I was in my early twenties when I began to figure out that many mainstream media outlets badly skewed, distorted, and simply misrepresented the basic facts of a story. I saw it, for example, in how so many stories depicted President Reagan as completely clueless and incompetent, and I certainly saw it when various Evangelicals and Catholics—especially those involved in the pro-life movement—were portrayed as angry, mean, and ill-educated rubes who clung to their guns, Bibles, and unenlightened morals while refusing to ever help minorities, the poor, and so forth. This sort of nonsense has been going on for decades and has only intensified, of course, in recent years.
However, there has been a general sense, I think, that certain things can be accepted at face value, especially interviews. Sure, interviews can be cut, chopped, and processed, with the end result of a sort of hot dog journalism. But if a journalist landed an interview with an important figure—the President, the Pope, a Prime Minister—that journalist would usually have the decency to get out of the way and let the interviewee have their say.
So when I first read Philip Pullella’s June 20th Reuter’s piece titled “Exclusive: Pope criticizes Trump administration policy on migrant family separation”, I gingerly accepted that what I was reading was accurate. I say “gingerly” since the Holy Father, as is well known by now, is not always clear or exact in interviews, having a rather mixed history of uttering puzzling, ambiguous, or surprising things, especially when on a plane. But when I read this in the Reuter’s piece, it sounded about right:
One of his most pointed messages concerned President Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy, in which U.S. authorities plan to criminally prosecute all immigrants caught crossing the Mexican border illegally, holding adults in jail while their children are sent to government shelters.
The policy has caused an outcry in the United States and has been condemned abroad as videos emerged of youngsters held in concrete-floored enclosures and an audio of wailing children went viral.
U.S. Catholic bishops have joined other religious leaders in the United States in condemning the policy.
“I am on the side of the bishops’ conference,” the pope said, referring to two statements from U.S. bishops this month.
“Let it be clear that in these things, I respect (the position of) the bishops conference.”
Francis’ comments add to the pressure on Trump over immigration policy. The pope heads a church which has 1.3 billion members worldwide and is the largest Christian denomination in the United States.
One problem, however, is that there isn’t much in the way of quotes here. Is this all that Francis really said on the matter?
In an exclusive interview with Reuters obtained by Breitbart News Wednesday, Pope Francis refused to take a position on the current immigration debates taking place in the United States, but insisted that they pre-date Donald Trump.
The pope said that he stood behind the U.S. bishops but did not have a personal opinion on the matter. “Not to wash my hands,” he said, “but because I don’t know the situation there very well.”
In his interview, Reuters reported Phil Pullella pushed further, asking Francis what he thinks of “the current situation where in the last months some 2000 minors have been separated from their parents and families at the border with Mexico.”
Once again, the pope declined to answer, repeating that he stood with the bishops.
The pope then went on to add: “During the Obama years I celebrated Mass in Ciudad Juárez while on the other side of the border 50 bishops concelebrated and in the stadium there were many people. The problem already existed there. It’s not just an issue with Trump but goes back to prior governments.”
And, yesterday, Williams further reported:
In one of the most egregious cases of journalistic deception in recent memory, Reuters has spun Pope Francis to literally say the opposite of what he said regarding President Trump and immigration.
Veteran pope-spinner Phil Pullella, who famously lured Francis into calling Trump a non-Christian in 2016, was back to his old tricks, trying futilely to get the pope to criticize the U.S. president. Having failed to do so, Reuters simply went with the story anyway, carefully selecting which papal quotations to insert in the story and which to omit to back up their pre-conceived narrative.
This is, put bluntly, the essence of #FakeNews—and it happened in an exclusive interview with perhaps the most universally recognized and influential figure alive today. It has all the hallmarks of arrogance, incompetence, and raw ideological intent. As Williams writes:
Reuters made the mistake of sending a group of journalists a large section of the original Italian transcript of the interview ahead of publication, which allowed Breitbart News to break the story of the incongruency between what Reuters published and what the pope actually said.
Oddly, despite having access to the original Italian, most mainstream media outlets echoed the Reuters version of the story, not mentioning the pope’s efforts to contextualize Trump’s responsibility in the U.S. immigration crisis.
To date, Reuters has published at least three different articles on the interview with the pope, but the agency has failed to include the pope’s words on the immigration crisis predating Trump and has elected not to publish the full transcript to allow people to read for themselves what the pope actually said.
If anyone still had doubts as to why people universally distrust the mainstream media, including once prestigious news agencies, this umpteenth example of fake news should serve to allay them.
And so the narrative is set. And more gas has been thrown on the assertions, outbursts, tantrums, and social media meltdowns over what is or isn’t happening at the U.S.-Mexican border.
Over the past week I have read countless articles, tweets, and Facebook posts about immigration and the current situation. A few have been helpful; most have been unhelpful and quite depressing. Or worse. Apparently, we are now long past “virtue-signaling”; it is now simply a matter of presenting oneself as a light-bearing angel who has been personally chosen by God to smite the hordes of dark forces who are on the cusp of destroying everything that is good, right, and on “my side”. The question that comes to mind as I’ve waded through so many rants and rages is simply: “Where are the adults?” More specifically, where are the people who will set aside their knee-jerk, emotional reactions to photos (real or contrived) and stories (accurate or misleading) in order to work prudently and calmly toward solutions, however difficult and arduous that will be?
Here at CWR we have run some articles presenting background and context for those wanting to better understand what is undoubtedly a complicated and sensitive topic. While no one doubts that innocent families should never be pulled apart and separated, no one should doubt that applying judicious prudence and good reason to thorny immigration situations is going to be always easy or obvious. This is not to deny injustices; it is to eschew demagoguery.
My main point here, however, is two-fold. First, we need media coverage and commentary that can be trusted to provide as much information as possible, even when it isn’t advantageous to the particular perspective of a journalist, editor, or publisher. Secondly, it’s increasingly hard to trust mainstream media outlets to do such basic journalistic work. And that is putting it kindly. There are, without doubt, many problems besetting society today. The one that keeps jumping out at me is the breakdown in basic trust. What leaders can be trusted? What pundits and commentators can be trusted? What information is trustworthy? What principles and beliefs are worthy of trust?
This matter of trust, without doubt, now haunts the current pontificate, especially after the inept and often embarrassing handling of the Chilean sex abuse scandal. To Francis’ credit, on this particular point of immigration in the U.S. and Trump’s handling of it, he offered prudent and vital qualifying statements. The suppression of those statements and the misuse, all too often, of the Holy Father’s statements by certain journalists and media outlets raises plenty of questions, not least how certain networks and journalists are provided access despite their questionable intentions.
In the meantime, as distrust grows, it becomes more and more difficult to actually converse and communicate as a people, a nation, and, most importantly, as a Church. Emotional rants and hyperbolic accusations aren’t the answer. “Fact and argument,” said John Henry Newman, “are the tests of truth and error.” And it is by such tests and through those tests that trust is earned and renewed.