ABC's Claire Shipman: Pope Not Actually a 'Hard-Line' 'Rottweiler?'

ABC reporter Claire Shipman filed a report from Rome on Friday in which she breathlessly informed viewers that "many Catholics are rethinking their views of [Pope] Benedict XVI." According to Shipman, "most [U.S.] Catholics" thought, at the time of his selection, that Benedict "might clash with American values." Throughout the segment, which aired on "Good Morning America," Shipman appeared shocked at how well the pontiff's April trip to the United States went. [audio available here]

Shipman even trotted out the media's favorite insulting epithet for the Pope. She derided, "Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as the pontiff used to be known, was considered a stern hard-liner, nicknamed 'God's rottweiler.'" After mentioning Benedict's visit to a U.S. synagogue, his meeting with victims of sexual abuse by priests, the journalist marveled, "Could this Pope so many had written off as a tough guy be a teddy bear in disguise?" Wouldn't it be more honest to admit that the "many" and "most" Shipman kept referring to are actually members of the media? After all, most Catholics hadn't heard of Joseph Ratzinger when he was chosen to be pope in April of 2005. ABC reporters, on the other hand, quickly made their thoughts on the selection clear.

On April 19 of that year, ABC News producer Christel Kucharz, during live coverage, complained, "There’s widespread doubt here that he will be able to overcome his reputation as the intimidating enforcer, punishing liberal thinkers and keeping the Church in the Middle Ages." Reporter Cokie Roberts whined about the "controversial" choice and lamented the fact that Ratzinger was known for enforcing Catholic doctrine: "But he has been responsible for removing theologians from their positions in American institutions."

A transcript of the segment, which aired at 7:17am on May 2, follows:

ROBIN ROBERTS: Now, our exclusive look at the mysteries of Rome, where we are unlocking the secrets of that city. We start at the Vatican with the man at the center of the Catholic Church, the Pope. After his recent visit here to the U.S., the pontiff helped to unlock some of the mysteries about himself. Claire Shipman, live in St. Peters Square, one of my favorite places in all the world. Morning, Claire.

CLAIRE SHIPMAN: Good morning, Robin. Well, most Catholics, you remember, thought this Pope, when he was elected three years ago, was something of a hard-liner, a hard-line Cardinal who might clash with American values. Well, he sure didn't seem that way on his trip to the United States. And a recent poll shows that most Americans very much approved of his visit. Has a lot of people wondering who this man really is? In the wake of the Pope's wildly successful American tour, many Catholics are rethinking their views of Benedict XVI. Even Vatican insiders are asking, who is that mysterious robed man?

FATHER JAMES MARTIN (Associate editor, America): I think the people who expected him to be the disciplinarian that he had been before are very surprised. And I think this is the real Benedict.

SHIPMAN: Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as the pontiff used to be known, was considered a stern hard-liner, nicknamed "God's rottweiler." He abruptly slapped the hand of ABC's own Brian Ross in response to a question he didn't like. And he seemed to be the very opposite of Pope John Paul II, who was known for his warm, rock star persona. But during his recent visit to the U.S., Benedict showed a side the public had never seen. He became the first pope in history to visit an American synagogue, noticeably doted on babies and, most unexpectedly, he repeatedly apologized for the priest sexual abuse scandal. He even met with five of the victims in a private session. Could this Pope so many had written off as a tough guy be a teddy bear in disguise? Experts say he's actually a bit of both.

MARTIN: I don't think you'll see a change in his theological world view. I don't think you'll see a softening on the stance against women's ordination, same-sex marriage, birth control, those kinds of things, but I think you are seeing a different way of presenting the message.

SHIPMAN: And we'll have more in the next half hour on the secrets of the Sistine Chapel, Robin and Chris.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org