As Pope Francis’ trip to the U.S. nears, the LGBT advocacy organization GLAAD has released a media guide encouraging journalists to favor its narrative. But one media critic is calling it spin.
“It’s important to remember that GLAAD doesn’t determine Church teaching, no matter how much it might wish it,” said Dan Gainor, vice president of business and culture at the Media Research Center.
The group “seeks to redefine what the Church is,” he told CNA. “Journalists should understand that GLAAD is trying to make the Pope’s visit all about its extreme agenda, not what the Pope wants to discuss.”
Pope Francis will visit the United States Sept. 22-27, where he will canonize Blessed Junipero Serra, visit an inner-city school, address a joint session of Congress, meet with President Barack Obama, visit the United Nations, and close with a Mass for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.
GLAAD CEO and president Sarah Kate Ellis, who said she grew up Catholic, introduced the media guide as an exploration of “attitudes within the Catholic Church towards the LGBT community.” She claimed that Catholic pundits and decision-makers espouse “harmful rhetoric and policies.” She also charged that the Catholic hierarchy and the media often misrepresent Catholics who identify as LGBT.
Gainor, however, warned that in his view the organization is anti-Catholic, and is “using the Pope’s visit to push its own LGBT agenda.” He said that the organization has significant support in the media.
“Readers need to grasp that many of those reporting are huge GLAAD supporters,” he said. “Many of the journalists who cover the news have even received awards from the organization. They aren’t journalists. They are activists.”
He noted that the Washington Post, MSNBC and the CNN show Anderson Cooper 360 had been nominated for GLAAD media awards in 2014.
The GLAAD media guide depicts Pope Francis in different ways. Initially, it portrays him as representing a “change in tone” that may lead to other changes on LGBT issues. The guide presented its interpretations of various papal statements it considers positive. At a later point, the guide characterized some of Pope Francis’ comments as “significantly negative,” such as his words on gender ideology.
The media guide contended that there is a “stark contrast” between the Catholic hierarchy and the laity. It claimed Catholic bishops are “greatly out of step” with Catholics in the U.S. It cited several poll results from the Public Religion Research Institute, whose backers include major LGBT activist funders like the Arcus and Ford foundations.
The guide also criticized Catholics who reject same-sex behaviors or LGBT political goals like anti-discrimination laws.
It additionally called out Catholic groups like Courage, which supports Catholics with same-sex attraction in chaste living. The guide also claimed that Catholic teachings that reject same-sex relationships or attraction can be “extremely harmful” to young people who identify as LGBT.
GLAAD listed bishops it depicted as “anti-LGBT” and bishops it thought made “mixed, neutral or positive statements.”
It presented in an unfavorable light bishops such as Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, who will host the World Meeting of Families; Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco; Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York; Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore; and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference. The organization’s guide tried to favor bishops like Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston; Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago; and Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, Vermont.
GLAAD’s media guide recommended news media use commentators from the National Catholic Reporter or from GLAAD itself. It also promoted the LGBT advocacy media project “Owning Our Faith,” and specifically encouraged coverage of Latino Catholics who identify as LGBT.
The organization’s board members include several leaders in news media and the entertainment industry. GLAAD’s vice-chair of governance is Kevin J. Oldis, vice president of human resources for CBS Television Networks. Board members include Hernan Lopez, president and CEO of FOX International Channels, and Meghan McCain, political commentator and daughter of former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
Its corporate partners include Delta Airlines, Wells Fargo and the Hilton Worldwide hotel company.
GLAAD recommended stories that promote or cite for comment Catholic dissenting groups like New Ways Ministry, Dignity USA, Call to Action, members of the Equally Blessed Coalition. The coalition received $200,000 from the Arcus Foundation to “influence and counter the narrative of the Catholic Church and its ultra-conservative affiliates” related to events like the Synod on the Family, according to a 2014 foundation grant listing.
The media guide encouraged journalists to scrutinize several leading Catholics and other commentators, claiming they were “anti-LGBT activists” who present inaccuracies and make extreme statements. These include Princeton Law School professor Robert P. George, author and commentator Ryan T. Anderson, professor and, and commentators Bill Donohue, Jennifer Roback Morse and Thomas Peters.
GLAAD said journalists should cover Catholic support for religious liberty bills, which the activist group claimed constitute “anti-LGBT discrimination.” The group’s media guide objected to the bishops’ role in religious freedom events like the Fortnight for Freedom.
The LGBT advocacy group also encouraged journalists to cover stories about employees of Catholic institutions who are fired for violating morals standards, such as contracting a same-sex “marriage” or voicing support for such unions.
Gainor was cynical about media coverage of the papal visit.
“Catholics can’t count on the supposedly neutral media to cover the Church in any fair way,” he said. “The real narrative of the Pope’s visit is the world’s most important religious leader is coming to the U.S. at a time when the media undercut faith at every turn. Perhaps they will report on everything he says, not just the things they agree with.”