David Kerr and Colleen Carroll Campbell. (Courtesy of EWTN/ )
They’ve long delivered the Good News. And now, simply news.
The Eternal Word Television Network, which, from an unlikely start in the garage of an Alabama monastery, has become one of the world’s biggest religious broadcasting operations, is bulking up its presence in Washington this summer by starting its first evening newscast.
The live, half-hour show, scheduled to start next month, is a major step for the Catholic broadcast company, whose message is typically expressed through devotional talk shows, replays of Mass and religious education programming such as series on the Eucharist or the saints.
By planting a stake in Washington — in an office space near Capitol Hill — EWTN hopes to raise its profile on issues where religion converges with public affairs: abortion, contraception, stem cell research, immigration, the death penalty, terrorism and repression of Christians abroad.
“It’s a deliberate choice to be in the midst of everything,” said Michael P. Warsaw, EWTN’s president and chief executive. “We hope it has an impact on policymakers and the inside-the-Beltway crowd.”
Experts on media and Catholic affairs said EWTN will fill a void, because there is no other daily news TV program that is pitched to the estimated 75 million Catholics in the United States. And while the network’s guests include a steady diet of those who represent the conservative wing of the church, EWTN does not stoke right-wing fury like a Fox commentator.
“EWTN has a lot of people on its air, and they don’t all sing from the same songbook,” said John L. Allen Jr., a Vatican authority and senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter.
EWTN’s influence, and presumably that of its newscast, derives in large measure from its devoted audience and sheer reach — there’s hardly a place on Earth its signal does not go. Exact viewership numbers are impossible to know, especially because it’s available in more than 140 countries and territories. Nevertheless, said Allen, EWTN is “the biggest game in town in the Catholic-broadcast universe. The big prize is trying to get on their air or get them involved in what you are doing.”
The network is almost entirely funded by donations from a committed audience — its pitch: “Keep us between your gas and electric bill” — and in recent years EWTN has bought a Catholic newspaper and expanded its radio holdings.
The core audience for the news show, Warsaw said, will be Catholics who think the secular media fall dramatically short in representing the church’s views on politics, international affairs, social issues and conflicts within the church. But Warsaw said the aim of the program, which will feature interviews with political, ecclesiastical and cultural leaders, will also be to attract “anyone with a moral and ethical framework for how issues of the day play out.”
The commercial-free newscast, which is scheduled to launch July 29, will be modeled on network-style news shows at CBS, NBC and ABC. Stories will be filtered through what Warsaw called a “Catholic lens,” rather than hewing to a particular political line.
“The church prohibits assisted suicide, which aligns with a conservative political philosophy,” he said. “But the church also prohibits capital punishment, which aligns with a more liberal philosophy. We’re hoping for a show guided by a Catholic framework, so it’s not really a mini-Fox or a mini-MSNBC,” networks that openly convey ideological slants.
‘A big C and a small C’
The host of “EWTN News Nightly With Colleen Carroll Campbell” is a 38-year-old journalist and author who has written speeches for President George W. Bush and earlier this year anchored EWTN’s live television coverage of the papal conclave from Rome.
Campbell said she hopes to represent the perspective of women who often feel “committed to their faith and don’t see it as an impediment to being vocal in the public square.” She added, “too often there’s a caricature of Catholic women as a bunch of sheep.”
To Campbell, the attraction of EWTN is its “broad catholic — with a big C and a small C — outlook on issues.” She said an attempt will be made to show viewers how their Catholic faith can connect them to issues such as conflicts abroad, poverty and cultural battles that were not on their radar.
Stewart M. Hoover, director of the University of Colorado’s Center for Media, Religion and Culture, described EWTN as “a general-interest Catholic service, though with a clearly conservative-traditionalist bent” that would appeal to an older and conservative viewership.