We got a lot of entrants in the competition for the coveted MIPSY — the Most Inane Pope Story our news media could come up with. After all, as reader Larry Green points out, the Associated Press reported that, world-wide, 35,000 new stories appeared about the pope on the day after his death. And that was in just 24 hours. We’ll let you know who’s taking home the prize shortly, but first we wanted to share a few honorable mentions.
First up: The New York Post, whose story on CNN’s poll of 254 Catholics was dubbed “comedy gold” by reader Daniel Barkan. The story is just three sentences, and comes with the headline “John Paul Best Pope Ever: Poll.” The comedy begins with the headline; the shorthand reference to “John Paul,” not “John Paul II,” brings to mind the first Pope John Paul, who was elected in 1978 and lasted just 30 days. Then, of course, there’s the poll’s assumption that its randomly selected American Catholics have the historical knowledge to rank the most recent pope against his 264 predecessors. (We might have voted for the vastly underappreciated Alexander I, though we’re also big fans of Pius IX). Still, the best part, for our money, is the results — according to the poll, though 67 percent of American Catholics believe John Paul II was the “best pope ever,” just 51 percent found his “valiant fight against his failing body in the face of death” an inspiration. For the other 49 percent, apparently, not so much.
Our next honorable mention goes to the Fall River, Massachusetts Herald News, for its story, “Locals Remember Brush With Greatness.” The piece is a perfect distillation of just about every pope-related clich we’ve come across in the last week. Polish people who thought it was great the pope was Polish? Check. Someone who got near the pope and was happy to have done so? Check. A series of events involving the pope that could be considered miraculous, or could be explained away by coincidence? Check. What really pushed this one over the edge, though, were the details involving the husband of a woman who met the pope. We’ll let Emma Fennell, who submitted this piece, explain what it tells us about the man. He “remarkably shares a number of similarities with the pope. People have told him ‘for years’ that he looks like John Paul II, and he was even nicknamed ‘as such.’ And it is important to note that Alphonse is 83, ‘one year younger than John Paul II.’ Uncanny!” Uncanny indeed. We’re just curious what the nickname of this somewhat-vaguely-popelike Massachusetts resident might be. J.P.? Ponty? Johnny Three, in loving homage to both the pope and Short Circuit? The Herald News fails to tell us, but hopefully the Boston Globe is flooding the zone as we speak.
Next, we have a piece from Reuters via the New Zealand Herald, submitted by Brennan Gage. The headline tells you all you need to know: “Pope’s Face Like His Life — Pained and Serene.” Yes, they really went with anatomical metaphors: “Looking at it closely, I thought that even in death [the pope’s face] still had that mix of a grimace and a smile — his recipe for a full life.” We know they were trying to be lyrical, but, well, seems like a bit of an overreach.
Two more quick ones before we award the big prize: Karen Zachary emails a teaser from WashingtonPost.com for Robin Wright’s rumination on the pope, “For Vatican Press Corps, Pontiff Remembered as the Human Pope.” (A similar line appears in the story.) Zachary just wanted to thank the Vatican Press Corps for confirming her longstanding suspicion that the pontiff was indeed human. And our own New York office submits this story from the business section of Tuesday’s USA Today, “Business Leaders Can Learn From Pope.” What, you might wonder, can they learn? To “be knowledgeable,” for one thing, which admittedly does help when trying to run a business. The piece reads as if USA Today was concerned there might be too many pope-free pages in the paper, so they got their in-house Steven Covey to gin up The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Pontiffs.
Finally, the moment you’ve been waiting for. Our big winner, the MIPSY champion: Diane Sawyer! Congratulations, Diane (and you too, Frank Fuller, for passing the story along). On Monday, Sawyer’s “Good Morning America” did a story on what heaven is like. And, not unlike heaven itself, it really has to be seen to be believed. In the background of footage of people talking about how the pope now is in heaven, GMA superimposed images of streaming white clouds for dramatic effect. Solemn religious music swells up as Sawyer tells us that “19 percent of us think [heaven] is a garden. 13 percent think the pope has gone to a kind of city.” There are shots of stained glass windows, religious paintings, majestic sunsets, and, most disturbingly, the deceased pope, resting below GMA’s superimposed cloud graphic. And to top it off, GMA kept the crawl moving along the bottom of the screen the entire time. So as we learn about heaven, we’re also lucky enough to discover that the New York Thruway Authority is beginning a series of public hearings on raising fees on a toll road. Also, the AccuWeather forecast!
Thanks to everyone who sent it nominations — there were many excellent entries that just missed making the cut. We leave you with the words of columnist Bob Patterson, who emailed to point out that, if nothing else, the pope’s death has had one positive outcome: Getting the media to stop focusing on Terri Schiavo. Had he not died, says Patterson, this week partisans on television would have been “haranguing us constantly about [Schiavo] being a martyr who died at the hands of the Clinton-appointed judges,” using her death “as a PR lever to pry a move to change the Senate filibuster rules into motion.” So he says he doesn’t mind the even the most egregious MIPSYs. “I find each and every infinitesimally small bit of minutiae about the funeral remarkably fascinating and much more preferable to a torrent of browbeating,” he writes.
Hard to argue with that.