I love the New York Times. I really, honestly do. I read it pretty well every day. I even pay for a digital subscription (which is significant if you know how cheap I am). The Times is great on a lot of things. But its religion coverage? Especially its Catholicism coverage? Since Peter Steinfels left, the coverage of the Catholic Church has been pretty much hit and miss. More often miss.
When I read the Jason Horowitz’s piece entitled “Vatican Traditionalists See Hero in Trump Aide” on the front page of the Times this past Tuesday (Feb 7, 2017), I knew that the Times had hit a low. My b.s. detecting spidey sense went into overdrive. Because here was an article claiming that there was a cabal of Vatican-insiders looking to Steve Bannon (and by association Donald Trump) to lead the Church out from under the oppression of Pope Francis and back to Catholic Orthodoxy. I mean you’d expect that from the National Enquirer, right? But the Times? And because it is the New York Times, a wide swath of readers are going to assume what it is saying is true, the Times playing on widespread anti-Catholicism among the elites reading it. It is pretty clear that the author has mastered the science of innuendo and turning one or two claims from unnamed mysterious sources into a full-blown rebellion being hatched under the tomb of St. Peter. But there were no facts, no hard evidence about any person actually in the Vatican saying anything about any of the claims in the article. But then I thought, do I really have the time and energy to demonstrate this line by line?
Well, thankfully I do not have to. A masterful job of unmasking Horowitz’s article has been done by Robert Moynihan at his website Inside the Vatican. Read it here. I do not know anything about his website, but this analysis is first rate. I might also add that what may be most manipulative was not Horowitz’s article, but rather how Times editors chose to headline the article. On A1 of the Tuesday edition, the articles was entitled “Vatican Traditionalists See Hero in Trump Aide.” As of the next day the digital version was retitled “Steve Bannon Carries Battle to Another Influential Hub: The Vatican,” which makes the article poor, but not so obviously a piece of editorial-driven fake news.