Perhaps the ultimate New York accolade for Pope Francis was on sale last Friday at newsstands throughout the city. The gritty, often bombastic New York Post changed its name to the New York Pope for a day when the pope seemed to be all over the city.
From the United Nations to Harlem, through Central Park and finally celebrating mass in Madison Square Garden (the Knicks need all the help they can get), the pope was the news in the Big Apple.
But in heavily Hispanic Queens, the different strokes that different folks used to greet Pope Francis were very obvious to the dwindling few of us who still love newsprint. The Post’s coverage is breezy and local, treating the pope like an otherworldly celebrity. El Diario, New York’s biggest Spanish-language newspaper, takes Pope Francis and what he says very seriously.
I’m not comparing castles to gazebos here. Other than the language they are printed in, the two tabloids have similar readerships — struggling, hard-working New Yorkers who hold down retail and blue-collar jobs and don’t have time for the highbrow New York Times. Both papers make the most of their sports pages and both are backing away from the sinking Yankees.
On the pope, editors at the Post gave a lot of space to their photographers and had their reporters concentrate on breathless lists of the pope’s many scheduled events, making sure to include warnings about traffic disruptions. Post writers diligently hunted up the weird (a wax likeness of Pope Francis from Madame Tousaud’s wax museum being driven through Manhattan in a white convertible) and other bits and pieces of questionable importance. How surprised are we really that Pope Francis responded positively to a request from New York Governor Mario Cuomo to pray for his recently deceased father? Or that the pope was warm and polite to Cuomo’s “gal pal”? Does the Post expect the pope to call down lightning on strangers he’s just met?
How much the Post doesn’t get the pope was on particular display in their choice of columnist Rich Lowry, editor of the conservative National Review, as the chief explainer of Pope Francis. Lowry wants to pick a fight with Francis and is frustrated that the pope hasn’t explicitly said the things he wants to accuse him of saying. It’s as though Lowry is disappointed that Pope Francis didn’t read the Communist Manifesto to Congress last Thursday.
Lowry is ticked off that the pope thinks we should use our ingenuity and our collective will to avoid a climate disaster in the next generation. When Pope Francis says, “We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology,” Lowry harrumphs, “Whatever that means.”
The pope uses the word dialogue over and over, whether he’s speaking Spanish or English. But Lowry isn’t interested. He wants to keep shouting conservative talking points back at whatever the pope says.
Despite the nine pages of pope coverage leading off the late city final edition of the Post, the pope only rates the number two of three brief editorials on the opinion pages. Titled “The Pope’s Surprise” the editorial makes a big deal of Francis repeating his well-known support for Catholic teaching on abortion and gay marriage, and then near shock that His Holiness would show his support for the Little Sisters of the Poor, who are suing for an exemption to U.S. health insurance regulations that mandate employers to pay for insurance that covers contraception.
“When you get down to it, Pope Francis is still a Catholic,” the sagacious Post editors conclude.
On the other hand, El Diario’s coverage takes seriously what the pope actually said to the joint sitting of Congress. Below the fold on the front page, under a headline calling the address a “Sermon for social justice,” El Diario leads off its coverage of the pope with four quotes from Thursday’s speech. In contrast to Lowry’s claim that the pope was being vague, the four quotes El Diario chooses are simple, direct, declarative statements claiming American’s don’t fear migrants because they once were foreigners themselves, that sacredness of life means it’s time to end the death penalty, that the arms trade is plainly wrong and that we should remember the Golden Rule.
Inside, El Diario’s coverage is serious. They don’t take the easy out of spreading one photograph over two pages, even though their photographers are just as keenly observant as the Post’s. There are easy and predictable stories such as one about the pope paraphernalia on sale around town and another that collects five man-on-the-street quotes and matches them up with pictures of a variety of Hispanic New Yorkers.
But El Diario’s editors keep the analysis to a minimum and concentrate on what the pope said and did — and what it means to people who heard him, both great and small.
“It is a huge grace,” a religious sister in Brooklyn tells El Diario.
The Post never manages to interview a religious sister or brother or priest.
Along with photographs of key moments from the pope’s day in Washinton, El Diario illustrates its coverage with insightful, explanatory graphics that show how immigrants represent 13 per cent of America’s total population and the huge increase in America’s use of the death penalty since 1976.
The opinion page of El Diario has just one editorial, at least twice as long as anything the Post has written. El Diario’s editorial board makes the case that Pope Francis has spoken “the right words” to a divided Congress that seems to have lost sight of important American values. They praise Francis for his stand against fundamentalism, his defence of pragmatism and his Breminder that society depends on families.
“It’s not very complicated. If lawmakers can follow this apolitical approach to their mission they can work to improve the lives of all Americans,” El Diario’s editors conclude.
If we can judge by El Diario, Hispanic New York is not afraid of the spiritual. The guest column that takes up the other half of the opinion page is headlined “La Lucha Espiritual” – The Spiritual Fight.
Perhaps if Anglo New York can overcome its fear of spirituality it could really hear what Pope Francis is saying.