Newsweek's Miller Pontificates Against Poor Papal PR; Furthers Discredited Meme About Pope's Condom Comments

Not only does Pope Benedict XVI have crappy PR, he has absolutely no excuse for it, Newsweek religion editor Lisa Miller informs readers in a May 14 piece written for the May 25 dead-tree edition. Yet while insisting that her advice is submitted "with respect," Miller failed to remove the log from her own eye by considering the role that she and other reporters play in trumping up alleged papal PR blunders by virtual of their biased, shoddy reporting (emphasis mine):

Benedict makes international news only when he does something thoughtless (like "reconciling" with a Holocaust-denying bish-op) or when he fumbles in public, as he did on the plane to Cameroon in March when he awkwardly noted that AIDS "cannot be overcome by the distribution of prophylactics; on the contrary, they increase it." This remark, though in keeping with his theology, reverberated in the media echo chamber for a week—overshadowing other stops that might have served him better, such as meeting with representatives of Cameroon's Muslim community and a mass for as many as a million people in Angola. Benedict will never be John Paul, but why don't he and his people do a better job—to be perfectly crass about it—marketing their message?

While Miller tries to insist that the Pope would be more loved and respected if only he had a better PR shop, she betrays the fact that she really finds fault with his steadfast adherence to traditional Catholic teachings, particularly on sexual morality. Far from constituting a "fumble," back in March a top AIDS researcher -- no conservative Catholic he -- defended as accurate the Pope's remarks on condoms and AIDS infection rates in Africa. It seems that Miller is either ignorant of or willingly disregards this fact two months later. As I noted in NewsBusters back then:

A leading HIV researcher -- and self-described liberal -- defends what the pope has said recently about condoms and AIDS.

I won't hold my breath for the secular mainstream media to notice, but that's what Christianity Today magazine reported on March 20 with its publication of an e-mail interview between deputy managing editor Tim Morgan and the director of Harvard's AIDS Prevention Research Project, Edward C. Green:

[Morgan]: Is Pope Benedict being criticized unfairly for his comments about HIV and condoms?

[Dr. Green]: This is hard for a liberal like me to admit, but yes, it's unfair because in fact, the best evidence we have supports his comments — at least his major comments, the ones I have seen.

Green went on to say that, at least as far as African countries are concerned, Pope Benedict is correct that condom promotion doesn't lessen the AIDS problem (emphases mine):

There's no evidence at all that condoms have worked as a public health intervention intended to reduce HIV infections at the "level of population." This is a bit difficult to understand. It may well make sense for an individual to use condoms every time, or as often as possible, and he may well decrease his chances of catching HIV. But we are talking about programs, large efforts that either work or fail at the level of countries, or, as we say in public health, the level of population.

Of course, Miller might protest that a sharp communications shop at the Vatican would have seized on this reporting and spoon-fed her the results in defense of the pope, but the religion editor for a major newsmagazine should be on top of revelations like this, rather than carelessly furthering a liberal meme two months after the fact.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters