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.
Hoover said he monitored EWTN’s coverage of the papal transition earlier this year. “They didn’t seem so much like a hard news service as a soft-feature framing of the events,” he wrote in an e-mail. “I’d expect their news service from Washington to be similar: Catholic, traditional, tending to soft-pedal controversies in place of serious advocacy on issues like opposition to abortion, et cetera. I’d expect the Bishops Conference to get a lot of attention, too.”
“Will it be the Fox News of Catholicism or religion? I’d doubt they’d be that strong or strident,” he added. “More likely a gentle, dolorous, pious framing of events with strong coverage of Catholicism and its presence in U.S. public culture. Some of the impulse is to try to recreate the Fulton Sheen era,” referring to the bishop and Catholic media star of the 1950s and 1960s.
Birth and rebirth
The network’s founder is Mother Angelica, a native of Canton, Ohio, who was born Rita Rizzo and later became a Franciscan nun. She said a miraculous healing following an injury led her to promise God she would build a monastery in Irondale, Ala., a notch of the Bible Belt.
She and a small group of other nuns sold what they called “St. Peter’s Fishing Lures” to help start the monastery in the early 1960s. EWTN went on the air in August 1981 — the same month as MTV, but with decidedly less flash and glitz.
Now 90 and incapacitated by a stroke in 2001, Mother Angelica was for decades the charismatic draw for millions of viewers who admired her rambunctious, unpolished, orthodox style.
Her influence reached to the highest echelons of the Vatican, and Pope John Paul II, a conservative on Catholic doctrine, became an admirer. Her show, “Mother Angelica Live,” remains an EWTN programming mainstay in repeats.