On my way to church tonight, a media friend living in another country called me to tell me she couldn't believe what she just saw on CNN's Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer. She said it was so dismissive of Christian prayer that she almost wondered if she'd misheard. Well, having just gotten a look at the transcript, it appears my friend's account of the report by Susan Roesgen (Gulf Coast Correspondent) was pretty accurate. The story comes late in the show and deals with Notre Dame student and donor protests of the school's invitation to and honorary degree bestowal upon President Barack Obama. Or, as the goldenmouthed Blitzer says, "they're asking God to keep the president away."
I'll go ahead and cut and paste the relevant portions of the show:
BLITZER: President Obama's popularity is soaring these days. He's been welcomed in cities here in the United States and around the world.
But protesters at the University of Notre Dame say -- at least some of them say he's not welcome there. And they plan -- and plans for him to address the graduating class, they're sparking a growing controversy right now.
Not that this is a religion coverage problem but it plays into the larger dismissive tone: Is it true that President Obama's popularity is soaring? I have no doubt that his adoring media fans continue to be just that. But a recent Pew poll shows that President Obama is a much more polarizing figure than any of his predecessors for whom such data was gathered. Even George W. Bush's approval ratings the April following his controversial election/Supreme Court case were less polarized than President Obama's. I'm only putting this out there to point out how the media control the narrative. If they wanted to present President Obama as the most polarizing politician in history, they could do that and have the data to back it up. Since it doesn't fit the agreed-upon narrative, however, we don't see much mainstream coverage of that. Instead, it's those wacky anti-abortion activists at Notre Dame who are the real divisive ones. See how that works?
We asked our Susan Roesgen to take a closer look at what is going on -- all right, Susie, tell us what's going on.
SUSAN ROESGEN, GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it seems as if some of these protesters are actually praying that President Obama won't even step foot on the campus of the University of Notre Dame.
ROESGEN (voice-over): Protesters at the University of Notre Dame are praying for divine intervention to keep President Obama away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY WSJV)
EMILY TOATES, PROTESTER: We do not believe it's right to celebrate a man who's gone so against Catholic principles.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROESGEN: Like many presidents before him, Obama has been invited to give the commencement address at this Catholic university in May. But hundreds of devout Catholics on campus and off are outraged that Notre Dame would welcome a president whose public policies lean pro- choice on abortion.
BISHOP JOHN D'ARCY, DIOCESE OF FORT WAYNE: The Catholic Church's position is that -- that taking a life in a womb is an intrinsically evil act.
ROESGEN: Bishop John D'Arcy, whose diocese includes Notre Dame, is especially shocked that the university plans to give the president an honorary law degree.
D'ARCY: But to honor someone with a doctorate of laws and the only laws he has made are laws which are against innocent life -- no one is allowed to say who is going to sit at the table of life and, more important, who's not going to sit at the table of life. God didn't give us that privilege. He gave us many other privileges. That belongs to him alone.
ROESGEN: A spokesman for the university says there no plans to un-invite the president, but protesters say they will say one million rosaries until graduation day -- praying that the president will become pro-life.
ROESGEN: Can you believe that, Wolf, they're actually praying that God will change the heart and mind of President Obama to make him pro-life?
Emphasis mine. That last line is what my friend repeated to me on the phone -- certain she must have misheard. It couldn't possibly be true that a supposed reporter would express shock and dismay that pro-lifers might "actually" be praying that God would turn the heart and mind of President Obama, she figured. My friend is a media professional and is accustomed to less-than-stellar reporting but this, she felt, was beyond the pale.
I guess I'm wondering what's so hard for Roesgen to believe. It seems so perfectly natural to me that pro-life Catholics would pray that God would change President Obama's heart and mind toward pro-life policies that I'm kind of left wondering what's so shocking about it.
I know this is the month for mainstream media professionals to be shocked by completely normal prayer practices but it seems to me that a reporter covering the Notre Dame controversy should be either vaguely aware of how Christian prayer works or the pro-life community in general. Or maybe she should just be a little bit more respectful of the subjects she covers. I'm also wondering how CNN might have covered Moses' prayers that Pharaoh might change his heart toward the Israelites.
Anyway, the rest of the story includes the news that Obama will be giving the commencement address at Arizona State University but, unlike Notre Dame, he will not be given an honorary degree since his "body of work is yet to come." Here's how Blitzer responds to this:
He's giving the commencement address at Arizona State University, but will not be given an honorary degree by that university. What a snub that is.
This media reaction to ASU's decision says quite a bit about why we're seeing the coverage of Notre Dame's decision such as that highlighted above. If it's a snub to ask the president to speak at your university without giving him an honorary degree, these Notre Dame students and donors opposed to the honorary degree and speaking slot are clearly in the wrong.
Since we Lutherans commemorated Albrecht Durer this week, it seemed fitting to include his famous painting "Praying Hands."