Nuns fight Katy Perry: The sensational news story that didn't happen

Katy Perry versus the nuns: It was all over mainstream media for days.

And who could blame them? What a great story hook! Laughable, readable, and best of all, clickable!

Um, yeah, we can still blame them, for reporting what ain't so.

We'll start with the real story -- which the media did report when they weren't getting all tabloid on us.

The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary lived for decades in a convent on eight acres in Hollywood's trendy Los Feliz neighborhood. The aging sisters have dwindled to five, and they agreed to sell the place to restaurateur Dana Hollister. However, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles signed with Perry, even though her price was $14.5 million, or $1 million less than the sisters got from Hollister.

Perry tried to win over the sisters with a personal visit. They say she dressed conservatively and sang O Happy Day.  Didn't win them over, said Sister Rita Callanan, who added, "Our days have not been happy since then."

Why don’t the sisters like Perry? "I found her videos and ... if it's all right to say, I wasn't happy with any of it," Sister Rita told the Los Angeles Times.

A court date is set for July 9, and even the Vatican may be asked to decide who gets the convent.

Nuns defy archbishop -- now, that's an attention-getter in itself.  But throw a rock star into the story -- especially one who has turned out blockbusters like Roar and Firework -- and mainstream media can't resist making it about her.

* "When does a real estate deal get wacky?" asks KABC in Los Angeles, then answers: "When the property is an aging convent with panoramic views in Los Feliz and the surviving nuns say they don't want to sell it to pop diva Katy Perry."

* "Perry Como, yes; Katy Perry, no," Steve Lopez snickers in his otherwise well-researched, much-cited column in the Los Angeles Times. "Say a prayer that Hollister and Perry don't end up wrestling on the steps of the convent."

* "These nuns want Katy Perry to keep her hands off their old convent" is the headline for the version in the Washington Post. "Has there been any trash talk?" it asks, then answers: "Why, yes! Yes, there has."

* E! Online jumps onto the pile-up with "Nuns Are Fighting Katy Perry Over the Sale of Historical L.A. Convent (No, Seriously!): Get the Scoop." Yes, that was all in the headline.

Some of the breeziest comments flew on NBC's Today Show, as Newsbusters says. After hearing of this "bizarre legal fight," we were switched to reporter Hallie Jackson, standing outside the darkened house before dawn. (Gotta have that onsite reporting, you know, although there's nothing to see.)

"You know, this place would be perfect for a famous person," Jackson says, as if it's unfit for a nobody like a nun. "But the battle over who gets to buy it and sell it sounds like the set-up to a punch line: What do you get when you cross the Catholic Church, Katy Perry, a group of nuns, and all their lawyers? Nobody knows yet."

Jackson notes that Perry is the daughter of a pastor and once released a Christian album. "These nuns knew none of that when they heard the singer wanted to buy their convent," she says.  Those ignorant biddies.

At least the show acknowledges the nuns googled Perry's videos like her Super Bowl halftime performance, which featured songs like I Kissed a Girl and Teenage Dream ("Put your hands on me in my skin-tight jeans").

Today's desk jockies then remark on the "irony" that the nuns oppose the daughter of an evangelical preacher. "Katy Perry comes from a deeply religious family," Willie Geist says. Yeah, she comes from one. And one of my grandmothers was Portuguese. I suppose that means I must know the language?

CNN, at least, centers on the real issue: who really owns the property and, therefore, has the right to sell it. Anchor Brooke Baldwin sits down with attorney Randy Zelin to give us the basics of deeds and title insurance.

The network adds this infobit: Three of the sisters want to sell the property to Perry, although the other two don’t. But then it goes too far: "The attorney representing the two other sisters said the nuns may not have known what they were signing at the time." That's a bit of pre-court legal dueling; the network erred, I think, in aiding one side.

In all of this, L.A.'s Archbishop Jose Gomez speaks only through a lawyer, a spokeswoman and a written statment. That makes him look like a heavy, even if he's in the right legally. As I've said before, no one improves media relations by appearing to have something to hide.

But the Washington Post, despite its tab-style headline, goes the second mile and quotes the whole 300-word statement from the archdiocese. The statement says the Vatican gave "stewardship" of the property -- and the sisters themselves -- to the archdiocese in 2005.

It adds that the $15.5 million from Hollister, the restaurateur, was actually only $100,000 down, "with no assurance if and when the rest of the money will be paid." The other buyer -- the archdiocese has never acknowledged who it is, although the nuns say it's Perry -- offered $10 million cash and an "alternative" property worth $4.5 million.

Yet Post columnist Sarah Larimer feels the need to apologize for getting factual: "Okay, so it's a land issue, so just promise to stick with me here."

Mainstream media will report religion news that involves nuns and not rock stars, you know. When the Vatican investigated the umbrella Leadership Conference of Women Religious, that story got plenty of coverage (although we at GetReligion found flaws in it). You don’t need to inject adolescent snickering.

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