It was announced yesterday that Greg Burke, the Fox News correspondent in Rome, has accepted the position of senior communications adviser in the Vatican’s secretariat of state. The article in the Associated Press notes that the Vatican has been having a number of problems such as “a scandal over Vatican documents that were leaked to Italian journalists,” [...] “Benedict’s now-infamous speech about Muslims and violence, his 2009 decision to rehabilitate a schismatic bishop who denied the Holocaust, and the Vatican’s response to the 2010 explosion of the sex abuse scandal.”
When an institution as prominent as the Vatican requires professional guidance through a maze of public relations challenges as steep as these, it only makes sense that they reach out to experts in the propaganda arts. Conveniently, Burke was at hand in Rome and, as a member of the ultra-conservative Catholic prelature, Opus Dei, his accordance with Church dogma is not in doubt.
Presumably the Vatican is confidant that Burke will bring some measure of expertise to his new duties whitewashing the Vatican’s malfeasance. However, Fox News is better known for their prowess in inventing scandals that never occurred (i.e. Birthers, voter fraud, war on Christmas, fast and furious, etc.), rather than in quelling actual scandals. Nevertheless, Burke’s first statements after the hiring suggest that he is precisely what the Vatican is looking for:
Burke: You’re shaping the message, you’re molding the message, and you’re trying to make sure everyone remains on-message.
In other words, Burke will be doing for the church exactly what Fox News has been doing for the Republican Party for years. Which raises a question far more interesting than the one about a Fox News correspondent going to work for the Vatican: What was a member of Opus Dei doing covering the Vatican for an alleged “news” organization for the past ten years? That would be indisputably unethical. It would be fine if he were assigned to farm subsidies or Wall Street, but not the church with which he is so closely associated. That would be like having a top Republican strategist working as a political analyst at a news network.
Oh wait…Karl Rove is already doing that at Fox News. And Fox also employed four prospective GOP presidential candidates in the past year. And they also employ executives who were caught instructing their news staff to slant their reporting to favor Republicans. And they invite Republican politicians and advocates to appear on the air far more often than Democrats or liberals. Mitt Romney alone as appeared on Fox & Friends 21 times in the last year, while appearing only once on any Sunday network news program.
It may be indisputably unethical, but it’s also the Fox News business model. Whether or not it works at the Vatican remains to be seen. However, the Republican Party and the Vatican have much in common. They are both trying to sell stories on faith to ill-informed people who are motivated by fear.