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THE CATHOLICIZATION OF CNN! We’re just as pious as NBC News, the Capital Gang piously said: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, APRIL 11, 2005

ELISABETH BUMILLER—PAP WITHOUT END: Bill O’Reilly will trash the New York Times tonight—and, this time, he’ll mainly be right. He’ll be trashing the Times for this Gail Collins ed, which calls those Arizona Minutemen “gunslingers” and “vigilantes” and says that they’re “taking the law in their own hands.” Collins sniffs at this lower breed—but makes no attempt to explain or defend her characterizations. O’Reilly will trash her work tonight—and this time, he’ll mainly be right.

But Bill won’t mention the other Times—the Times of Elisabeth Bumiller. Surely, Zeus’ great halls rocked with laughter last night as her latest fatuous piece was posted, in which she types what the White House told her about the president’s tastes in music. How exactly does Bumiller know what tunes are on the president’s iPod? Simple—she doesn’t know what’s on that Pod, she only knows what Bush’s agents have told her. But she’s always pleased to type up some pap, as long as her pointless (but politically pleasing) “information” came to her straight from the White House. By the way, what’s the headline on today’s piece? “Favorite Tunes for the Freewheelin’ George Bush!” Freewheelin’! You have to love that! Just like the younger Bob Dylan!

As we mentioned last week, Bumiller’s Monday “White House Letter” has been one of the most embarrassing projects in this age of press corps pimpistry. Her subject matter is relentlessly banal—and she always types just what she’s been told. And remember—this feature continued throughout Campaign 04, producing a weekly tongue-bath for Bush. Oh yeah! Who did the weekly, feel-good “Campaign Letter” on Kerry? No one did it—it didn’t exist! This is the side of the vacuous Times Mr. O’R won’t be citing.

THE CATHOLICIZATION OF CNN: Once again, the Washington press corps was showing off its anti-religion bias. On Saturday night, Al Hunt opened Capital Gang with another of the ugly moments for which the corps is so famous:

HUNT (4/9/05): Welcome to a special Capital Gang, a tribute to Pope John Paul II!
Yes, the corps was up to its usual tricks, attempting to undermine the faith of average red-state Americans. And how were they going about it? By staging a “special” Capital Gang—an hour-long “tribute” to the pope! For context, recall that recent panel on CNN’s Reliable Sources (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/31/05) in which four pundits recited the pseudo-con line: The press corps loves to mock religion!! Those pundits! All four were willing to mouth this script even as NBC, the holiest news network, finished up a special week which it called “Religion in America,” and even as Newsweek ran its second cover in three months about the greater glory of Jesus Christ. But then, as we’ve told you for years, your Big Pundits are willing to do and say anything, as long as it keeps them squarely in line with that “right-leaning dinner-party centrism” that typifies today’s mainstream press. That CNN panel was perfectly foolish—but was perfectly par for the course.

So yes, we thought of that ludicrous panel as we watched Capital Gang this weekend. How much do your Washington scribes hate religion? After spending about forty-five minutes beatifying all things John Paul, the panel presented one of the strangest “news” segments we’ve ever seen—an eight-minute segment entirely devoted to a profile of Bob Novak’s Catholic piety. First, Hunt pimped the “special segment,” which he titled "The Prince of Darkness sees the Light." When he came back, he again let us see how much the Big Press hates religion:

HUNT: Welcome back. This week our own Robert Novak spent some time with CNN's Judy Woodruff to talk about his conversion to Catholicism.

WOODRUFF (videotape): It was one day some years ago that this man, known to many as the Prince of Darkness, walked into one of the oldest churches in Washington and saw the light. Robert David Novak, veteran journalist, fiery conservative, born a Jew, converted Catholic. On many days here is where you'll find him, in the pews of St. Patrick's Church, today reflecting on the pope.

The Prince of Darkness “saw the light!” Yes, Woodruff’s presentation simply dripped with anti-religion bias! Indeed, the footage showed Novak genuflecting, then entering a pew at the otherwise empty church. And as things continued, there he sat, telling Woodruff about his vast piety. “I'm a poor mortal and I know certainly probably not nearly as good a Christian as most of the people who are sitting in the church and certainly not better,” he humbly declared. His host concluded her pleasing report with a bit of pious word-play:
WOODRUFF: And so it was that the Prince of Darkness embraced the Prince of Peace.
We strongly suggest that you read the full transcript of this lengthy (and remarkable) segment. Again, it will help you see how right those four pundits were when they sat on CNN and told the world that the Washington press corps luvvvs mocking religion.

Let’s state the obvious—there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Bob Novak becoming a Catholic. But let’s make a few more points about the way the press really works:

The Catholicization of Capital Gang: Capital Gang, like NBC News, is a near-exclusive Catholic aerie. Here are the current panelists:

Robert Novak: Catholic
Kate O’Beirne: Irish Catholic (and Novak’s godmother!)
Margaret Carlson: Irish Catholic
Mark Shields: Irish Catholic
Al Hunt: Forget it! Episcopalian!
Previous host? Pat Buchanan, Irish Catholic. No, there’s nothing wrong with being Irish Catholic; indeed, all our beloved aunts are Irish Catholic (and of course, they’re the real kind, the Boston variety, not cheap knock-offs from Philly or Buffalo). But there is something wrong when major news orgs seem to require membership in the faith, as sometimes seems to be the case at NBC News and at the “Catholic” Gang. And this apostolic impulse seems especially odd when panels of pundits go on TV and lie about the press corps’ relation to religion, peddling pseudo-conservative cant that completely misstates simple fact. By the way, Capital Gang’s line-up this weekend included guest panelist E. J. Dionne (practicing Catholic) and former Representative David Bonior (practicing Catholic). In this way, the press keeps showing how much it loves mocking religion.

Religious ties to politicians: It’s also un-holy when Big Major Scribes form religious bonds with the Big Pols they cover. In the June 2003 Washingtonian, Barbara Matuswo described the scene at Novak’s 1998 baptism:

MATUSWO (6/03): In its 200 years, it's safe to say that St. Patrick's Catholic Church had never seen a ceremony quite like it. The man bowing his head over the baptismal font, about to be received into the Church, was Bob Novak, the man often called "the Prince of Darkness."

At his side were his godmother, editor Kate O'Beirne, and his godfather, Jeff Bell, a former Ronald Reagan staffer, watching as a priest sprinkled Novak with holy water and anointed him with oils.

Many of the invited guests were recognizable, among them media heavies Al Hunt, Judy Woodruff, Fred Barnes, and Margaret Carlson, New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Representative Henry Hyde, and Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.

The priests officiating were well known, too. Monsignor Peter Vaghi, the pastor of St. Patrick's, is said to have ambitions to be a cardinal. Father C. John McCloskey III is an author and television personality who has revitalized the Catholic Information Center in Washington.

"During Bob's baptism, I was looking out from where I was standing," says McCloskey, "and it looked like a Who's Who of political and journalistic Washington. I found it very moving—here were all his friends, seeing this adult come into grace, bowing his head to receive the sacramental waters of baptism. Many of them had tears in their eyes.”

But should Novak (and the other journalists) be forming tearful religious ties with the major pols they cover? The answer to that is obvious: No! It’s bad enough when Washington “journalists” sing “Happy Birthday” to their favorite pols—the pols they endlessly love to pimp (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/19/04). By any normal journalistic standard, Matuswo described an inappropriate scene—a scene which may explain the puzzling way some Big Major Pols get “covered.”

Not just any Catholic: For the record, these tearful ties aren’t being formed with just any Catholic. In the case of McCloskey, for example, these tearful ties are being formed with one of our most conservative current Catholics. McCloskey, from the conservative Opus Dei order, is prelate to Washington’s conservative stars. Two years ago, Joe Feuerherd limned it in the National Catholic Reporter:

FEUERHERD (9/5/03): McCloskey is credited with facilitating the conversions of such luminaries as failed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, "Crossfire" co-host Robert Novak, Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, conservative book publisher Alfred Regnery, economist and commentator Larry Kudlow, and one-time New York gubernatorial candidate Lewis Lehrman.
And yes, McCloskey is close with Rick Santorum, Brownback’s baptismal sponsor. So you won’t be surprised to see where he comes down on the issues:
FEUERHERD: Are there any circumstances under which a faithful Catholic politician could support civil union for gay couples? "It opens the door to anything from incest to bestiality," said McCloskey. "The whole question is: What is a family? What constitutes a marriage? There's no wiggle room, certainly, in that area.”
Santorum’s “man-on-dog” pronouncement was right in line with McCloskey’s pensees on bestiality. But this is the kind of prelate with whom the press corps was shedding real tears at Novak’s baptism. Yes, the Washington press corps just hates religion—except when they’re bonding with one of the most conservative prelates in the U.S.

Let’s state the obvious—pundits have every right to pursue whatever religion they like. But by normal standards, Saturday’s profile of Novak was utterly strange—and even stranger was the thick smoke those pundits blew on Reliable Sources. In fact, the press corps is full of religious pundits, and some big news orgs almost seem to require membership in the faith. But conservatives love to tell the rubes that the Washington press just hates religion. Result? When the corps sends its husbands and hacks out to talk, they all recite this Approved Pleasing Message. Blowing aside the press corps’ smoke, we just thought you might like to know how the modern Big Press really works.

HUSBANDS AND HACKS: Again, who were the “husbands and hacks” on that Reliable Sources panel? Four pundits all agreed: The Washington press corps luvvvs mocking religion. Steve Roberts, Michelle Cottle, Joe Watkins and Howard Kurtz took turns reciting this cant. No one said a word about the realities we have just finished discussing.

PROFILERS: For an overview of McCloskey, see Chris Suellentrop’s profile in Slate. For other profiles of McCloskey, including one by Charles Pierce, we’ll ask you to click here instead.