Q: What’s the difference between God and Bono?
A: God doesn’t walk around thinking He’s Bono
The Snark Handbook: Insult Edition
Curiously enough, ‘papal infallibility’ has been on my mind of late, on two accounts.
As you may know, the doctrine was originally defined at the First Vatican Council of 1869–70, during the pontificate of Pope Pius IX, and redefined at Vatican II nearly a century later during Pope John XXIII’s pontificate.
Vatican II clarified that ‘infallibility’ comes with the office and some indispensable assistance from the Holy Spirit.
“[I]t is a charism the pope ‘enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith, he proclaims by a definitive act some doctrine of faith or morals. Therefore his definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly held irreformable, for they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, an assistance promised to him in blessed Peter.’" (Catholic Answers)
And this brings me to two current headliner news events: the historic resignation of Benedict XVI; and the cantankerous pontifical pronouncements on sequestration-related matters by the Washington Post’s ‘untouchable,’ Bob Woodward.
While most observers and participants in this fiasco have multiple and conflicting accounts of the politics, the chronology, and the precise position of the ‘goal posts,’ there is one observer who claims an air-tight, iron-clad, and fact-certain account, a modus operandi familiar to those acquainted with Woodward’s post-Watergate identity.
It is this assertion and defense of ‘infallibility’ by Woodward that has garnered more headlines and airtime in the last couple weeks than the issue on which he stakes his claims of reportorial precision.
Woodward’s tolerance for criticism is slight, being at least as short-fused as any politician he’s written about. And like most larger-than-life characters, he’s as enamored and protective of his public persona as a high school star quarterback in a football-crazed Texas town.
That said, there’s little value in becoming a third-party (or more) to this recent round of anti-Obama fulminations that have brought him to center stage once more. We need less Woodward, not more.
And that takes us back to the papal resignation and the skepticism of various news media organizations and others about whether Benedict XVI’s departure was a matter of conscience or a conscious decision to get out while the getting was good.
I take Benedict XVI at his word, and especially because he witnessed the debilitating final years of his predecessor’s pontificate, which were burdensome ones for the church as well. Beyond that, I assume that the onus of dealing with the consequences of the heinous crimes committed by Catholic clerics around the world would wear down the strongest among us, and particularly because these were deliberations in which Cardinal Ratzinger had played a major role.
Irrespective of motive, Benedict’s decision demonstrates a maturity of judgment about ‘knowing when to go.’
And that brings us back to Woodward.
Let’s state at the outset that Bob Woodward is among the preeminent investigative journalists of his generation, perhaps primus inter pares. And were that still his ‘day job,’ there’d be little to write about.
However, Woodward is no longer simply a journalist drawing a salary from the Washington Post and occupying a position on the paper’s masthead. He’s become a two-career person where ‘conflict of interest’ has been an issue on more than one occasion (remember the Scooter Libby episode,) not least this week’s intemperate invective about the President of the United States.
Woodward’s conflict recalls a cautionary exchange between a grandmother and grandson in the 1975 film, “Hester Street:”
“You can’t have one tucchus and dance at two weddings.”
And this is the crux of what might be called the “Woodward conundrum:”
Is Bob Woodward the assistant managing editor of the Washington Post who writes an occasional book – a practice common throughout the industry?
Or is he a best-selling author who produces prodigious ‘factual accounts’ -- i. e., news -- of current political issues and debates, but ‘holds’ that information until his books are published and promoted during week-long, front page, above-the-fold pieces in the Post?
Is there another journalist who enjoys such an arrangement with a bona fide news media organization?
Is there another journalist – reporter or editor – who could appear on a national television program and gratuitously refer to the “madness” of a president without being taken to the woodshed if not shown the door?
Who decides where and when Woodward’s ‘public’ responsibilities as a journalist at a major daily newspaper and his ‘private’ rights as a prolific author of books on the subjects his newspaper covers begin and end?
And does it matter that material ‘reported’ in Woodward’s books has often been reported by other journalists at other news organizations prior to the publication dates of his books? And that credit is not given to those preceding reports?
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Benedict XVI, has made his historic decision and begins life anew today as Pope Emeritus of the Catholic Church. Might be a good time for Robert Upshur Woodward to follow suit, and to become Assistant Managing Editor Emeritus of the Washington Post with all the rights and privileges thereto.
R. Garrett Mitchell
The Mitchell Report
March 1, 2013