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The Carla Bruni story that wasn't

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Oct 15, 2010

Yesterday a CWN headline called attention to a report that Carla Bruni, the glamorous wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, had been asked to stay away from the Vatican, because Church officials were worried that her presence might encourage Roman newspapers to print semi-nude photos of the French first lady.

Frankly, we were skeptical of the story. Careful readers should immediately have noticed that the CWN headline ended with a question mark—always a sign that we are not ready to vouch for the accuracy of a story. But just in case readers missed that cue, we made the question explicit, noting that the story given prominent coverage in the Daily Telegraph “cites only a French satirical publication, and should therefore be treated with skepticism.” At that point we felt that we had done our editorial duty; we had conveyed to readers our judgment that the story was fanciful.

So why did we mention the story at all? Because we were sure that other media outlets would run with it. One of the main purposes of our CWN news coverage is to let intelligent Catholic readers know what others are saying about the Church, and warn our readers about the inaccuracies that are being put into general circulation.

Sure enough, on the day after we signaled our skepticism, the mass media outlets were conveying the story without that healthy skepticism. There were dozens of headlines this morning, recounting the Bruni-Vatican story as if it were an established fact. Time magazine, always setting new standards for snarky journalism regarding the Church, ended a foolish news story with a foolish tag line: “To get on the Pope's good side, Mrs. Sarkozy might want to make a few trips to confession and swap the pearls for some rosary beads.

One lonely reporter—Greg Burke, the Fox News correspondent in Rome—shared our skepticism, and did a bit of homework. Burke, who has covered the Vatican for years, and knows how the institutions of the Holy See work, thought that the story sounded wrong. Why would Vatican diplomats send such a tactless message to the French president's office? Why would they worry about a meeting between the Pope and a woman he has already met? Burke asked a few questions, and predictably found that the Vatican had not asked Bruni to stay home. “A Vatican official told Fox News that they simply “don’t get involved in that kind of thing.”

Incidentally, Burke provided a useful reality-check for journalists wondering about the story. The original report was that Vatican officials worried that Italian newspapers might print sexy photos of Carla Bruni. Burke noted: “Incidentally, it’s not like Italian newspapers or magazines ever really need a good excuse to publish sexy photos; they just do it.”

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Show 1 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: tarbal793938 - Oct. 15, 2010 8:57 PM ET USA

    It's great to see that there are still some reporters out there who actually look at facts!

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