The Media's Attention Span

It has been a week since the Holy Father received President Obama in audience. The following day, the Washington Posr carried a picture of the meeting, front page and above the fold but only gave the meeting two paragraphs at the ends of a story about the G-8 summit. A mere ten days ago, Pope Benedict released his encyclical Caritas in Veritate which has gotten a bit more in depth coverage, but not much and it has even faded from the blogosphere.

Of course, the twin stories of ecclesial significance had some competition from the truly important coverage of Michael Jackson’s funeral, of the fight about who should pay for the police needed for the funeral, about where and if Mr. Jackson has been buried, about his will, about the custody of his two children, about his drug habit(s), and now about whether or not the case was a homicide.


The problem of the media’s lack of attention to what is truly significant is not limited to the Church. The news of Mr. Jackson’s going to the hospital and subsequent death broke into a detailed analysis of what was going on in Iran in the wake of that nation’s elections. The Iran story might issue in nuclear war, but, hey, Michael Jackson is on the way to the hospital.

The problem, at least for the Church, is also not new. “[B]oth Catholic and Protestant theologians are conscious that they are confronted by the same problem – the intelligibility of the Christian faith to modern man and the fact that, according to the Christian message, God, Christ and the Church claim to be the salvation of the world, while this world, bowed down beneath great cares and yet full of hope for a self-made and real improvement of the world, increasingly tends to bypass the Church, Christ and God.” Those words were written by Father Edward Schillebeeckx, O.P. in 1970. But, we could go back further: We tend to forget that St. Paul more or less bombed at the Areopagus.

How to evangelize in a media-saturated culture when the media constantly indicates that other things matter more than the things with which the Church concerns herself? It is an important question and not only for those of us in the Catholic media. In a culture fixated on pop stars and pop tarts, how do we tell people that the most important thing in our own life happened on hillside in Jerusalem two thousand years ago?

A last note: As I write, the Holy Father is undergoing surgery to repair a broken wrist. There is no such thing as uncomplicated surgery, especially for an 82-year old man. Please say a prayer for a successful surgery and for a quick recovery.

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9 years 6 months ago
Michael, great assessment on the nature of the media these days. Last week my native country Indonesia conducted it's third democratic election since the fall of our ex-dictator Suharto. The election was largely free and fair and it was a milestone in our country's long and bumpy road toward a stable democracy (as evidenced in the last night's bomb attack in Jakarta). However, NO US media outlets has any broadcast of the election, even the usually internationally focused Lehrer Newshour. No one seems to be interested when the world's third-largest democracy conducted another successful election. But once the bomb exploded, everyone broadcasts it live and it headlines the morning news here (at least for the first minute or two before they're back covering Michael Jackson). Unfortunately, US media doesn't pay attention to intl news unless it's about terrorism, war, famine, coups, or some other natural disasters. Positive news such as a successful democratic election does not get any attention here.
9 years 6 months ago
I've given up watching television news. I pick the news that is important to me from various web sites. I've also given up watching tv commercials. Everything I choose to watch is recorded on my DVR, and when a commericial comes on I press the 30 second skip as many times as necessary. Steps such as these have to be taken so as to avoid as much manipulation as we can.


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