Got news? Vatican, China and crickets

Story selection is one of those media criticism topics I wish we could address more. So often we're responding to what did get written rather than what didn't. Arguably the decision about which stories to cover and which to ignore -- or which to cover 'round the clock and which to cover once and move on -- contributes more to our perception of the world than how those stories or written. Here's a recent example. You recall how the media handled the most important Catholic news of 2010. I speak, of course, of Condomania, which we looked at in its early days here and here. It got Pope Benedict XVI almost named Time's man of the year. (Don't read that last link if you care about accuracy, by the way.)

Condomgate was based on a brief passage in a lengthy book where the Pope expounded on various Catholic teachings. I certainly think it was newsworthy, just that the highly nuanced position was ill described by many media outlets, though not all.

OK, so what happens when the Vatican takes on one of the world's most repressive regimes? Crickets, mostly. I'll let John L. Allen from National Catholic Reporter explain the latest news:

A blistering Vatican statement today accuses China of "unacceptable and hostile acts" during a recent government-orchestrated assembly of Chinese Catholics, which it said smacked of "fear and weakness," a "repressive attitude" and "intransigent intolerance," producing a "grave loss of trust."

Why is this significant? Again, we'll let Allen explain:

Not only is it unusual for the Vatican to target a specific country in such public fashion, but today's statement also ruptures the quiet diplomacy that has characterized the Vatican's "China policy" since the papacy of Paul VI.

Most observers say the current row marks the most serious crisis in Sino-Vatican relations in recent memory, with one prominent Catholic expert on China gloomily claiming that things are headed "back to the time of Mao."

The events leading up to this latest Vatican move have been covered a bit. Here's an Associated Press story from last month about China ordaining a bishop without papal consent. And the Washington Post had a foreign service story -- that explained the stunning news -- a few weeks ago.

But this saga in general, including this latest story, just hasn't resulted in much coverage outside of religious media. The same could be said for many other stories about religious freedom. Here's another recent one from China that flew below the radar.

Do journalists really want to argue that the sexual revolution reigns supreme as the ultimate liberal value, much higher than human rights, religious liberty, free speech or the actions of a police state? Courage.

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