By William Wan
After months of church officials questioning, even attacking at times, the media for its coverage of the Catholic sex abuse scandal, a new study delves into exactly how much ink newspapers devoted to the scandals and how it compares to the coverage in 2002.
The report comes at a interesting time when officials have begun backing off their criticisms of media and begun a round of apologies and assurances that they are aggrieved and addressing the situation. Most recent example: Pope Benedict’s statements last night. (One fascinating side note to Benedict’s comments…as John Allen points out, Benedict for the first time blamed the devil, at least for the timing of the sex abuse scandals amid the Year of the Priests.)
For the most part, the new media study, conducted by Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, just puts into numbers a lot of assumptions people already had about the coverage (i.e. there was a lot of it, rivals 2002 scandal coverage, much of it this time focused on the Pope).
But here are some of the highlights and interesting tidbits:
* In 2002, when a Boston Globe series began a critical mass of news reports, the coverage mostly emanated from the United States. In 2010, however, much of the reporting focused on child abuse in Europe, with English-language European newspapers publishing three times as many articles on the scandal as U.S. papers.
* “Benedict was by far the biggest news maker, featured in 51.6% of the stories about the scandal in the mainstream media during the six-week period studied.”
* The sheer amount of coverage this year came close but fell slightly short of 2002. (“A Nexis keyword search of 90 media outlets found 1,559 stories mentioning the scandal in the first four months of 2010, just 77 fewer articles than in a similar four-month period in mid-2002.”
* During the six-week period from March 12 through April 27, Pope Benedict XVI was a major focus of more than half the stories on the scandal in the mainstream U.S. media, including print, radio, network television, cable TV and online news sources.
* An examination of three Catholic news outlets reveals wide differences in their approaches. The National Catholic Reporter, an independent weekly, devoted fully two-thirds (66.7%) of its Vatican coverage to the scandal. Two Catholic news services, on the other hand, devoted considerably less of their Vatican coverage to the story. Catholic News Service gave it 44.8%, and the Catholic News Agency gave it 33.3%.
* “Among the religion blogs published by high-circulation U.S. newspapers, those operated by USA Today and The Washington Post contained the most entries on the clergy abuse scandal – a total of 12 each during the six weeks studied.” (Not sure what to say about that, other than: man, do we need some vacation time or what)