WHEN NO NEWS BECOMES THE NEWS
No news becomes the news story of the day when you have news but cannot publish it. Sunday, as always happens before a papal speech or homily, the Holy See Press Office emailed an embargoed copy of the papal remarks to the media accredited to the press office. Embargo means we cannot publish or even hint at the content until the moment the Pope actually speaks the words in the text.
What happens when our embargoed text contains words the Pope does not say?
That happened last Sunday.
The original Italian-language text arrived at 11:15. Shortly before the Pope spoke at the Angelus the media was informed that a certain part of the text regarding Hong Kong would not be read by the Pope, and the eventual daily bulletin, in fact, did not have that part of the text, nor did the English and Spanish translations.
A non-text or deleted text, especially if somewhat sensitive, provokes many questions. The questions about the Sunday text are still being asked and explored and parsed today.
The embargo was broken and once that happened, other media felt free to go with the story, citing not the original Vatican text but the story as reported by the one who broke the embargo. I could not and did not say a thing until I knew that I would be working within EWTN’s standards, as well as those of the press office. I got clarification last night. Rather than re-tell Sunday’s story, here’s a link to John Allen’s piece in Crux as he tells the story and aftermath very well.
If we had been able to publish the original text Sunday, I’d have written a very long column. Pazienza! Maybe some day…..!
DISTINGUISHING REPORTING FROM SPIN ON THE POPE AND HONG KONG
ROME (July 7) – Reporters covering the Vatican find ourselves in a frustrating bind right now, because we’ve got news we can’t fully report — in part because we’re bound by journalistic ethics, and in part because we don’t know ourselves what happened. That vacuum hasn’t stopped the left v. right ideological sausage grinders from swinging into action anyway, running the risk of making it less likely we’ll ever get the full story.
I realize that sounds terribly cryptic, so let me try to break it down.
On Sunday, Pope Francis was set to deliver his usual noontime Angelus address, which often features a brief comment or two on the international situation. As it always does, the Vatican circulated a draft of the address in advance to help reporters prepare, which comes with a strict embargo: We can’t refer to its contents before it’s delivered, and only what the pope actually says is considered official. Anything he skips, therefore, is regarded as having never existed.
Normally popes don’t veer terribly far from the prepared text, sometimes injecting a word or two here or there, skipping a random line for one reason or another, and so on.
However, it’s now a matter of public record that yesterday, Pope Francis omitted a sizeable chunk of text on Hong Kong. I can’t report what the text contained, because I’m bound to honor the conditions under which I received the information. I can report, however, that several Italian news sites have published the text or commented on why it was omitted, and there’s certainly no embargo on their content.
In a nutshell, commentators and news outlets known to be critical of Pope Francis are styling the omission as the latest chapter in what they see as the Vatican’s appeasement of China and its Communist leadership, generally linking it to a deal signed two years ago and shortly up for review that afforded Chinese authorities a role in the nomination of Catholic bishops.