Washington Times

RIP Mother Angelica: Some media were more prepared for this big story than others

RIP Mother Angelica: Some media were more prepared for this big story than others

Mother Angelica probably appreciated the fact that she died yesterday – Easter Sunday – and it was a few savvy folks in the secular media who knew of her fame and quickly posted stories about her death.

Outside of Alabama, NBC News and the Washington Times were the quickest on the ball to note that a giant in the Catholic media world just died. The doughty nun has been bedridden the past 15 or so years but any religion reporter working in the last decades of the 20th century knew of Mother Angelica’s amazing story. 

Mother Angelica died about 5 p.m. CDT on Sunday. By the time EWTN posted news about her death about 90 minutes later, media on the East Coast were wrapping things up for the night. Which is why a quick story on deadline by my former colleague Victor Morton –- who has extensive contacts in the Catholic world -- at the Times was impressive.

Mother Angelica died on Easter Sunday.
The Poor Clare nun became the face of Catholic media during the Pope John Paul era by founding Eternal Word Television Network and being its most prominent on-air personality.
EWTN confirmed the death Sunday, almost 15 years after a stroke took the power of speech and the ability to appear on the air from its founder, whose formal religious name was Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation and was born Rita Rizzo. She was 92.

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14 years after the Globe: Minneapolis Star Tribune doggedly pursues local sex-abuse saga

14 years after the Globe: Minneapolis Star Tribune doggedly pursues local sex-abuse saga

I had been at the Washington Times for more than seven years editing the pop-culture page, when I was tapped to become the paper’s religion editor in 2003. I’d been doing a fair amount of religion reporting before that, but I hadn’t covered the beat full-time since my stint at the Houston Chronicle in the late 1980s.

One thing that had changed in the intervening years was how the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church was all over the news, and had been since early 2002. That was the year that religion reporters around the country had to grind out piece after piece on all the revelations first pouring out of Boston and then in dioceses around the country.

That was the part of the beat I didn’t want to take on, as it entailed a return to my days as a police reporter -- although this time the criminals were erring clergy. Many of the other facets of the police beat: interviews with traumatized victims, poring over court records, showing up at hearings, were there, all with the added monstrosity that those responsible were acting in the name of God while the faith of many were destroyed. I quailed from volunteering to do stories no one else in the newsroom wanted to touch. So did other reporters, as GetReligion has reported in the past.

However, I did take on the beat and ended up doing many clergy abuse stories, as it turned out, which is why I have so much respect for reporters who continue to plug away at all the ripples the scandal continues to have.

It was 14 years ago this month that Boston Globe’s first stories ran. One newspaper I want to give a shout out to is the Minneapolis Star Tribune, whose religion-beat reporter Jean Hopfensperger continues to report on an issue that refuses to go away.

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Pope, Paris and ISIS: mainstream media coverage broad but shallow

Pope, Paris and ISIS: mainstream media coverage broad but shallow

Pope Francis didn’t just criticize the ISIS attacks in Paris. He pretty much damned them. His weekend reactions used both religious and humanitarian terms -- "blasphemy," "not human," "homicidal hatred." It was some of Francis' strongest language yet.

But not everyone in mainstream media looked much below the surface -- either at his comments or those of ISIS.

Catholic News Service, of course, spotted the religious content quickly:

The attacks, Pope Francis said, were an "unspeakable affront to the dignity of the human person."
"The path of violence and hatred cannot resolve the problems of humanity, and using the name of God to justify this path is blasphemy," he said.
Pope Francis asked the thousands of people who gathered at St. Peter's for the Sunday midday prayer to observe a moment of silence and to join him in reciting a Hail Mary.
"May the Virgin Mary, mother of mercy, give rise in the hearts of everyone thoughts of wisdom and proposals for peace," he said. "We ask her to protect and watch over the dear French nation, the first daughter of the church, over Europe and the whole world."
"Let us entrust to the mercy of God the innocent victims of this tragedy," the pope said.

And other reports? Well, some simply patched together other reports. One of those was HuffPost, which linked to seven other stories in less than 230 words (although three were other HuffPo stories).  The article also cites Francis saying the attacks are part of a "piecemeal Third World War," drawn from an interview with TV2000, the network of the Italian Bishops' Conference.

It's a phrase he has often used. The Washington Times points out that he said much the same at an Italian World War I cemetery in 2014. But don’t give the Times too much credit for enterprise reporting: It linked to BBC's coverage of the pope's visit there.

Even the combined forces of CBS News and the Associated Press yielded a pitiful 280 words or so on Sunday. And it's nearly all soundbites: "blasphemy," "barbarity," "third world war," "no justification for these things." The main addition was his condolence to French President Francois Hollande, who vowed "merciless" war on ISIS.

One might excuse AP/CBS for haste because the report ran on Sunday morning, but no. Not when Crux, the Catholic newsmagazine of the Boston Globe, ran a more thorough report the day before -- a report that showed a Sunday update:

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Seattle Weekly uses Falun Gong as counterweight to Chinese President Xi

Seattle Weekly uses Falun Gong as counterweight to Chinese President Xi

While Pope Francis was leading a star-studded tour of three East Coast cities last week, there was another international visitor heading for Washington, D.C. -- Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Clearly, Francis won out in the media coverage sweepstakes. Bloomberg may have had the best headline about the junction of the two: (“China’s Xi Can’t Compete with ‘Rock Star’ Pope in U.S. Trip”).

However, if you happen to live in the Seattle area, Xi’s visit was a bit hard to miss, because that’s where he spent two days before heading off to DC.

While Xi was ferried from Everett to Tacoma with stops at Redmond’s Microsoft campus and business meetings in downtown Seattle, whole interstates were closed for his 130-car motorcades for his 1,000-person entourage. Last Tuesday, his arrival caused a 17-mile-long backup on I-5 south going into Seattle and his Thursday departure caused similar headaches. The area around Xi’s hotel (the Westin) in downtown Seattle was a no-go zone for ordinary folks, but protestors got as close as they could.

And the religion angle? One was a Falun Gong practitioner who’d been tortured for years in Chinese gulags. A Seattle Weekly reporter happened to find her .

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