Possibly in response to NewsBusters readers who passed on our item on the string of Pope Benedict-mocking jokes on NPR's game show "Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me!" NPR ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos tells NewsBusters and other critics: lighten up, or be compared to radical Muslims. Isn't the ombudsman supposed to advocate for the listeners, not denounce them?
"If we keep jokes about the pope off-limits, we create a silencing effect that is far more damaging than the jokes themselves. We threaten to become like the intolerant extremists now most notoriously bedeviling the Muslim world, though other religions suffer from strains of fanaticism as well." Say what?
Schumacher-Matos then compares the Holy Father to an American president, failing to consider that perhaps a better comparison would be mocking a spiritual leader like the Dalai Lama or Billy Graham:
This is not to say that anyone offended by a pope joke is extremist or intolerant. Not at all. But I would like to believe that if the Vatican held a roast of the pope the way that the American president is roasted each year by the press, the pope himself would laugh at being called a "gay icon." I would like to think that even a gathering of priests might roast the pope that way. Having known many priests, I feel sure that some would do so in private.
This is galling, because he avoids entirely the other half of my critique, that I couldn't find an Obama joke in the last four weeks of the program -- after the show had a history of Bush-Cheney-bashing. My point was obviously, this NPR show has a reverence for Obama and irreverence for the pope. It demonstrates a liberal bias, regardless of the question of showing respect for your listeners' religious beliefs. I was NOT saying that Pope Benedict jokes should be "off limits." (Straw Man Alert!) I was implying that the comedy hacks at NPR think the Obama jokes are off limits.
The ombudsman avoids making any reference to NewsBusters and made no attempt to contact me -- unlike the last ombudsman, Alicia Shepard, who would call me on a relevant item like this. But at least we get the official rebuttal from the game-show hacks:
Wait Wait's executive producer Michael Danforth put the "icon" joke in the context of the whole comic routine and the show in general:
We make our living poking fun at the news. It's a risky business of finding the edges in stories. Occasionally we step over the line. Never is it our intention to offend. When we read about the Pope having his own cologne, it reminded us of other well know people with signature scents. We also joked about the Pope as a TV pitchman selling other things like jeans (called Benedicts) or cereal (Frosted Mini Popes). The fun here came from imagining a well-known person in a different context.
I certainly believe that there was no ill intention, and hope that even listeners who were offended accept that. Other religions have been spoofed on NPR as well.
This should create an Ombudsman's Challenge: I challenge Schumacher-Matos to locate when "Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me!" mocked any Muslim in the same fashion that they mocked the Catholics' spiritual leader. Unless he can locate one, he shouldn't insist that these "news" comedians are equal-opportunity religion-mockers.
The typical subject of Muslims and comedy is a series of stories NPR has done honoring Muslim comedians and shows like "Little Mosque on the Prairie."
Schumacher-Matos diverted the entire issue into his whole liberal declaration -- complete with charts -- that opposition to homosexuality is vanishing and it should:
I believe that behind this whole discussion lies the question of how we feel with regards to homosexuality. I am Catholic and personally would not be offended if the pope were called gay, much less a gay icon. I think that being gay is perfectly normal. I also believe that sooner or later the news media and all of society will get over the last remaining objections to homosexuality—and be ashamed they ever had them.
But I understand that a shrinking minority of Americans hold very deep-seated religious views against homosexuality. Repeated polls show that this is a minority view. Relevantly, it is held by less than a third of American Catholics. Opposition to homosexuality is almost insignificant in the mostly Catholic nations of Europe. Indeed, the gay rights movement is increasingly becoming a Christian one, though there is strong opposition among white Evangelical Christians in the U.S.