Amid the reactions to the elevation of Joseph Ratzinger to the papacy, there have been some doozies. My favorite came from a furious Ms. Cokie Roberts on Tuesday’s night’s Nightline. She must have been venting something fierce all evening, because Ted Koppel, none too pleased himself, introduced her with these words: “Cokie Roberts, you, you were, I gather, able to contain your enthusiasm, when you heard the news.”
Whereupon Cokie shot back with this. (And if looks could kill, Nightline would have lost its entire viewership, such as it is.)
For a more eloquent version of such unhappiness, albeit more hysterical, one could turn to Andrew Sullivan. Perhaps because of sheer exhaustion he seemed more composed yesterday, restricting himself to observations such as this: “Ratzinger’s views on freedom of thought within the church are deeply authoritarian; his views on what conscience is are totalitarian; his conflation of his own views with the Holy Spirit are [sic] offensive.” Two days into the new papacy and Sullivan is a spent force.
For calmer, more respectful reactions to Ratzinger’s election I turned to an unexpected source: the correspondence pages of the Washington Post and New York Times. In each case, the lead letter was reverential. The Times’ missive began in a voice of simple kindness: “With deep joy I offer Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger my warm congratulations and most fervent good wishes on his election to the papacy.” The Post’s opener began with similarly kind words. “The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is a man rich in spiritual passion, humility, self-denial, and love for the cause of God and of man.” It then hit me that that last description was also to be found in the second paragraph of the Times’ lead letter.
There was no reason why it shouldn’t have been. Turns out each letter was signed by the same man: Paul Kokoski, of Hamilton, Ontario. Other than the abbreviated opening in the Post’s version, and a few slight editorial tics (the Post changed Mr. Kokoski’s reference to Ratzinger’s defending Catholicism against “modern errors,” as the Times had it, to defending against “the errors of modernity”), the letters were identical.
How do you like that! Has this ever happened before, the nation’s two top papers running the same opening letter? Was this a case of great minds thinking alike? Or will each now feel it was had?
By the way, you might be wondering how I knew the version with “modern errors” was the correct one. Because that’s the way it appeared in the versions of Mr. Kokoski’s letter that appeared in yesterday’s Miami Herald and National Post of Canada. The Los Angeles Times also posted the letter, and also in the lead spot, though without the disputed clause.
Who knows how many other outlets ran the Kokoski letter? At the risk of earning Andrew Sullivan’s wrath, I bet the Holy Spirit does.
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