An Example of How the Secular Media Exploits the “Pope Francis Effect”

by Steve Ray on February 4, 2014

Phil Lawler writes,

Yesterday I called attention to a very perceptive critique, by Bishop James Conley, of the Rolling Stone cover story about Pope Francis. The purveyors of pop culture aren’t interested in reporting what Pope Francis thinks, Bishop Conley warned; they’re interested in promoting their own ideas, and using the Pope as window-dressing. Recognizing the Pope’s popularity, they try to connect the Pope with their own favorite ideas, and if the connection doesn’t really work, that doesn’t worry them, because they’re not terribly interested in what the Pope actually thinks.

If Bishop Conley had waited just a few more days before writing his article for First Things, he would have had another spectacular example of sloppy pop journalism to illustrate his point. The op-ed in The Independent runs under a headline that reads: “The Francis Factor: Why worshippers are returning to Catholic churches.” But that’s not really the topic. Author John Walsh spends the first 9 paragraphs talking about himself before Pope Francis makes his first cameo appearance. Then the Pontiff is ushered off the stage, and Walsh tells us how he thinks the Church should change—once or twice dropping in an unsupported claim that Pope Francis more or less agrees with him.

What we have, then, is not an analysis of how the Pope is drawing new attention to the Church, but the theories of a lapsed Catholic with an outsized ego on what he dislikes about Catholicism. Walsh and The Independent are shrewd enough to realize that readers wouldn’t be terribly interested in what a former altar boy thinks of the Church. But toss in a reference to “the Francis effect,” and it captures eyeballs.

You know all those TV ads in which a gorgeous woman stretches out sensuously on the passenger seat of a new car? If you buy the car, the woman won’t be in it. And if you read the secular media accounts of “the Francis effect,” you won’t find the Pope there, either.

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