This morning, Reuters published a story with the catchy headline, “Pope warns media over ‘sin’ of spreading fake news, smearing politicians.” To go by the headline, you might think the Pope is weighing in on how fake news contributed to the election of Donald Trump. But a closer inspection of Francis’s actual words show they have nothing to do with fake news at all, but rather are a standard warning against slander and scandal-mongering. It’s hardly news for a clergyman to condemn slander, which has been a sin since at least the biblical injunction against bearing false witness.
Tellingly, the Pope condemned even truthful scandal-mongering. As quoted by Reuters, he said, “I think the media have to be very clear, very transparent, and not fall into—no offense intended—the sickness of coprophilia, that is, always wanting to cover scandals, covering nasty things, even if they are true.” Coprophagia literally meaning eating excrement. The Pope doesn’t seem to care whether that excrement is real or not; he is saying that the love of spreading damaging and hurtful information about other people is morally dubious.