The new media 'normal'

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, is the kind of guy media always quote. 

It’s for two reasons. First, he gives great quotes. Commenting recently on a spate of features on Time magazine’s website pushing the ordination of women as Catholic priests — as if that is any of Time’s business — Donohue says

“Tim Padgett wrote about another elderly gal who thinks she is a priest, saying that there are now ‘more than 100 other women who claim to be Catholic priests in the U.S. and abroad.’ He did not say whether the senior citizens have seen Elvis lately.” 

Second, Donohue is the media’s classic man bites dog. He says things that are so outside the media’s own conventional wisdom that it is news in and of itself. He gets quoted not because media agree with him, but because they consider him so over-the-top just for defending the Catholic Church. 

Media always have their barometer of what they define as normative thinking, normative behavior. Catholics are not part of that media normal, unless they become “Uncle Pats” — public dissenters to Catholic belief. The only good Catholic is a “recovering” Catholic. 

This kind of stuff is familiar to anyone who recalls media coverage of the early days of the debate over legalization of abortion. A Catholic fighting legalized abortion was a mindless, unthinking drone controlled by an oppressive hierarchy; a Catholic politician in favor of legalized abortion was a “hero” and a “thinking Catholic.” 

And it really hasn’t changed much since then. One hundred ladies worldwide defining themselves as Catholic priests are the new normal. The roughly 375,000 male priests worldwide are, well, you know what media think they are. 

I’ve always been fascinated by media normal. In the 1950s, media normal for family was mom, dad, three kids — kind of like the gang on “Father Knows Best.” In today’s media normal, that would be the anti-family. 

The media normal now is gay. This new TV season has found record numbers of gay series regulars on scripted shows, a 3 percent increase from 2009. But all is not good in media lobby land. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation welcomes this increased presence, but bemoans the fact that there are apparently no gay characters who are black, and no “transgender” characters this season. Give it time. 

Pressure groups like GLAAD keep up the heat to represent gay normalcy. Donohue, on the other hand, spends his time bellowing (nonpejorative, as that’s what he does) over the outrageous and offensive portrayal of Catholics and Catholic beliefs.  

Only in a fantasy world would Donohue entertain the notion of persuading media to show practicing, believing Catholics as anywhere near normal. He’s taking them to task for the outrageous attacks and vicious stereotypes. Forget about showing roughly 23 percent of the population as anywhere approaching normal.  

Curious, isn’t it? You can’t get a practicing Catholic as a normal sitcom character unless it is seen as an opportunity for 2.4 jokes per episode about priests and sexual abuse. But gay characters cracking jokes about Catholicism are ubiquitous. 

In fact, believers of any stripe are outside media normal. Contemporary believers who attend Church services every Sunday — though numbering roughly 44 percent of the population — couldn’t be less visible on network television.  

Which leads me to believe that until the character happens to be transgendered as well, it’s going to be a long wait for a faithful, happy Catholic to appear on a series. Unless he was abused by a priest as an altar boy.

That would work. 

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.