One of the most exciting and terrifying features of the World Wide Web for me is the degree to which it places the building blocks of many news stories at the fingertips of readers and other journalists. So you pick up your morning newspaper and read a reporter's take on a major address by a local political leader. Hmmmm, you think to yourself, that report seems a little strange. So you get on the computer and click your way to the political leader's homepage and read the transcript of the speech for yourself. Lo and behold, the reporter has ignored large chunks of the text, including sections that address the very topic that most interests you.
Will you trust this reporter's byline again? Are you more likely to question his judgment and, perhaps, even ponder whether some bias is at work? You betcha.
I have advised friends who face tense news interviews to tape the interview for themselves. That way, if worse comes to worse, you can transcribe the tape and post it for yourself. Let people make up their own minds about what you said.
Here's why I bring this up. The other day, the always outspoken Archbishop Charles Chaput addressed the City Club of Denver. It was a lively event, as was made clear in the opening of the Rocky Mountain News' daily story, by veteran religion writer Jean Torkelson:
Verbal fisticuffs broke out Tuesday between Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput and a luncheon audience that challenged him to defend the church's role in public life.
"Why do (religions) feel they have to impose their views on us?" asked one woman during a spirited question-and-answer session following Chaput's speech to the City Club of Denver.
"If we don't -- you'll impose your views on us," Chaput shot back to murmurs from the group of about 120 business and civic leaders.
And so forth and so on. The shorter piece in The Denver Post took basically the same approach -- cover the questions raised by the speech rather than the speech itself.
Meanwhile, the cyber-friendly archbishop did that World Wide Web thing he likes to do. He posted the entire speech on his homepage at the archdiocesan site. If you read the speech, you can see that the reporters present were put in a rather ticklish situation. The opening of Chaput's speech made it clear that he was tired of the press focusing only on one or two controversial Catholic teachings, while ignoring the church's other work and teachings in areas that Rome believes are woven into one fabric of life and doctrine. Here is what that sounded like:
Some of you may remember that a year ago I was part of a rally on the Capitol steps to protect state funding for the poor and homeless. But you didnÂ’t read about it in the Rocky or the Denver Post, because they didnÂ’t cover it.
Last September, just a few weeks before the election, I preached a homily to 5,000 people at Red Rocks, and I had them repeat out loud three times that if we forget the poor, weÂ’ll go to hell. ThatÂ’s one of the principles of Catholic social teaching. If we forget the poor, God will forget us. By our indifference, we will damn ourselves. But you didnÂ’t read about that in the press either, because Â– again -- nobody covered it.
Our diocesan website has at least 18 articles IÂ’ve written and talks IÂ’ve given against the death penalty in the past few years. TheyÂ’re just a fraction of what IÂ’ve said and done against capital punishment for more than three decades. The press covered that one time recently -- when I criticized our Republican governor.
I think you can figure out where the archbishop is headed with this. He also knew, of course, that these quotes would never make it into the local newspapers.