If the mainstream media had a mantra these days, it would be "The Pope Is Just Like Us!" A recent variation on the meme of Francis as an earth-shattering revolutionary is the press's guiding interpretation of the pope's address to the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences.
As Catholic blogger Damian Geminder observes, MSNBC Community Editor Daniel Berger had "the most popular article on msnbc.com for much of Tuesday, featuring this completely-not-sensationalistic-and-totally-journalistic headline"
Look whose byline is leading the front page of @msnbc ...
— danielhberger (@danielhberger) October 28, 2014
No need to give details here on where the MSNBC spin goes off the rails, as Geminder has done a serviceable (albeit highly polemicized) job. So too has Time's Elizabeth Dias, whose story bears the catchy headline "Sorry, But Media Coverage of Pope Francis Is Papal Bull."
I have praised Dias here before; her work is excellent proof that one does not have to personally sympathize with orthodox (i.e. Catechism-carrying) Catholics in order to do responsible reporting on church issues. Perhaps the New York Times' Ross Douthat had her in mind when he sent out this tweet:
Grateful to the terrible media coverage of @Pontifex on evolution for supplying a sorely needed occasion of Catholic unity today.
— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) October 28, 2014
The core observation of Dias's piece is that
the media has gone bananas in its coverage of Pope Francis.
Dias' words, while borne out by articles such as Berger's, are exemplified most dramatically by the truly bizarre hijinks that the pope's evolution speech sparked at Religion News Service. Granted, the story by Josephine McKenna avoids the "going rogue" angle, but what it did say was far more irresponsible. As you can see from this archived version, it gave a bungled translation that had the pope denying God is a "divine being":
Francis said the beginning of the world was not “a work of chaos” but created from a principle of love. He said sometimes competing beliefs in creation and evolution could co-exist.
“God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life,” the pope said. “Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”
Got that? Pope Francis, according to RNS, said, "God is not a divine being."