If you've fallen into the Internet Age tendency of skimming headlines and tweets instead of reading the entire article, you'd understandably think the new pope is a hippie and the new president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, is a peacenik.
(Also: chocolate detects cancer, Oreos are akin to cocaine, and Elizabeth Warren has plans to make the minimum wage $22 per hour.)
Pope Francis and President Rouhani are figureheads of powerful and secretive regimes who've been appointed this year. And both have been the recipients of some sweet copy and syrupy headlines.
"Pope Francis says church too obsessed with gays, abortion," is how the interview La Civilta Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit magazine, did with newly appointed Pope Francis was summed up. CNN actually went with: "Pope Francis: Leave Gays Alone." To be clear: The new pope is against abortion and birth control. Referring to gay marriage in Argentina, he said: "This is not a mere legislative proposal (that's just its form), but a move by the father of lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of god." So he's not for gay rights either.
Francis said in the same interview with La Civilta Cattolica that he's not going to deviate from traditional Catholic teachings. He often defers to the Magisterium when it comes to issues like women becoming priests, saying, "As far as the ordination of women, the Church has already spoken out and the answer is no."
Celibacy for clergy? "For the moment, I am in favor of maintaining celibacy, with all its pros and cons, because we have 10 centuries of good experiences rather than failures." Tell that to the scores of children sexually abused by "celibate" priests.
Just dropping the usual papal bling doesn't make you a reformer. Reform makes you a reformer. And Pope Francis, nee Jorge Bergoglio, is carrying a 1,700-year-old torch uninterrupted. But you wouldn't know it if you just read the headlines.
Banner love for the new president of Iran is equally unearned and misleading. As Michael Moynihan at the Daily Beast pointed out, Mediaite blasted the headline, "Iranian President: I Won't Deny Holocaust Happened, It Was 'Reprehensible and Condemnable.'" And Christiane Amanpour's CNN blog ran: "Iran's new president: Yes, the Holocaust happened."
"I think it's interesting commentary on the world in which we're living that admitting the Holocaust occurred qualifies as being moderate," former President Bill Clinton said to Piers Morgan on CNN. The full translation shows Rouhani was more evasive in his answer about whether the Holocaust actually took place. He really said he wasn't a historian. Otherwise he's told his constituents Israel is a wound that needs to be removed.
How did Rouhani earn his rep as a moderate? In his first campaign speech he promised a "civil rights charter" as one of the first things he'd do in office. He promised to build a "government of wisdom and hope."
In his first 100 days in office it's been estimated that 130 to 250 executions have taken place. Even by the more conservative approximation that's more than one a day. It's reported that 800 political prisoners are in jail in Iran. That's in addition to reports about the regular torture of prisoners going unabated under this "moderate."
But the headlines swoon over almost-handshakes and phone calls with President Obama while chastity squads detain women for not wearing hijab and Iranian police shoot smugglers they catch.
During his presidential campaign Rouhani said: "Nuclear weapons have no role at all in the Iranian national security doctrine. Iran has nothing to hide."
Is that true? This month, Iran's chief negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, said Iran would not stop uranium enrichment activities.
In August, Rouhani rejected a request from U.N. human rights monitors to enter Iran. No free press. No free access.
If Rouhani really is for peace and "constructive dialogue" then he has to be as good as his press. It's reform that makes you a reformer. Not just headlines.