A few weeks before the 2016 election, Donald J. Trump sat for a fifteen minute interview with Raymond Arroyo on the Eternal Word Television Network’s (EWTN) news show; The World Over. The conversation covered topics common in interviews of the time such as religious liberty and Trump’s controversial comments about women. The main difference is that EWTN is one of the largest Catholic media companies in the United States and Arroyo asked Trump about his prayer life and his favorite saint. Why was EWTN so important that they scored an interview with the Republican candidate for the presidency?
Mirroring the political dimensions of mainstream media sources such as Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC, Catholic media can be broadly separated into “liberal” and “conservative” camps. While these are not hard categories, certain outlets tend to drift towards certain viewpoints. The focus of my research project, EWTN, can be generally characterized as conservative. Their website hosts a page on Pro-life issues and they sponger a show called Pro-Life Weekly. The channel was also the plaintiff in a recent court case over whether EWTN needed to provide contraceptives in their insurance plan. Many of these issues are very important to Catholics who may lean right of center. EWTN provides an outlet for those Catholics to hear talks, news and other programs on these issues.
The story of EWTN is remarkable. The channel was started in 1981 in the garage in the Monastery of the Poor Clare Nuns of Perpetual Adoration in Hanceville Alabama by Mother Angelica of the Annunciation (1923-2016). Arguably one of the most iconic and recognizable figures for Catholics in the United States, Mother Angelica hosted a weekly show for years on her network. While mostly centered on religious topics such as the love of God and the importance of certain prayers for the faithful, she was not afraid to discuss political issues such as abortion. She passed away on Easter Sunday in 2016 which many Catholics saw as significant. In 30 years, a nun was able to create one of the most watched religious stations in the country.
For my Ramonat Seminar research project, I will be researching the history of EWTN, Mother Angelica, and its relationship with the conservative movement. While I do not have a specific research question at the moment, I believe that there are many interesting ways the project can go. I can look at EWTN in relation to American Protestant Televangelists. While Mother Angelica’s show was geared toward faithful Catholics looking to deepen their own faith, one can see similarities with Protestant Christian programming. I can study EWTN as an outgrowth of conservative media. While this might not be a fair assessment in that EWTN hosted non-political content such as mass, the channel, it is important to note that the channel’s programs do have a slight political bent.
I am interested in this project for two reasons. First, I have been familiar with EWTN for while and am interested in its history. From my lived experience, I know that EWTN is very influential in the lives of Catholics around the world. Most Catholics I know either watches the programs, is aware of it, or knows someone who watches it. The image of Mother Angelica speaking on her show is well known to American Catholics. With EWTN being a behemoth on the American Catholic Scene, I am interested in learning more about it. My second reason is that I am very interested in news outlets and its intersection with politics. News outlets provide a way for people to learn about issues facing their country. These issues become tinged with the biases of the outlet one watches. I am interested in how a conservative Catholic perspective might influence issues.
To prepare for this semester’s research, I began reading Nicole Hemmer’s Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics. Hemmer’s thoroughly researched book traces the history of American conservative media from World War II to the present day. While focusing on secular political outlets, the book provided me with a general outline of the issues conservative media outlets focused on throughout the 20th century. Though the book, I also discovered that cable television programming became popular around the same time as EWTN.
This project is in its early stages. While I find something intellectually attractive in studying EWTN, I am not afraid to look at other Catholic media figures. EWTN is centered in Alabama which might create a logistical challenge in finding sources. If this project becomes unfeasible, other topics of study might be Bishop Fulton Sheen and the 1930’s fascist leaning radio preacher Charles Coughlin. As with any project, I have my research routes open.
I am excited for this semester and the opportunity to critically analyze the development of conservative leaning Catholic media.