The Spectacle Blog

ABC’s Pope Joan

By on 12.29.05 | 1:40PM

Those naming the mainstream media as their Enemy of the Year (below) won't be dissuaded after learning about Primetime's segment tonight. Diane Sawyer will "report" (read: speculate) about a Pope Joan, a rumored female pope in the ninth century.

In a Video on Demand preview at the ABC News website, the anchorette asks the segment's producer, Ann Reynolds, what evidence exists of Pope Joan. Reynolds responds, "You're talking about the dark ages. t is almost impossible to prove anything. There's no sense of history as you or I would accept it. There's no sense of proof as a news person would accept it. But it's an amazing mystery." Hmmm... tabloids usually run their gossip yarns with more evidence than that.

But what do historians say? Reynolds answers, "They argue back and forth. There's so little hard evidence that I don't think anybody can say it's true. There are people who can say they believe it because of the preponderance of evidence. But we talked to all sorts of them and they have arguments back and forth."

In an email release, the Catholic League details Diane Sawyer's presentation:

Sawyer tells us that Pope Joan gave birth while processing. Pope Joan, she says, dressed in male garb, but this is not an historical anomaly: Sawyer shows us a picture of a woman dressed as a soldier in the U.S. Civil War and then proclaims, "Which brings us back to Joan." But of course. Another segue could have been little girls dressed up as GI Joe on Halloween, but that might have unsettled the sure-mouthed Sawyer.

Sawyer does not interview either Paul Johnson, the world renowned historian and author of "The Papacy," nor does she interview Eamon Duffy, the brilliant historian from Cambridge and author of the magisterial volume, "Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes." Had she done so they would have laughed in her smug face. So who does she rely on? Donna Cross and Mary Malone. Cross wrote a novel about the mythical Pope Joan and has no standing among scholars. Malone is an ex-nun who lost her faith and hates the Catholic Church. "I can no longer pray," she said in 1996, "because of the language, and because it seemed so essential as the core of the tradition that God be male."

Maybe next week we'll get a segment about mainstream media integrity and how bloggers rely on shoddy sources.

It's a shame the Media Research Center has already compiled its media quotes of the year. Add these to the ballot for 2006.

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