public relations

It's time for journalists to ask: What has happened to the Vatican press office?

It's time for journalists to ask: What has happened to the Vatican press office?

Let’s start with a loaded question. But it’s a questions that journalists really need to ask, because of trends during recent events in Catholic life.

So here goes: Is the Vatican’s press office helping to push a progressive agenda that could forever change the Catholic church?

Here’s the background: The Pan-Amazonian Synod that ended over a week ago wasn’t without controversy, to say the least. The recommendations put forth regarding bestowing Holy Orders to women in the form of making them deacons is something Pope Francis has to make a decision on by the end of the year. Toss in the theological debate over the Pachamama statues present at the Vatican and at a nearby Rome church and there was no shortage of fodder for reporters and columnists.

That takes us to the Vatican’s press office, the people on the front lines of getting out the pope’s message to the world’s media.

Like the White House in the age of Trump, so too does the Holy See’s messaging need some further examination. Former White House Press Secretaries Sean Spicer, followed by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, were all placed under the news media’s microscope for their statements and actions — and rightly so. The PR men and women behind Francis also deserve similar examination by the press.

Long gone are the days of Joaquin Navarro Valls. A “suave, silver-haired Spaniard,” as the Los Angeles Times described him in their 2017 obituary, Valls was both a close confidant of Pope John Paul II and served for more than two decades as chief Vatican spokesman. He defined what it was to be the pope’s press man. And he defended church teachings while doing it.

Navarro-Valls, a lay member of the conservative Catholic movement Opus Dei, had worked as a foreign correspondent for the Spanish newspaper ABC when the Polish pope offered him the job as director of the Vatican press office. He was the first journalist to hold the post. He was the right man at the right time for a globe-trotting pope at a time when mass media was growing.

Fast-forward to the present. The backlash to Francis by traditionalists is based on convictions that he has politicized the church, wanting to transform it into a social service agency.

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Amid bush-league PR operation, Houston Astros could use some good -- er, God -- news

Amid bush-league PR operation, Houston Astros could use some good -- er, God -- news

God and baseball.

Both are favorite subjects of mine, and sometimes, they intersect.

We eventually will get to the religion angle in this post, so please hang with me for a moment. But first, let’s set the scene with a little unfortunate background: It’s been a rough few days for the bush-league PR operation of the Houston Astros.

Even as attention should be focused on the team’s feel-good pursuit of its second World Series title in three years, a foul-mouthed, female-sportswriter-bullying assistant general manager named Brandon Taubman managed to rile even local Astros fans.

Major League Baseball is investigating what happened after the Astros’ pennant-clinching win on Saturday night, as CBS News notes:

The Houston Astros lost Game 1 of the World Series Tuesday night against the Washington Nationals, but it's drama off the field that's making headlines. Major League Baseball is investigating the expletive-filled celebration of a controversial player that an Astros executive apparently directed to a group of female reporters.

Sports Illustrated reporter Stephanie Apstein wrote that Astros assistant general manager, Brandon Taubman, turned to the female reporters, one of whom was wearing a domestic violence bracelet, and yelled: "Thank God we got Osuna! I'm so f— glad we got Osuna!"

He was referring to pitcher Roberto Osuna, picked up by the Astros after he was arrested on domestic violence charges in 2018 for allegedly assaulting the mother of his young child. The Astros had initially been criticized for acquiring Osuna after he had been accused of domestic violence. 

The Poynter Institute’s Tom Jones — in a daily briefing that highlights “The Astros’ sexist mistake” — runs down the team hierarchy’s bungling of Taubman’s tirade all along the way:

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The Vatican press office has turned over, again. There are new challenges ahead

The Vatican press office has turned over, again. There are new challenges ahead

The Vatican press office may be second only to the White House communications department when it comes to ranking the world’s busiest public relations operation.

Like President Donald Trump, Pope Francis and the Holy See are in some serious need of daily damage control. The resurfacing of the clergy sex abuse scandal — year after year for decades — and the allegations that led to the downfall of former cardinal Theodore McCarrick have been the Vatican’s biggest PR headaches over the past year.

Responsible for handling the Holy See’s messaging on the clergy scandal and a host of other issues will be a retooled press office. Much of the turmoil that has surrounded the pope and the Catholic church over the past year called for an overhaul of the Holy See’s press operation.

The past two weeks has seen a flurry of announcements, including the naming of a new press office director and vice director (more on this position further down), two of the biggest jobs at the Vatican held by lay people.  

Pope Francis appointed Matteo Bruni as director of the Holy See Press Office earlier this month, replacing Alessandro Gisotti who’d been serving in the role on an interim basis following the abrupt resignations of Greg Burke, a former Fox News Channel reporter, and Paloma Garcia Ovejero, who had also worked as a journalist in her native Spain, at the end of last year. Gisotti was in charge throughout the Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano saga. Vigano has claimed that Francis covered up the misconduct of McCarrick, something the pontiff has repeatedly denied.

With Bruni’s appointment, Gisotti has been given the role of vice editorial director of the Dicastery for Communication. He will serve under editorial director Andrea Tornielli, who’s been in the job since December, and Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Dicastery for Communication since July 2018.

Bruni, Gisotti, Tornielli and Ruffini are all Italians, experienced PR men loyal to the church.

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KHOU takes a quick, and sadly typical, trip into another public classroom culture war

KHOU takes a quick, and sadly typical, trip into another public classroom culture war

Rare is the week in which your GetReligionistas do not receive some kind of note from a reader pointing us toward a news report in which there are claims that conservative Christians have suffered some kind of discrimination at the hands of the agents of "political correctness," usually public-school officials.

It's pretty clear that the correspondents are primarily upset about the contents of the story, as opposed to the efforts of journalists to cover it. In other words, these readers want GetReligion to publicize or protest THIS CASE, as opposed to critique the coverage.

Now, don't get me wrong. Often the coverage of these stories is pretty lousy, and that's usually just as true in alternative "conservative" media as it is in the mainstream press.

The basic problem is one that reporters face all the time: Once the conflict begins, public officials tend to stop answering questions and hand things over to their public-relations teams. This leaves journalists with quotes from one side of the story -- the angry activists -- and that's that. Some journalists turn this around and only quote the public officials, thus assuming that the people complaining about discrimination are totally out of line and have no facts on their side.

A classic Catch-22.

Consider this recent story from KHOU about an all-too-typical conflict in a public-school classroom in Katy, Texas:

A Katy seventh grader has some strong accusations. She says her teacher asked the class to deny God exists.

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New York Times on the Planned Parenthood videos: It's all politics, politics, politics

New York Times on the Planned Parenthood videos: It's all politics, politics, politics

Media coverage of the Planned Parenthood-undercover-abortion-videos matter has been underwhelming to say the least. However, this week there have been a few more articles out there about the controversy -- plus a third video.

The latest non-news news is that Planned Parenthood has actually asked the media to back off from the story and to date, I've seen no media organizations tell PP to go take a hike. Just before Planned Parenthood's request came this New York Times story about how Republicans are taking advantage of it all.

WASHINGTON -- Rick Perry’s voice softens when he talks about the joy he gets from looking at his iPad and seeing “that 20-week picture of my first grandbaby.” Marco Rubio says ultrasounds of his sons and daughters reinforced how “they were children -- and they were our children.” Rand Paul recalls watching fetuses suck their thumbs. And Chris Christie says the ultrasound of his first daughter changed his views on abortion.
If they seem to be reading from the same script, they are.
With help from a well-funded, well-researched and invigorated anti-abortion movement, Republican politicians have refined how they are talking about pregnancy and abortion rights, choosing their words in a way they hope puts Democrats on the defensive.
The goal, social conservatives say, is to shift the debate away from the “war on women” paradigm that has proved so harmful to the their party’s image.
Democrats were jolted by the latest and perhaps most disruptive effort yet in this line of attack by activists who want to outlaw abortion: surreptitiously recorded video of Planned Parenthood doctors casually discussing how they extract tissue from aborted fetuses.

Once again, we have a story that uses the much-maligned Planned Parenthood videos as a segue into what many reporters *really* think the debate is all about -- politics and politics alone. No religious beliefs. No convictions about the science issues involved. 

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New York Times (reluctantly) admits that 'some' courts are backing HHS mandate

New York Times (reluctantly) admits that 'some' courts are backing HHS mandate

As you GetReligionistas have repeatedly stressed in recent years, the battles over the Health and Human Services contraceptives mandate is not a simple story involving two levels of conflict, with churches and religious groups being granted an clear exemption and for-profit corporations over on the losing side of the religious-liberty equation.

As this battle has continued in the courts, things have only grown more complex -- both for the Obama White House and the journalists who cover it.

For starters, there was that whole Hobby Lobby ruling and the fine-tuning in the regulations that has taken place since then. Meanwhile, the really interesting legal wars have focused on doctrinally-defined schools, ministries and parachurch groups that are caught in the middle. This is where things get really complicated and, frankly, many journalists do not seem to understand what all of the fuss is about.

In news reports, journalists continue to describe a wave of court victories for the White House -- while having to admit that there are religious groups who don't see things that way. A new story in The New York Times offers a classic example of this struggle to frame the debate:

WASHINGTON -- Four federal appeals courts have upheld efforts by the Obama administration to guarantee access to free birth control for women, suggesting that the government may have found a way to circumvent religious organizations that refuse to provide coverage for some or all forms of contraception.
While pleased with the rulings, administration officials are not celebrating.

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Mau-mauing The Times of London

The Archbishop of Canterbury has stated the Church of England was  moving away from using faith as a criteria for admission to its church-supported schools, The Times of London reported last week.

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Do religious readers really want quality religion coverage?

It has been awhile since our own Bobby Ross, Jr., quoted that laugh-to-keep-from-crying tweet by New York Times religion scribe Laurie Goodstein that said (all together now): “Will the last one on the religion beat please turn out the lights?”

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