In the world of newspapers, there’s what we call first-day stories and second-day stories.
A good first-day story this week is that Pope Francis spoke out -- strongly -- about teaching very young students that they can choose their own genders. Then, a second-day story would follow up with the reaction to his speech.
And Francis did make such a speech last week and the transcript was just made public (official English translation is not out yet). The Washington Post ran a short first-day item -- actually an Associated Press story --- describing the pontiff's speech. Apparently, this only appeared in the Post's online edition and not in the dead-tree version. Did someone there wish to bury it?
However, The New York Times definitely did not bury this news. It cut to the chase with the reaction to the pope’s statement -- albeit only the reaction of activists one side.
Here’s how a story headlined “Pope Francis’ remarks disappoint gay and transgender groups" began:
Leaders of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups expressed dismay on Wednesday after Pope Francis said that schoolchildren are being taught they can choose their gender as part of what he called an “ideological colonization.”
Francis was meeting privately with bishops in Poland last week when he broached the matter. “Today, in schools they are teaching this to children -- to children! -- that everyone can choose their gender,” he said, according to a transcript released by the Vatican on Tuesday.
Marianne Duddy-Burke, the executive director of DignityUSA, a leading organization of L.G.B.T. Catholics, said the comments represented a “dangerous ignorance” about gender identity, which is no more a choice than height or hair color.
“It’s very troubling that the pope would say this,” Ms. Duddy-Burke said on Wednesday. “It also shows that the pope doesn’t understand the danger that his words can mean for gender-nonconforming people, particularly those who live in countries with laws or cultural pressures that put these people at risk for violence.”
In his remarks, the pope said the idea of choosing gender was being taught with schoolbooks supplied by influential donors and countries. He did not identify which.
“This is terrible,” he said, according to the transcript.
Fortunately the piece does explain what specifically set Francis off.
Francis, who is Argentine, also did not offer examples of classrooms using such a curriculum. But church analysts say he has long harbored resentment over so-called ideological colonialism, the notion that international groups offer aid to developing nations contingent upon the adoption of Western values.
A quick aside: Another "Western value" frequently addressed by this pope is abortion. Also, here’s one story that explains why Africans get upset about why so much money pours in from the West to help control their populations. As the link explains, people are going hungry while groups from Planned Parenthood International to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation rain contraceptives down on them. So there is a history of people in Africa (and also in India as I discovered during a visit there) of resentment toward Westerners whose main priority is cutting African and Indian birthrates.
Back to Francis: fortunately the reporter checked some of his past speeches to see where else the idea of ideological colonialism had sprung up and he unearthed this 2015 incident:
During a trip to the Philippines in 2015, the pope warned of “the new ideological colonization that tries to destroy the family.” Asked by journalists what he meant, he was reported to have given the example of an education minister in Argentina who was offered a loan to build schools on the condition that the textbooks include “gender theory.”
Well, yes, that does explain it. So why doesn’t the lede run something like this: “Expressing irritation at the non-stop efforts by some Western groups to push liberal values on the developing world, Pope Francis …”
But no, the story leads with how disappointed certain interest groups are with him. And there are no contrasting voices. Aside from one priest –- who is constantly quoted by the media on all sorts of issues –- there is no one quoted who agrees with the pope’s speech.
Some, like Catholic blogger Rocco Palmo, noted that the LGBT crowd was reacting to the news even before the English translation of the pope’s remarks were released.
So all there was is a chorus of people from gay and transgender groups bemoaning the pope’s stance. Are we seeing Kellerism here? Kellerism is the GetReligion term (click here for background) for the trend toward editors making up their minds on hot-button issues to the point that they believe there are no legitimate, alternative points of view on the story. Thus, only one side of the story makes it into print.
And near the end, the pope gets a lecture:
L.G.B.T. leaders said Wednesday that the pope had failed to grasp that one’s gender identity is discovered, often at a very young age, not chosen. Ms. McBride, of the Human Rights Campaign, noted that transgender people have been a part of humanity throughout time and across cultures.
“There have been times where he’s demonstrated compassion,” she said of Francis. “Then there have been other times where his words have been not only hurtful, and frankly harmful, but really demonstrating a misunderstanding of what it means to be transgender.”
If this pope is anything, he is not stupid. Can the Times conceive of a narrative where people feel browbeaten into accepting something they are morally against?
It appears not, so all we'll get is something out of a Zen riddle: the sound of one hand clapping. As the newspaper's own Public Editor (think readers' representative) said the other day, that's strange way to cover the news, especially if journalists want to speak to an entire nation, or culture. It's also a great way to run off subscribers.