and those who are protesting the honor have taken great pains to note. Joseph Bottum has a longer, but far better, summation of what has happened thus far at First Things.
To read the news coverage, though, you’d be hard-pressed to know the school was going to give an award at all. You would, however, learn that the protesters didn’t like that the President was going to give the commencement speech. In fact, you’d probably get the idea that was the whole reason for the protest. Time magazine reported it that way. So did the New York Times, Bloomberg, bloggers at the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, National Public Radio, and liberal reporter Johanna Neuman at the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press got it right once, then got it wrong for the rest of their story. Chris Cilizza waxed disingenuous with his “explanation” of the controversy.
After reading those articles, I’m having a hard time deciding whether the MSM is being lazy or malicious. I think you could make a pretty good argument either way. On one hand, it’s easy to write an article based on what you think you know and what you’ve read elsewhere or seen on television. Given that the majority of reporters read progressive blogs it’s a mortal lock that they’re not going to get much beyond “crazy Christers” from their daily reading. On the other hand, the approximately 20,000 protesters who will likely be in South Bend this weekend have not been particularly reticent or vague. Finding the basic facts about the story isn’t exactly like questing for the Ark of the Covenant and I’d bet it takes a certain amount of purposeful blindness not to see them.
Here is the real meat of the controversy. The Catholic Church considers abortion an “intrinsic evil” which means, simply, that it is always and everywhere wrong. There is no wavering in the Church’s position on the matter. It is impossible to be a Catholic in good standing and advance the cause of abortion rights just as it would be if you were to deny the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. To give the President, an open supporter of abortion who once blocked legislation that would have prevented infanticide, would be an honor that could reasonably be seen as supportive of that “intrinsic evil”. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops ruled such an honor well out of bounds back in 2004.
This isn’t brain surgery, folks, and, so far as the Church is concerned, the dispute over the degree award don’t exist in one of those legendary “grey areas” that moral prevaricators love to inhabit. Like I said at the beginning, I’m not a Catholic. But you don’t have to be a Catholic to learn all that (and, I hasten to note, most of the core facts about elementary Catholic doctrine have been in the news prominently since the 2004 election).
So why focus on the speech and not the degree? Well, that’s where you start to see some grey creeping into things. I suppose some could call the speech invitation an honor but, let’s face it, it’s nothing compared to the honor of, well, an honorary degree. A speech is just a speech, but that degree carries a serious amount of cachet. Also, we can’t forget that Notre Dame is not merely a Catholic institution an educational institution as well. Having a diversity of speakers is not only desirable but required.
Of course, it makes for a more consistent piece of the “Oh, those intolerant right-wing zealot Christians” picture to paint the protesters as opposing the speech and not the award. It’s a lot easier to write a story that dismisses serious Catholics as a bunch of Obama-hating wackjobs than it is to wade just a little bit into Catholic teaching to find out what the real disagreement is about.