06 December 2013

Ragging on the Vatican Embassy

The past two weeks allowed us to observe the birth and death of a fresh manifestation of OIP Derangement Syndrome. The phenomenon surfaced on 20 November as the National Catholic Reporter ran a story quoting James Nicholson, former head of the Republican National Committee, and a handful of other former US Ambassadors complaining about a change in the US Embassy to the Vatican. Some called it part of a pattern of administration attacks on “religion,” by which they meant their religion.

The right-wing clearinghouse Breitbart.com picked up that story on the Monday before Thanksgiving. The next day, the Washington Times, founded and maintained until 2010 by the Unification Church, ran a story headlined, “Obama’s call to close Vatican embassy is ‘slap in the face’ to Roman Catholics”. That story relied entirely on Breitbart, which in turn relied entirely on the National Catholic Reporter. The Washington newspaper did not bother to report the State Department’s press briefing on the issue.

(Digression #1: The Washington Times just published a column criticizing Pope Francis‘s first encyclical as based on “a disturbing ignorance.” But evidently that wasn’t a slap in the face to Roman Catholics because the author insisted he was writing with “deference and respect.”)

(Digression #2: I’ve previously noted a pattern of right-wing media playing up incendiary cultural stories just before Thanksgiving, when many government offices shut down and spokespeople are unavailable to refute falsehoods.)

Dynastic Presidential aspirant Jeb Bush picked up the “Vatican embassy closing” story and in a tweet tried to tie it to a controversy over the Affordable Care Act. The National Republican Senatorial Committee tried to capitalize on it with a webpage headlined “Obama Closes Vatican Embassy.”

And the whole thing turned out to be illusory. Normally we use the term “closing an embassy” to refer to breaking off or suspending diplomatic ties, but in this case it referred simply to moving the US Embassy to the Vatican to another office building closer to Vatican City. The embassy will be in another part of the same building as the US Embassy to Italy, allowing for more efficient operations and security at a smaller cost. The State Department had started to consider that idea when Gov. Jeb Bush’s brother was President.

CNN, the Washington Post, and Politifact all deemed the right-wing complaints bogus. But facts don’t matter to people suffering from OIP Derangement Syndrome. Especially when they think they’re on a mission from their God.

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