America's bishops take on the porn industry; mainstream media don’t care

Pornography reaps $97 billion a year worldwide -- $10-$12 billion just in America -- and the nation's Catholics number more than 66 million. So when the nation's bishops issue a massive new paper on pornography, wouldn't you think news media would listen hard?

But no, most mainstream media's answer seems to be "Yawn." Except for the Catholic press, few outlets showed any interest.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, at their second semiannual meeting this year, certainly spared no alarms at the explosion of "hypersexualized" content -- not only videos but movies, music, novels, videogames, "sexting" phone messages, even drugstores, hotel chains, and cable companies.

"In the confessional and in our daily ministry, we have seen the corrosive damage caused by pornography: children whose innocence is stolen; men and women who feel great guilt and shame for viewing pornography occasionally or habitually; spouses who feel betrayed and traumatized; and men, women and children exploited by the pornography industry," says the 32-page paper.

Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, chairman of the committee that did the paper, adds his own ringing quote. As reported by Catholic News Service, Malone calls porn a "particularly sinister instance of consumption" whereby men, women and children "are consumed for the pleasure of others." Adds the 1,200-word CNS story:

"Producing or using pornography is gravely wrong. It is a mortal sin if it is committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent. Unintentional ignorance and factors that compromise the voluntary and free character of the act can diminish a person's moral culpability," says the approved version of "Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography."

The use of religious terms like "gravely wrong" and "mortal sin" are especially noteworthy. The bishops are stating their belief that porn not only degrades personal dignity but imperils souls. CNS was alert also in spotting the mitigating factors in the study.

And I don’t see that high standard matched in secular media.  As a faithful reader told us, it may fall into our "Got News?" category.

"They certainly noticed the statements on nukes, the economy and gays," Faithful Reader says. "So when the bishops take on a $97 billion global industry, that's not worth looking at?"

But even the few secular reporters who showed up in Baltimore, where the bishops met, gave it only passing mention. The Baltimore Sun did an omnibus advance story, saying the bishops were planning to deal with abortion, marriage, immigration and religious liberty. And the follow-up wasn't much better: two of the 13 paragraphs.

I'll give the Sun two points, though. It repeats the idea of people in the sex industry as "disposable objects," rather than children of God.  And it notes that the study title -- "Create in Me a Clean Heart" -- comes from "King David's plea for forgiveness in Psalm 51."

Still, the rest of the story spreads itself thin in covering all the topics of the bishops' meeting, such as abortion, euthanasia, poverty and the environment. Much like the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette does, leaving any mention of porn until the end of the article.

The Post-Gazette does have better sourcing, quoting five bishops or archbishops.  And the passage on the porn study is indeed eloquent: "It encourages users of pornography to see the exploitation of both the persons depicted and themselves, and it encourages church leaders to help people affected by its use." Still, it all reads like an afterthought.

And MSNBC didn’t do itself proud in its account, which covers less than a stripper's costume. First offense was the sarcasm headline, "US Catholic bishops condemn growth of 'corrosive' pornography." After that comes a bare story of less than 290 words. It goes downhill right from the lede:

Roman Catholic bishops issued a collective condemnation of pornography Tuesday, calling it "a dark ‘sign’ of the modern world" that causes "corrosive damage."
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops almost unanimously approved a statement saying the impact of porn had "grown exponentially" with technology. "Some have even described it as a public health crisis," they said.

At least MSNBC cites the document saying pornography "hurts the user by potentially diminishing his or her capacity for healthy human intimacy and relationships" and "presents a distorted view of human sexuality that is contrary to authentic love, and it harms a person’s sense of self-worth." The article also links to the study itself.

But after that, the article spends two paragraphs on the bishops' new election-year guide dealing with the well-worn issues of marriage and abortion. So the part on porn runs more like 230 words.

I know what some of you are thinking: "After the recent terrorist attacks, the media were probably stretched too thin to pay much attention to pornography." Valid point. They used to have deeper benches before laying off the reporters that were their main routes of info. They also used to have religion writers doing religion stories. Imagine telling a non-specialist to cover, say, Super Bowl or a major firm's IPO.

Yes, many have died lately in France, and in Mali and Lebanon. Balance that against the millions of humans, including children, victimized by various forms of the sex industry -- not just videos but the slave trade, child porn, sexually transmitted diseases, etc.  All of it was rife before the current wave of terrorism and will likely outlast it. Shouldn't it get more than a few paragraphs?

 

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