How the media always predicts poorly

How the media always predicts poorly

Kenneth Woodward of Newsweek, writing in the New York Times, has what is actually a fairly decent assessment of how the media tries to guess how the conclave will vote and how often they’re wrong. And wrong not just in who will be elected, but also wrong in guessing what kind of pope the new pontiff will be. John XXIII was supposed to be a caretaker, not engaging in “any major change in policy.” Oops. His successor was going to be either a “progressive” or “conservative”, but then Paul VI was dubbed a “moderate,” whatever that’s supposed to mean. Instead he issued “Humanae Vitae,” a conservative reformulation of the Church’s teaching on life issues. Yet, the rest of his pontificate was marked by a spiritual and administrative torpor, leading to many abuses. Pope John Paul II was both unlooked for in his election and underestimated after.

In retrospect, two errors made consistently in interregnum papal journalism stand out. The first is how often the press has overlooked lines of continuity - how the innovations of a new pope were usually prefigured by his predecessor. Pius XII began planning a council before John XXIII convoked Vatican II; from his own writings we know that John’s spirituality was of a more conservative kind, and it seems unlikely that he would have embraced all the changes that some progressives claimed were in his “spirit.” Likewise, it was the cautious Paul VI who abolished the Latin Mass in favor of the vernacular and gave sanction to liberation theology. And it was John Paul I - not his illustrious successor - who first dropped the papal “we” to speak in his own voice.

The second mistake the press tends to make is labeling any new pope as either conservative or progressive. The job of a pontiff is to conserve the patrimony of faith; “progressive” is often a matter of style rather than theology or politics.

Woodward’s own conclusions about the next pope are ironically prone to the same mistakes he catalogs in previous papal elections. The one thing I think we can be assured of regarding the next pope is that he will be unlike anything we expect and that whatever we think are his top priorities, he will probably see them much differently.

  • Dom, Hans Kung’s head is quite immune from any blunt force to his cranium, even if internally generated. 

    The reason is his hair.  As we speak, the Pentagon is looking into replicating that multi-tiered, thickly coifed pompadou for use in combat.  It might look like a cummulonimbus cloud hanging around his head, but trust me, it’s utterly impenetrable, from both external bullet and internal brain blast.  It’s Eraserhead Meets Kevlar.

    My mind drifts back to the Hans Kung lecture I went to in Halifax.  I was fully heterodox at the time, so I eagerly awaited the appearance of The Great Man.

    What a let down, even for an acolyte. That hair, that stuffy affect, that 1970s suit, that cataclysmically boring talk…..I can almost credit Hans Kung with my return to Catholic orthodoxy.  But I don’t want to leave out Mary Daly, who also lectured us.

  • I think Kung’s problem is that the lack of media speculation on the identity and attributes of the new Pope mean that Kung is left completely out of the loop with little opportunity to say who or what the next Pope should be.  The linked comments are little more than a temper tantrum.  But I got a chuckle out of reading them.

    Something else I’ve been reading…Cdl Ratzinger’s book TRUTH AND TOLERANCE.  It’s quite perceptive.  He pinpoints precisely what is eating at the heart of the ecumenical movement.

  • I think that I have previously made this comment but will repeat it in view of Fr. Kung’s comments.  Please note that he is offering himself as “papabile” (Italian for “available or possible to be pope”).  Why?  If Fr. Kung became Pope Hans I, he would have to give up his infallibility.

  • I would like to merely note that there are two Mary Dalys.  One dreadful one and one very good one who is my sister and writes grammar books for homeschoolers.  My Mary Daly lives in South Dakota so you can distinguish her from the other one.

  • Carrie! I am also reading Ratzingers “Truth and Tolerance”. A greta book, and one I will have to re-read in the future.  I like the concept of “Prophetic monotheism”. I see Cardinal Dulles is now referring to JPII as the mover of “prophetic humanism”.

  • Jane M:

    No, I’m talking about the South Dakota one.  She kept going on about the importance of syntax, avoiding misplaced modifiers, the home as the domestic Church, family life, working hard, praying etc.  It was horrifying. 

    No, wait.  Sorry.

    It was the endorsed-by-Boston-College-Jesuits lesbian witch from Boston.

  • Perhaps somebody ought to inform those two million people that went to Rome and slept in the streets that they were forced by Cdl Ratzinger…….
    I don’t think they *knew* that wink

    I doubt that Cdl Ratzinger will be chosen but it’s an interesting thought, no?  Do you really think it would explode rather than implode? 

    Tom, has anyone pointed out this curious fact to the Pope Hans candidate?  How funny that is.  If he won he’d have to start despising himself. 

    Patrick, I wouldn’t take his/her/its emphasis on grammar too seriously.  These are the men/women/other who meddle in liturgical language.

  • MichCath:

    Come come, now, Father Kung’s hair could never accommodate anything resembling a mitre.  QED.  Is anyone listening to me?

    Inclusive language seminar…Take the:

    S from “she;” H from “he;” and IT from “it.”

    and put all the caps together, and you’re left with the essence of the drive for “inclusive” language.

    Or how about adopting woperdaughter instead of the generic “man” for the human race?  Absolutely!  You take the WO from woman (because the inappropriate “man” still rears its ugly head in the second half of the word); the PER from person (because the hurtful and exclusivizing “son” appears in the second half of that word), and then add DAUGHTER (which by definition is inclusive of all). Hence, our new Bibles will read, “Woperdaughter cannot live on bread alone.”

    There you have it.  Everyone represented, everyone equalized, everyone happy.

  • Patrick:

    I don’t suppose that Mary Daly (the Boston one), after a hard day of inclusive-languaging, ever sighs and says “oh, boy!” or “oh, man!”

    Surely not.

    Oh, woper! Hey, with that kind of stuff nudging around, woe is me!!! But I’m the kind of crank that still (loudly) sings “men” etc. in “castrated” hymns.

  • Kung is an idiot. Honestly, the man is way past his prime, assuming he ever had one. I can’t imagine even those of his ilk paying much attention to him anymore, especially if he’s going to say something so off the wall.

    This too shall pass. I just hope they don’t elect that bozo from Milan.

  • As long as the topic is weddings, this is a good time to ask if either of you looked at moissanite rings?

    My daughter the analytical chemist has been looking at rings with her boyfriend.  Last time I talked with her she was all excited about moissanite stones.  Apparently they are made from meteriorites.  They have the hardness of rubies, and are more brilliant than diamonds.  They also have the added advantage of being significantly less expensive.  Which means that she can then look at a more elaborate setting.  She has forbidden her boyfriend to consider anything else.  So, is there a downside to these stones?

  • Just to mess up the ship metaphor a bit, I think it has to be Captain Melanie and Captain Domenico. And if life is a sailing ship, magnificently rigged, on the open sea, aren’t we glad that Christ is the navigator and Admiral both of our fleet.

  • I beg to differ. Dom is captain, I’m first mate. I’ll let him to the driving.
    But Christ is definitely the Admiral.
    All I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by… At least I know where my guiding star is.

  • Now I have two warring images in my head…. a happy one and a scary one. 

    Scary: “Pope Hans I”

    Happy: “Just imagine how KungI don’t divide things up. We plan together. And it’s amazing how much our tastes tend to coincide. I suggested Nova Scotia and he jumped at the idea. But if we were able to cruise the Mediterrnean on a sailing ship I’d love it too. (Or a visit to Italy.)
    Before everyone jumps at me, I am sure there will be times when we don’t see eye to eye (no height jokes please). In fact, we already have encountereded a few. But nothing in our wedding planning has been a unilateral decision.
    I think he’s actually done more work on wedding planning than I have (he disagrees, so I’ll graciously conceed the point.) Certainly he’s made more of the phone calls. Ugh, I hate making phone calls. 
    Frankly, I wouldn’t want it any other way. I don’t want to be in charge all the time, I’m glad he’s involved as much as I am. It’s his day as much as mine, it’s his life as much as mine.
    My wedding isn’t going to be a pageant. I don’t need to be the center of attention. I just want to have all my friends and family help me celebrate.

  • Sorry guys, but Inexorable Marriage Axiom No. 435 states that all discussing, promising, theorizing, and vowing that the wife is not to be the captain dissolves over time.  Usually before the honeymoon comes to a close.

      Any Christian husband—and I’m talking about the healthy and the functioning—who reads St. Paul’s famous passage in Eph 5 about wifely submission does so with a wry grin, since the wife ends up “running” the household owing to her normally superior organization skills and attention to important family-related data to begin with.  Christians wives have a different reason to grin wryly: she secretly knows that the whole “head of the family” thing is kinda figureheadish, as in Queen Elizabeth II is the head of England.  Good luck without a Prime Minister!

    Not that all husbands, and certainly not Dom in particular, are natural born wimps.  It’s just that most women are so….on the case compared to most men.  To call the wife the “head of the home in the order of love” is the understatement of the year.

    Back to the maritime analogy.  I think the final port is heaven, the wind is the Holy Spirit, the vessel is the marriage, the galley mate and the ship’s medic and the night watchman are all the wife.  Oh yeah, the guy wearing the little captain’s hat is the husband.

  • “And it was John Paul I – not his illustrious successor – who first dropped the papal >

    Noted heterodox dissenter Hans Kung thinks there’s a grand conspiracy to manipulate the conclave. He told Reuters that Cardinal Ratzinger is orchestrating the popular acclaim of John Paul as a saint. Yeah, I can’t just image him wading through the crowds of millions, egging them on to chant “Santo Subito.” He also thinks that a ban on speaking to the media is another manipulation of the cardinals. Again, I’m not sure why. Does he think that preventing them from speaking to the media prevents them from hearing other points of view. It’s not like they can’t talk to one another all they want. And it was a unanimous decision to stop speaking to the media. I think it’s just more of Kung’s fevered imaginings. I won’t even bother with his five criteria for the next; it’s the same unimaginative liberal agenda. I’m sure you can guess them on your own.

    Just imagine how Kung’s head would explode if it was Ratzinger who actually emerged from the conclave as the next pope.


    2005-04-12 12:16:11
    2005-04-12 16:16:11

    2005-04-12 13:37:28
    2005-04-12 17:37:28
    Yes, Hans, the Church is accepting of anti-depression and anxiety medicines. You should avail yourself of some.

    And Matthew Fox’s head would explode right after Kungs!

  • I suspect that one of the reasons the wife turns out to be the Captain of the home is that the husband is just really glad to let her.  This worked out well when wife and mother was a respected career.  It works out badly when the wife has to hold down a job at the same time and would really like the responsibility to be shared.

  • Dom, I wondered if you gave Melanie a diamond. This is a topic I’ve discussed before. Some Catholics think the giving of a diamond is a pagan ritual and materialistic.  They opt for simple bands. What was your reason for giving a diamond, if you don’t mind me asking?
    And Melanie, what were your thoughts and expectations and what does the diamond mean to you? I know these are personal thoughts and if you don’t wish to share them I understand, but I am accumulating info on this and I’d like to hear what you both think.

  • Lily,

    I actually told Dom I didn’t need an engagement ring at all. And I meant it. I think the requirement of a diamond smacks too much of setting a price on love.

    However, after he reiterated “are you sure?” for the third or fourth time, I began to suspect that maybe my beau wanted to give me a ring. I graciously agreed that a ring is a nice outward sign of an inward reality. After all we Catholics are big on physical signs.

    Rings were originally pagan symbols, the ancient Romans wore a wedding ring on the same finger that we use today because there is a vein that runs from that finger straight to the heart. But the Catholic Church baptised that pagan custom and now we traditionally exchange rings as well as vows during the ceremony as a sign of our love and fidelity. Having given in thus far to “pagan tradition,” I see no reason for Catholics to balk at engagement rings.

    (By the by, we have baptised all sorts of pagan traditions. I think the accusation that something was orginally a pagan tradition, and therefore somehow invalid, is laughable. Did you know that the basilica was originally a Roman public building of a secular nature, often used to house courts of law? Christmas trees were originally pagan too, but now we see them as a symbol of the Tree of Life.)

    I actually have no great misty-eyed love for diamonds in the abtract. At an early age I was influenced by Anne of Green Gables who was disappointed when she saw her first diamond because she thought it was cold and icy.

    I told Dom he could get me any stone he wanted. Or no stone at all. Or no ring at all. (he’ll have to tell you his side to go into the whys and wherefores of his choice. I’d tell it wrong, I’m sure.)

    That said, I am quite proud to wear my ring. I never take it off. Because it is from him. It is bright and sparkly and an outward sign of the inward reality that I am promised to him. I must say that engagement is very much a different state than dating. I feel like from the moment I received the ring things have been very different. And I’m not sure if I can really explain it.

    I might add that Dom has exclaimed several times that he wishes he could have a diamond too. I kinda wish I could give him one. It hardly seems fair that I’m the only one who gets to wear a sparkly.

    As far as materialistic goes, I suppose that has to do with one’s state of mind. I certainly can see that for many, if not most, people a diamond becomes a necessity, an object that matters for its own sake. I cringe when I see those commercials for diamonds that imply a man doesn’t love you if he doesn’t give you a diamond. “Every kiss begins with Kay” and that really wretched ad that shows a man and woman in the Piazza San Marco in Venice and he’s yelling “I love this woman!” and she wants him to shut up. Then he gives her the ring and she exclaims: “I love this man!” Yuck! The worst example of materialist @$#*!

    But like I said, it has more to do with interior disposition, your attitude and expectations.
    I’d have been perfectly happy with getting nothing, with whatever I got. As the overused cliche goes, it’s the thought that counts.

  • Patrick,
    as far as who gets to be Captain, far be it from me, the inexperienced single, to claim expertise. I’ll bow to the marrieds and let them say “told you so” all they want.

  • Thanks for your input Melanie.
    Your response to my query on the diamond engagement ring in a Catholic marriage is the most thorough I’ve received.

  • Adding my 2 cents, one reason I insisted on giving her a ring was because everybody kept telling me that no matter what Melanie said, she really wanted a ring. (As if they knew her better than I do.)

    But more than that, I wanted to give her a ring because it makes it somehow official. In reality, I asked her to marry about a week before I had a ring to give her. We started telling people, but it felt incomplete without a ring. But when she finally had the ring, it seemed complete.

    In a way, the ring is as much a sign to the world as it us, not in a materialistic “look how much I love her because I gave her this bauble” kind of way, but in a concrete expression of my love. I look at it as kind of the difference between just saying I’m sorry to God for my sins and actually getting off my duff, going down to the church, and sitting in a confessional. The latter is harder, but it means more because it is more difficult.

    Of course, a simple band is just as good a sign as a diamond. And I have been fond of telling people that the idea of the diamond engagement ring was invented by the DeBeers diamond monopoly back in the 1940s.

    Still, it’s traditional and it’s unmistakable. When you see it, everyone knows what it means. She and I both know what it means. You don’t give or wear a solitaire diamond on a gold band for any other reason, whereas a ruby or opal or emerald or whatever could be for something else.

    It’s not a huge diamond, it’s not flawless or perfectly colorless, but it is perfect because it the diamond I gave as a sign of my love and devotion and that she wears as a sign of her love and devotion.

  • Lily,
    you’re welcome.
    I’m glad to help. As you can see it’s something I’d thought about a bit.

    I do have to say it sparked quite the conversation in one of my composition classes when one of the girls noticed it. Somehow the other classes have not caught on or are too shy to say anything, I don’t know.

    Dom, I like the confessional analogy. Like I suggested in my post, we are a sacramental people. We believe in physical signs that point to deeper spiritual realities.

    I like being unconventional, but I also love Tradition. Finding the balance between the two is sometimes a bit tricky. I think it is easy to get caught up in “the ways things are done” and reflexively go through the motions without thinking about what you are doing and why. Decide what is important, what is essential. Get rid of the stuff that is not.

  • on the meaning of rings: before melanie’s dad and I became engaged, when we were just dating, my car key ring broke.  And he gave me a key ring for my car, along with a note. He’s not a verbose writer, but he wrote me a short note about the symbolic nature of ring as visual symbol of unity, eternity, wholeness, neverending love, completeness, and talked about how it has been described in psychology by jung as mandela, and stood as a symbol of the soul yearning toward integration, completeness.  (he was a psych major). It was used in art, religion, mythology, from ancient cultures to the present as a way of signifying this yearning for union with god as well.

    So when we became engaged, and he gave me another ring, I remembered all that ring symbolized to him, and it just seemed perfect as a way of sealing our love and new committment to each other – yes there is a small diamond on it too… but stone or no stone, it was the symbolic nature of ring that brought me to tears then and still does today. We’ve been together for 38 years, and God’s been a deep part of our love and life. And I see this continuing on with melanie and dom. With God at the center, what else matters?

    melanie scott’s mom….