One of the most positive developments of the online age, for journalists, is the number of full verbatim texts of interviews and speeches that are only a few mouse clicks away.
Of course, this is a positive development if journalists actually use those resources. At some point, one still has to care about the details of what people actually said.
Like what? Several weeks ago, while working on a Universal syndicate column ahead of the papal visit to the United States, I ran a simple online search for the terms "Pope Francis" and "Who am I to judge?" The results, I thought, were pretty eye opening, with nearly 200,000 hits, including 4,540 in current news articles and commentaries.
Trust me that very, very few of these articles actually focused on what Pope Francis actually said in that 2013 encounter -- here is that link to the full text again -- with reporters on Shepherd One. We will come back to that subject.
I just ran the same search and, to my surprise, the current Google News files contain even more references than in the past -- with 5,300 in recent stories -- even though the we keep moving further and further from that event. Also, the the pope has had more to say on this and related topics that illustrate his actual views.
This flawed coverage includes the following in a new Associated Press story about Francis and the 2015 Synod on marriage and family issues. As always, AP reports are especially crucial since they go out to, literally, several thousand newsrooms across the nation and around the world and are seen by the copyeditors as basic, accurate stories. Let's walk through some of the summary material about what happens when the synod is done and submits its report to the pope:
What Francis does with the final paper is up to him: He can use it as a basis for a document of his own, he can ignore it, or he can publish it as a synod document. During Round One of the bishops’ family meeting last year, Francis not only published the final document in full, he published the three paragraphs that didn’t receive the necessary votes to pass -- those that dealt with the vexing issues of ministering to gay Catholics and civilly remarried Catholics.
The key question of Round Two has been how the bishops would pick up those two outstanding issues, after Francis called for a more merciful, less doctrinaire approach.