Thursday, April 1, 2010

The newspaper nitwitterati

So, I may as well just admit that I'm blogging more during this increasingly ill-named "break" than I have been in previous days. Maybe I'll do better tomorrow.

In the meantime, though, I would have been willing to bet that we all had that supposed "story" about Pope Benedict and Father Murphy all straightened out now, right? The pope didn't "cover up" anything or "cancel" the trial; the trial was still ongoing when Murphy died, and any "covering up" that had been done was done a long time before the CDF ever heard of Father Murphy. Most Catholics who have been following this story are clear on those facts.

Unfortunately, the New York Times is still apparently unaware that those facts are not mere opinions. From a recent AP article on the biggest non-story of the year:

A Times spokeswoman defended the articles and said no one has cast doubt on the reported facts.

"The allegations of abuse within the Catholic church are a serious subject, as the Vatican has acknowledged on many occasions," said Diane McNulty. "Any role the current pope may have played in responding to those allegations over the years is a significant aspect of this story."

No one has cast doubt on the reported facts? What about the present archbishop of Milwaukee, Archbishop Listecki, who delivered these comments at the Chrism Mass on March 30? Excerpt:

Mistakes were made in the Lawrence Murphy case. The mistakes were not made in Rome in 1996, 1997 and 1998. The mistakes were made here, in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, in the 1970s, the 1980s and the 1990s, by the Church, by civil authorities, by Church officials, and by bishops. And for that, I beg your forgiveness in the name of the Church and in the name of this Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

Or what about Father Tom Brundage, whose account is here, and who said:

Additionally, in the documentation in a letter from Archbishop Weakland to then-secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone on August 19, 1998, Archbishop Weakland stated that he had instructed me to abate the proceedings against Father Murphy. Father Murphy, however, died two days later and the fact is that on the day that Father Murphy died, he was still the defendant in a church criminal trial. No one seems to be aware of this. Had I been asked to abate this trial, I most certainly would have insisted that an appeal be made to the supreme court of the church, or Pope John Paul II if necessary. That process would have taken months if not longer.

Second, with regard to the role of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), in this matter, I have no reason to believe that he was involved at all. Placing this matter at his doorstep is a huge leap of logic and information.

So the archbishop of Milwaukee admits that the archdiocese of Milwaukee bears the blame for the Father Murphy situation, and the man in charge of presiding over Father Murphy's canonical trial clears up the major fact the Times either got wrong or glossed over in a sensational way, which was the one notion their story most certainly seemed to be trying to convey: that the trial had been canceled by the direct order of then-Cardinal Ratzinger--and the New York Times' spokesperson insists that their scurrilous rag got the facts straight the first time around?

It's clear to me that the New York Times isn't really interested in things like "facts" or "accuracy," or, to be blunt, "journalism," at all any more on this story. In their naked hatred for the pope and their frenetic haste to push a story that they thought might bring him down, they didn't even bother to do the minimum level of fact-checking, such as actually speaking to Father Brundage; and they're still insisting that their "facts," by which they mean their skewed and agenda-laden interpretation of the events and their convenient tossing out of those actual facts that contradict their particular interpretation, are sound.

In the end, whether you call this shoddy journalism or hatred of Catholicism or simply a desperate attempt to create enough sensationalism to sell a handful of papers over the Easter holy days, one thing is clear: the New York Times no longer deserves to be considered America's paper of record. It may be a small gesture, but I'm deleting my bookmark to the Times and replacing it with that of the New York Daily News, the paper with the guts to publish an accurate and reasonable and logical defense of the pope. What an irony--the paper that looks like a tabloid is acting with greater journalistic integrity on this story than the paper that looks like an actual newspaper (at least, it would be good for that purpose when illustrating to little children in computer-lab class what that quaint antiquity called a "newspaper" used to look like).

The New York Times can continue to act like one of those dinosaur media outlets that forgets--at its peril--that fact checking and sourcing is possible even for the untrained pajama-clad hordes blogging and tweeting and chatting and otherwise sharing actual information out here. No amount of sensationalized, inaccurate, wild storytelling can save the Times from its eventual fate, and long after newspapers are a distant human memory the Church will still be the Church--a fact, I bet, which keeps the agenda-driven newspaper nitwitterati awake at night.

1 comment:

Charlie said...

The allegations of abuse within the Catholic church are a serious subject, as the Vatican has acknowledged on many occasions," said Diane McNulty.

In light of the facts you have documented so well, the above statement is a species of evasion typical of journalists, administrators (private and public sector) and politicians (Democrat, Republican, even other parties sometimes). The basic syllogism is to state an undeniable broad generality, as if it is an adequate response to a specific criticism.

Nobody denies that the allegations of abuse are serious. The specific point of contention is coverage of a specific incident, how Father Murphy's case was handled, not whether abuse occurred or whether it is serious.

I am a little disturbed by one response of the church to the current storm in Germany. I speak neither Latin nor Italian, so I am relying on a voice-over translation into English. If it is true that a high-ranking Vatican priest who serves the Pope in a personal spiritual capacity issued a broad general denunciation of publicity about real acts of abuse in Germany as an attack on the church, and compared church officials suffering this bad publicity to Jews exterminated by Nazis, then that would amount to exactly the sort of denial that lends a sense of self-righteousness to the authors of even poorly researched, badly checked, and oddly misdirected articles.