I’m sitting in my hotel room in Vancouver, just reading the Globe and Mail, "Canada’s national newspaper." You’d think I’d know better, having spent eight years of my life being irritated by this rag. But it was free, and I’m a sucker.
Today’s G & M contains the following column (available only to premium subscribers on-line, but please, please don’t give these people any money):
Pope’s protracted death a PR-boon for Catholicism
Pope John Paul II was the first pope to die in the era of the 24-hour cable-news network. He was not the first celebrity: The mourning of Diana, Princess of Wales, probably came close to rivalling his in terms of sheer broadcast hours. But John Paul took much longer to die than producers had planned, and his dying days pushed the constant-news medium to its conceptual limit....
This event was also the best illustration we have yet seen of how the presence of a constant visual news flow actually shapes perceptions and thus alters history. What the news channels did, out of the necessity of their schedules, was to vastly inflate both the significance of an event and the popularity of a man. [Come again?] They instantly canonized a pope who had up to that point been characterized by the secular media as at best controversial and at worst regressive. they quickly convinced themselves that they were all Catholic. And they probably changed forever how a Pope’s death will be seen and understood.
Let me stop here to catch my breath, for this is breathtaking stuff. Russell Smith, the author of this column (a self-described "skeptical atheistic urbanite"), taxes the media with altering our view of Pope John Paul II, "canonizing" him when the truth (established also by the media, i.e., by those "skeptical atheistic urbanites" like himself) is that he was "at best controversial" and "at worst regressive." O.K., here’s some more, after a brief summary of the Schiavo and Easter coverage :
It has been an extremely good month for the Catholic church, PR-wise. [Which matters to whom?] The sheer number of priests on American airwaves in the last month must itself dispel the notion of liberal media bias. [Which Smith is doing his darnedest to re-establish, bless his heart.]
Certainly, a great many of the world’s one billion Catholics seriously loved and admired the man and feel genuine grief and loss at his death. And this grief, and the gathering of great crowds in churches and public places around the world, is a genuinely newsworthy event [gee, ya think?], and provides a stock of genuinely moving imagery about the power of faith. It is also arguably good for skeptical atheistic urbanites like myself to be reminded that although we may be overrepresented in the media, we really do not represent most people.
It’s tempting to give him this last word, but the next paragraph is just too smug, stupid, and infuriating to let go:
But there are certain other facts which did not appear, at least for the first five days of the death-watch. Such as: One billion is still only one-sixth of the whole. That is, five-sixths of the world’s population--and about three-quarters of the U.S. population--is not Catholic. [Does this mean we shouldn’t care about the death of a world-historical figure, whom many non-Catholics admired immensely?] John Paul II was not, it turns out, a great reconciler and revolutionary, but a hard-line conservative whose refusal to endorse safe sex in Africa makes him complicit in that continent’s holocaust.
I can’t take any more. This guy wins the Christopher Hitchens Award, hands down. Hitchens is at least smart, literate, and witty. Russell Smith lacks any of those (somewhat) redeeming qualities. By his obtuseness, he disqualifies himself as a serious commentator on even the secular significance of the reign of Pope John Paul II.
The column continues for another four paragraphs of ranting and lamenting that religion is getting so much (too much) airtime. While we, of course, should see the Pope for what he was, as defined by the non-sensational, truth-seeking secular print media. Heh.