Action Alert!

Single-issue journalism

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Nov 09, 2010

The headlines tell the story:

We could continue, but you get the idea. In one screaming headline after another, the world’s major media outlets have announced that Pope Benedict has called the cardinals to Rome to talk about sexual abuse. 

But that’s not what happened.

Yes, the Pope summoned the cardinals to Rome. And Yes, the sex-abuse scandal is on the agenda. But it isn’t the top item on the agenda, nor the second.

There are five items on the agenda for discussion at the November 19 consistory: two major topics, three lesser ones. The sex-abuse scandal is one of the lesser ones. Yet if you read the headlines, you would think that the scandal was the only topic for discussion. (Give Canadian Press partial credit, at least, for mentioning “other problems.”) When it comes time to report on the Catholic Church, the secular media are primed and ready to report about sexual abuse, and nothing else.

You say that five Anglican bishops are entering the Church of Rome? You say that 50 people were slaughtered in a Catholic church in Baghdad? Great. Those might be stories for the back pages. For the headline, what do you have new on sexual abuse? 

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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