Editing the AP bishops story

a09d778d a8c0 4adc b440 712de24f927cThis is the rare day in which a very important national story in The Washington Post and The Washington Times features the very same opening paragraph. It's even a story that took place right here in the greater D.C.-Baltimore area and has national political implications. Ready to read it? Here goes.

BALTIMORE -- Roman Catholic voters and lawmakers must heed church teaching on issues ranging from racism to abortion or risk their eternal salvation, U.S. bishops said Wednesday.

Wait a minute. That's how Rachel Zoll's Associated Press story began in the Post. But the same story in the Times has a slightly different feel to it. Look for the crucial difference.

BALTIMORE -- Roman Catholic voters and lawmakers must heed church teaching on abortion or risk losing their eternal salvation, U.S. bishops said yesterday.

The Times story also took a quote out of the body of the news story and moved it up to the second paragraph, and here is that quotation:

"The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life is always wrong and is not just one issue among many," the bishops stated. "It must always be opposed."

Now what is going on here? First of all, here is a direct link to the Associated Press story on a neutral site, so to speak. Did Zoll write two different versions of the same story? I think not.

If you are on the political left, you can clearly see that this is an example of the Times editing the full teaching of the Roman Catholic Catholic faith in order to favor the Republican Party. See? The right-wingers want to play down the sinfulness of racism.

But there is a problem here. The Zoll story does have that quotation down in the seventh paragraph, the one that the Times staff moved up to the second paragraph. Was the paragraph moved up to justify the change in the lede? That would appear to be the case.

Read that paragraph again.

"The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life is always wrong and is not just one issue among many," the bishops stated. "It must always be opposed."

The key words, for those on the doctrinal right, are these: "and is not just one issue among many."

Seen from this perspective, the question is how the issue or racism ended up in the AP lede, which was run by the Post and many others. The key words in that lede would appear to be these: "on issues ranging from racism to abortion." In other words, abortion is not a singular issue with this lofty status.

clbanner 01Which wording accurately represents the mind of the U.S. Catholic Bishops? That is the question, one that is not answered in either newspaper (or any other that I can find, so help me out). The Zoll story does make this statement.

While the 30-plus-page document touches widely on Catholic social justice teaching, the bishops said that fighting abortion should be a priority.

"The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life is always wrong and is not just one issue among many," the bishops said. "It must always be opposed."

Catholics make up one-quarter of the electorate nationwide, but do not vote as a bloc, and often do not follow the bishops' political guidance. Surveys indicate that most don't choose candidates based on that person's position on abortion. In the current election season, none of the leading presidential candidates has been reliably anti-abortion.

The bishops said that voting for a candidate specifically because he or she supports "an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism" amounts to "formal cooperation in grave evil."

Note the location of the crucial paragraph -- the one the Times moved higher.

What the Zoll story gets right is that the bishops have put this issue in a doctrinal context, rather than in a political context. This is an issue of salvation. By the way, does this mean that hell is not empty? Just asking.

But back to what really matters -- politics. Thus, the Baltimore Sun ran its own story that offered even more hope to Catholics on the left side of the political aisle. Here is how that story opens:

Roman Catholic bishops gathered in Baltimore approved a voters guide yesterday for the coming elections -- repeating their long-standing opposition to abortion but this year adding torture and genocide to the matters that should be considered.

Confused? That would seem to be a logical response. Is abortion a unique evil in this day and age, or somehow the equal of several other issues? That's the whole argument. Take it away, Sen. John Kerry.

What is the key word in that Sun sentence, going out to a city full of very liberal Democrats who remain Catholic Communicants? Offer your suggestions in the comment boxes. But please try to focus on the journalism side of this story, as opposed to arguments about Catholic doctrine and how it relates to various candidates. Keep it clean, people.

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