Those 1989 Act-Up protests: The key events were OUTSIDE St. Patrick's Cathedral?

This is not a post about what the Catholic Catechism teaches about sexuality.

It is also, in a way, not a post about the ongoing issues of LGBT groups being allowed to march in the famous St. Patrick's Day parade in New York City.

This is a post about a basic issue of balance and accuracy in some crucial background material in a recent New York Times update about events linked to that parade, which has been a flashpoint in conflicts between LGBT activists and Catholic leaders for decades.

So, first things first, what is the news hook for this news report?

George J. Mitchell, the former Senate majority leader who presided over negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement and power sharing in Northern Ireland, has been chosen as the grand marshal for this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
The parade’s organizers plan to announce the selection of Mr. Mitchell on Monday. But it is not clear whether Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow Democrat who skipped the parades in his first two years in office because organizers had barred openly gay groups since the 1990s, would take part. A spokesman for Mr. de Blasio said on Friday that the mayor was reviewing whether to march this year.

As you would expect, the Times team included several paragraphs of background material to let readers know a little bit about the history of these tensions. This is where I want GetReligion readers to focus their attention.

Let us attend (especially to the fine details):

The controversy began in December 1989, when thousands demonstrated outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral over statements made by Cardinal John J. O’Connor on abortion, homosexuality and AIDS. As the 1990 parade approached, the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization sought permission to march, but the request was turned down.
The next year, Mayor David N. Dinkins tried to work out a compromise by having a lesbian and gay group march with an existing delegation. But when he joined the parade, marching with that group, he was met with catcalls and boos, and two beer cans thrown in his direction narrowly missed him. Two people were later arrested and charged in connection with throwing beer during the parade, and Mr. Dinkins said he was surprised by the hostility he felt.

I have two questions about this material. First, how important is the detail about the "two beer cans" that were thrown in the direction of the mayor? Would it have been enough to simply say that the crowd booed him?

It would be accurate to say that the crowd booed. But does that accurately capture the scene, even in a passage in which the reporter has very little space for background material? I would argue that the beer cans are a crucial detail and it might have been worth a few extra words to know more about who was charged with throwing them.

But now we come to a major problem. What about this part of the flashback material?

The controversy began in December 1989, when thousands demonstrated outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral over statements made by Cardinal John J. O’Connor on abortion, homosexuality and AIDS.

Is this accurate? Well, yes, there were thousands of protesters outside the cathedral. But is that enough information, if readers are going to understand why that day is so important in the history of this conflict?

Well, in 1989 the Times was a bit more specific about what happened:

While some 4,500 people demonstrated outside St. Patrick's Cathedral yesterday, several dozen disrupted the Mass at 10:15 A.M. to protest John Cardinal O'Connor's recent statements on abortion, homosexuality and AIDS.
Some of the protesters chained themselves to pews inside the cathedral, while others shouted or lay in aisles. ... The police said 111 people were arrested, including 43 inside the church. Many of the protesters were carried out on stretchers after refusing to stand up.

So the key, from the viewpoint of Catholics in New York City and around the world, was the fact that these protests went INSIDE the cathedral and disrupted a Mass. Yes, there were protests outside the cathedral, but that wasn't the most controversial detail in what happened during that Sunday Mass.

In fact, a 1990 follow-up report in the Times added another crucial detail:

In the past, Act-Up members halted trading on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, delayed for two hours the opening of an international AIDS conference in Montreal, and bolted and chained themselves to the offices of pharmaceutical companies. But they had never set off the kind of controversy that began on Dec. 10 at St. Patrick's when one member crumbled a communion wafer, desecrating what Roman Catholics believe to be the body of Christ.
David N. Dinkins, then the Mayor-elect, and Gov. Mario M. Cuomo said they deplored the demonstration. Andy Humm, a spokesman for the Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Rights, said the demonstration was ''stupid and wrong-headed.''

Was it important for the Times, in this 2016 report, to mention the two beer cans? I would say "yes."

If that's true, why not mentioned the "crumbled" communion wafer? Why state that the demonstrations took place OUTSIDE the cathedral when that is not the most important detail that readers need to know about that event?

Let's go back to the desecration of the communion host, for a moment. If the host was given to someone who was receiving communion, was it placed directly into their mouth? Catholic readers help me out here: What would have been the normal practice in 1989?

Did the protester spit the host out and then "crumble" it? What happened to the host? Was it thrown on the floor? It would have only taken a few additional words to have offered that crucial detail, if the goal is to convey why this 1989 protest became such a pivotal event -- one worth mentioning in a news report in 2016.

As the conservative Catholic activist Bill Donohue (never one to be mild) put it in an online commentary, one that drew on editorial material from the Times:

The act of desecration was spitting the Eucharist on the floor. No wonder Mayor Ed Koch, who was there, said he was shocked by the “fascist tactics” of the protesters.
Everyone knows that if Catholics demonstrated outside a hall where gay activists were holding forth, and some of them went crazy -- storming the event -- no reporter, then or later, would ever write about it without mentioning what happened inside. Yet gay fascists can disrupt a Mass and desecrate the Eucharist, and years later the Times only notes that  “thousands demonstrated outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral.”
It would be wrong to say this is poor journalism -- it’s rewriting history.

So if the two beer cans were important, then how about the desecration of the Body of Christ in the Mass? Was that a detail that would have made the story stronger? And was it accurate to say there were protests outside the cathedral and leave it at that?

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