Thursday, March 12, 2009

News Flash to Rome. News Flash to Utah

Among all the world’s great religions, only Buddhism has demonstrated that its people and spiritual leaders understand the role of public relations in shaping media attention. The diplomatic travels of the Dali Lama, and the global media focus on the harsh Chinese treatment of Buddhist monks over the issue of Tibet— these and other PR initiatives demonstrate that, when it comes to the media, the Buddhists “get it.”

In stark contrast, the Abrahamic monotheisms don’t seem to have a clue. Three years ago, the Muslims went ballistic (actually, the proper phrase is to say they went Jihadist) because a Danish newspaper (the media) published cartoons of Mohammad. In the mayhem over that episode, several infidels were killed, which is always a real crowd pleaser for Islam, but it didn’t go very far to win over new coverts.

Catholicism fights this media battle constantly, and never seems to get it right. Most Vatican press releases are reactive to bad news, like when another Archdiocese goes bankrupt paying off past victims of priestly sex abuse, or when some rogue Bishop denies the Holocaust. Even when Vatican news is proactive and celebratory, it’s usually to announce something silly, like a human interest story about some South American peasant woman who cooks a baked potato only to find that the skin has crinkled into a likeness of the face of the Virgin Mary. We’ve all seen that sort of thing coming from the Vatican PR machine. The latest media war being waged by The Church involves the upcoming Ron Howard/Tom Hanks film, “Angels and Demons,” from the Dan Brown novel. The film doesn’t open until May, but already the Vatican is up in arms because they’re afraid that moviegoers will come away with the impression that The Church was anti-science during the Renaissance. News flash to Rome— that’s not any secret or misconception, and it hasn’t been for 400 years.

And now it’s the Mormon Church with its panties tied into knots over something involving the media. An upcoming episode of the HBO series, “Big Love,” will show a depiction of a secret ceremony (not fictitious) inside a Mormon temple. Only Mormons are supposed to know about this secret ceremony, but now HBO subscribers can see it too, and worst of all, they will learn about it for free, without paying that famous Mormon tithe. News flash to Utah—“Big Love” is only a sitcom. It’s not a documentary.

Long ago, business, educational, and political groups learned that trained PR people, with expertise in media relations, could go a long way toward making life easier for them in today’s media-drenched world. The Abrahamic monotheistic religions of the world need to embrace this tactic, and do it soon, because as long as these religions keep doing stupid things, the media will keep making them look stupid.

1 comment:

Chino Blanco said...

Tom Hanks puts this brouhaha into perspective (and waxes prophetic) at the 3rd season premiere of Big Love:

"There's gonna be lies, and secrets, and discoveries, and problems. Television!"