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Monday, 8 May 2006

This week's spin

The Spectator has two articles this week on Opus Dei and the DVC. The first, by Austen Ivereigh, is entitled Blessed are the Spin Doctors. Since Austen Ivereigh works as the Archbishop's Press Secretary, I assumed that the article was an interview with Austen Ivereigh that had been given a gently fun-poking title.

Half way through the article, I realised my mistake. The article is in fact by Austen Ivereigh and is a piece about the way that Opus Dei have managed publicity. It is a generally positive account of how Jack Valero and others have used the DVC as an opportunity to promote an accurate understanding of Work.

"Generally positive" because there are one or two interesting bits of spin in the article itself. He speaks of Valero, and colleagues rushing between TV studios and says

... it is hard to remember that this was once the Catholic Church's most furtive, defensive organisation, obsessed with secrecy and taking an almost perverse pride in the media's hostility.
I found myself reading that sentence again, convinced that there must be something to indicate that this is not Ivereigh's view but the media caricature. It is indeed hard to remember that Opus Dei was universally reviled until recently, now that it has bucketloads of good publicity thanks to the skill of its own press officers. But that is not what Ivereigh is saying; he is saying that it was furtive, defensive and obsessed with secrecy but has now changed.

The other gentle turn of the top is to contrast Opus Dei with Archbishop Amato. The Archbishop expresses the sentiment "often on the lips of Christians" that the media would not dare to treat Islam in the way that Christianity is often treated. According to the article, Opus by contrast, "has stayed positive, patient and polite". Of Amato's approach, we are told "Not only does this cheer on violence, but it fails to recognise that the anger of the indignant victim quickly moves sympathy away from the victim - as the popular abhorrence of the Muslim protests showed."

Actually, those who compare the treatment of Christianity and Islam in the media are not cheering on violence. Nor is this comparison only made by Christians. It finds a regular place in the satire of Private Eye, for example. Presenting the contrast is a reasonable and straightforward way of drawing attention to bias and unjust treatment.

The impression that Opus Dei have just reinvented themselves as media-savvy and non-confrontational may serve as a useful foil against Archbishop Amato but it doesn't wash. Those who have long been friends of Opus joke among themselves at times about the resolutely non-confrontational style of the members. It is an attitude that is and always has been much to the credit of the Work.

Be that as it may, it will be a surprise to some (it certainly was to me) that Austen Ivereigh is now "leading the battle against the movie of Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code in this country." May we expect a statement soon from Westminster not only praising Opus Dei as spin doctors but actually praising the excellent work they do?
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