Wednesday, February 15, 2012

NPR marks 'Kick a Catholic Week' with new t-shirt pledge drive gift

Washington, DC: Beginning this week, listeners who donate to National Public Radio member stations will have more than the usual organic cotton tote bags and “Car Talk” bumper stickers to choose from as thank-you gifts. Now, they can opt for an official NPR “Kick a Catholic!” t-shirt as well.

“We’re always looking for new incentives for our pledge drives,” said NPR promotions director Frank Byast. “People like things that are a fun twist on the news, so we think the ‘Kick a Catholic!’ thank you gifts will be a big hit. No pun intended.”

The shirt was inspired by NPR’s “Kick a Catholic Week,” the brainchild of NPR reporters forced to cover the controversy generated by the Obama administration’s mandate that Catholic institutions pay for contraceptives and abortifacients.

“We thought, ‘Okay, we can’t ignore this anymore, so how can we have fun with it?’” said Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep. “That’s the nice thing about a story like this. When one side is so clearly wrong, you’re a little less concerned about being fair and balanced. It’s like covering the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. You’re not going to ‘balance out’ your coverage by interviewing Nicolae CeauČ™escu, right? It’s the same with the Catholic bishops.”

Byast says that the organization doesn’t mean the promotional items to be taken literally. “We don’t want public radio members walking into a Catholic Mass and kicking people in the shins during communion,” he laughs. “It’s meant more figuratively.”

Staff in the NPR newsroom have posted a list of ways to celebrate "Kick a Catholic Week." First on the list? “Read Catholic teaching documents on human sexuality.”

“Yeah, that one’s pretty tongue-in-cheek,” laughs religion reporter Barbara Bradley Hagerty. “Who has time for that kind of deep background research? I mean, I printed a few documents, but after a couple hundred pages, the printer ran out of paper. And it’s all in Latin! So we recycled it in the NPR bathrooms. Which, come to think of it, would be a great membership premium—Catholic-themed TP.”

One of the most popular suggestions from the list has been #18: “Misrepresent embarrassing survey results. Repeatedly.”

“This tops my personal list of fun things to do during Kick a Catholic Week,” says Inskeep. “The Guttmacher Institute, a completely neutral party in this debate, conducted a survey that found that among women aged 15-44 who had sex in the last three months but aren’t pregnant, post-partum or trying to get pregnant, 87 percent of women who say they’re Catholic reported using contraception at some point in their lives. That’s such a sweet indictment of the bishops, it hurts my teeth every time I say it.”

“It hurts my head, actually, to use so many words,” says Hagerty. “So I just shorten it up to the White House talking point: ‘According to some surveys, 98 percent of Catholics say they use birth control at some point in their lives.’ Saying ‘surveys’ instead of ‘one survey’ was my own fun little twist. I just think it makes it sound more authoritative.”

Bringing up the rear on the list, which runs several printed pages: “Give a Catholic bishop or theologian equal air time to explain the Church’s position.”

“Yeah, that’s another tongue-in-cheek one,” says reporter Allison Keyes, who braved a cold church parking lot ten minutes from NPR headquarters in order to interview three Catholic church-goers on the controversy. “The bishops’ pointy hats kind of creep me out. That’s why I went to all the trouble of visiting the parking lot of the most liberal Catholic parish I could find in my neighborhood. As cold and windy as it was, I really wanted to get a representative sample of the 50 percent of Catholics who agree with me on this issue. They’re just ordinary folks, people you could have a beer with, you know? None of this Disney fairy tale stuff about heroic sacrifice, giving yourself completely to the other, sharing in divine love, blah, blah, blahty-blah-blah. These are down-to-earth, pragmatic people, like me. It was worth the brush with frostbite.”

“You should try interviewing students in the cafeteria of a Catholic university,” suggests Don Gonyea. His four-minute story, “Catholics Split Over Obama Contraceptive Order,” gave two college students 20 seconds of air time to represent the Church’s position. “It’s a lot easier than standing in a church parking lot,” he says, “plus, there’s food.”

All kidding aside, Keyes says there is a serious side to "Kick a Catholic Week."

“We have an ethical responsibility to reach out to Catholics on this contraception issue,” she says. “Once they accept that sex is the highest form of human fulfillment, most of them realize why contraception needs to be a fundamental human right. Most Catholics are reasonable that way. Unfortunately, too many cling to this superstitious belief in self-abnegation for the sake of a higher good."

Responding to the suggestion that some listeners might object to NPR's advocacy on the issue in their news coverage, Inskeep insists that it's really all in good fun.

“Look, I'm not biased against Catholics," he says. "Heck, some of my best friends used to be Catholic. It’s like with toddlers; their misbehavior may drive you nuts, but you don’t hate them just because they poured orange juice in your shoes. It's the same way with the naive half of the Catholic population. They just need the occasional whack in the rear, is all.”

Along those lines, Byast, the NPR promotions director, is hoping to extend “Kick a Catholic Week” indefinitely, and perhaps expand it into the network’s classical programming. “Hey, people are always saying public radio needs to loosen up,” he says.

NPR ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos was, as usual, unavailable for comment.

(This fake news post brought to you courtesy of sic, the Spouse of the Ironic Catholic.)

(N.B.: Just to clarify...this is a satirical piece, not a real news item, although some of the elements are, unfortunately, true. Allison Keyes really did visit a Catholic church parking lot in Washington, D.C., for her story, "Contraception: Catholics split on insurance debate," in which she interviewed four people, all of whom she characterized as opposing the bishops' position. You can find her story here. Don Gonyea really did do a four-minute story in which a family physician [speaking as a private citizen] and two students from the University of St. Thomas spoke in favor of the position of the Church. You can find his story here. And Barbara Bradley Haggerty, bless her heart, really did say, "After all, 98 percent of Catholics, according to some surveys, say they use birth control at some point in their lives"--among other interesting things. You can find her comment here. The details that she and other NPR reporters left out of their reporting--namely, that the poll was funded by the pro-contraception, Planned Parenthood affiliated Guttmacher Institute, and the details about the survey methodology that render the 98 percent figure inaccurate -- are documented by here. All other quotes in this satire were fabricated, although I believe they more or less reflect the spirit of NPR's attitude toward the Catholic Church.

On a personal note, I continue to support public radio (I'm a member!) for its excellent public affairs and foreign news reporting. Although I don't expect NPR's reporters to change their opinions on this issue, I do hope that they will take a more fair and balanced approach in their future coverage of the Church. Their lazy, and possibly biased, reporting on this issue is a disservice to their entire audience, not just Catholics. A good start toward better coverage of controversial issues like this one would be to find people who are capable of presenting each side's best argument, so that listeners can make up their own minds. A second step would be to attribute the source of polling data, especially when that source is an interested party, and to check the accuracy of the claim before airing it. A statement like, "98 percent of Catholics use contraception at some point in their lives" should be questionable on its face, since it implies a higher rate of sexual activity than seems likely, given that 8-13 percent of people never have sex before age 45. Finally, it would be nice if the NPR ombudsman addressed the issue of blatantly biased, and sloppy, reporting on this and certain other issues.)


Fr. Andrew said...

Holy cow. Made my day! Thank you and good night!

ksam said... very Orthodox Jews are also anti birth control abortion etc etc....wonder if they'll have the balls to make up T-shirts that say Kick a Jew...or perhaps if they're so busy being cute and want to be alliterative...Kick a Kike?? I think not!!

And...don't get me stuff...but THE highest form of human fufilment?? Wow...we really have hit a new cultural low.

Or was/is this all some slightly warped attempt at humor and I just missed it...cause my 6 month old granddaughter is crying and I'm simply so stunned, I'd like to cry too!

The Ironic Catholic said...

It's a joke. It's labeled fake news. This blog has a lot of "fake news articles" like The Onion. Sorry if you were confused.

Allen's Brain said...

"Frank Byast"! Love it!

Gail Finke said...

HA HA HA HA HA, and funny all the way through, too! Judging by the internet, that is very hard to accomplish.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I was most upset with this piece - and had just finished telling someone who walked in the door about NPR's "Kick a Catholic Week" - then at the end of this very long article (which I almost had not finished), you write a disclaimer that it is a fake article!! Please don't do something like that again.

V. Double

P.S. - your letters for the "prove you are not a robot" are difficult to read.

ksam said...

Ok..feeling a tiny tad better that someone else "feel" for it too!1 But I'm still blaming lack of caffeine and too much babysitting for my missing this one!! PERHAPS...the Onion header thingy at the top a little those of us half asleep will see it!! I'm blaming reader error for this one!! :-)

John F. Kennedy said...

I have to disagree with this "article". The disclaimer at the end was too little and too late. I'm sure that I'm not the only person at there that doesn't necessarily read the entirety of every article. (I was directed to this site based on the FACT of the story/headline.) I think your disclaimer at the end was wrong and and was meant to to be dishonest. Your disclaimer should have been at the top! I’m very disappointed in this site.

The Ironic Catholic said...

Sorry, John. The entire purpose of this site is to create light satire on the interaction of the Church and world. If you're new to the site, I guess I can see the confusion--although no one has been confused before this fake news article (tagged as such BTW). Apparently a bunch of people have been confused. I think that says more about NPR and the site.

God Bless, IC

Mike said...

I also found the disclaimer at the bottom to be too late, and then I realized the reason why I was upset is that the entire story is entirely plausible. So plausible that without the disclaimer, I would have immediately gone to the NPR site to look for the actual T shirt.

And that, my friends, is scary.

Padre Robert said...

Yet, the fact that someone would read this post and find it plausible I think makes the case, doesn't it.

Lots of fun; don't let the touchy libs get you down.

Linda said...

I too am a big NPR fan but am often in dismay when it comes to their bias against the Church. I like your approach to your critique of NPR, indeed the latest coverage has been sloppy and thus rather bland and boring. NPR has its ideology and that is fine, but there is no excuse for poor journalism.

Hermit of Bardstown said...

I don't think it's very funny.