Monday, July 13, 2009

More on Media Bias: Were Obama and the Pope "Contentious" or "Cordial"?

Turns out that also on Saturday, the Wall Street Journal showed its outrageously obvious editorial bias--in an article and even in the "What's News" front-page one-sentence summaries found every day in its print version.

My husband had socked away the WSJ for his personal reading (I guess lest I read and recycle it before he got a chance to see it). This morning he came in astonished: "It's not just the New York Times that's doing it!" Under "World-Wide" news was this bulleted item: "Pope Benedict XVI pressed his case against abortion rights and embryonic stem-cell research during a Vatican meeting with Obama. A7."

The editorializing in the article, which starts with the misleading headline, "Pope Presses Obama on Contentious Points," turns out to be even worse than expected. Despite the "pressing his case" lead, WSJ reporters Stacy Meichtry and Davide Berretta cover a meeting the Vatican called, instead, "cordial."

And we don't find out until the fourth paragraph how the Vatican actually phrased it: "...the Vatican said the conversation turned 'first of all' to topics such as 'the defense and promotion of life and the right to abide by one's conscience'..."

"The defense and promotion of life" would have been an accurate way of reporting what the Journal changes to a "case against abortion rights." A positive view of creation was turned into an adversarial opposition to "rights."

And where did the reporters get the idea the tete-a-tete was "contentious"? From the fact the two leaders hold differing views? Obama's official response was only positive; Denis McDonough, Obama's Deputy National Security Advisor, told the press the president was "eager to find common ground on these issues and to work aggressively to do that," and was "very appreciative" of gifts from the Pontiff, including a paper on ethics of embryonic research, some medals, rosaries and a mosaic.

Clearly, both men knew there was foment in the US against papal policies and authority. But this was coverage of the actual meeting of two world leaders plus the First Lady, and journalists would be best to stick to the "five Ws" of classic reporting (what, who, when, where, why) in news stories, and then on editorial or feature pages, or in the news as "background" or sidebars, discuss the behind-the-scenes issues that exist but were not actually part of this historic, and apparently very pleasant, event.


  1. I'm sorry, I'm very distracted by Michelle Obama wearing a veil. Women are no longer required to cover their hair in the Catholic Church. Are they required to do so in the presence of the Pope?

    Gotta love the way the media twists things to get a good headline.

  2. Lynn, I'd guess Michelle was trying to show her respect by dressing as conservatively as possible, likely to send the message that despite her husband's disagreement with papal positions, they are still humble and deferent in the Pope's presence.