So U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was coming out of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and a Boston Herald reporter shouted out the kind of question that you expect reporters to shout at churchgoing conservatives who sit on the world's highest court. The reporter asked how Scalia responds to people who question his impartiality on matters of church and state.
Of course, you could ask precisely the same question of any justice on the Supreme Court and it would be just as relevant, whether they are traditional Catholics, postmodern Catholics, left-leaning GOP Episcopalians, hyper-consistent liberal Jews or whatever. But Scalia's faith is controversial because it clashes with the spirit of our age, from time to time.
But this was a valid question. Shouting it at the justice as he exited a cathedral was a nice touch.
A split second later, freelance photographer Peter Smith clicked the shutter and captured the exclusive Herald photograph seen with this post. It is going to be a web classic. And the wink-wink, chuckle-chuckle press coverage took an interesting turn in a story by reporter Jessica Heslam that starts like this:
A freelance photographer has been fired by the Archdiocese of Boston's newspaper for releasing a picture of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia making a controversial gesture in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Sunday.
Peter Smith, who had freelanced for The Pilot newspaper for a decade, lost the job yesterday after the Herald ran his photo on its front page. Smith said he has no regrets about releasing it.
"I did the right thing. I did the ethical thing," said Smith, 51, an assistant photojournalism professor at Boston University.
The interesting word in that final paragraph is "ethical." What does this mean? Oh, and who was the photographer working for on this particular morning? Was he totally freelance or working for the Catholic newspaper?
Scalia never denied making the Italian-esque gesture, but denied that it automatically meant what the newspaper said (or implied) that it meant.
The Catholic newspaper staff did not think this was a story of national importance. Smith said it was his "ethical" duty to see it printed.
OK, it's a funny photo. But what does it prove? What is the journalistic importance of this photo, other than the already established fact that Scalia is a lively guy who doesn't care a whole lot what the media establishment thinks of him?
What is the principle of journalism ethics involved in this case?
Meanwhile, the Herald is having a merry old time with this story. My favorite laugh-to-keep-from-crying headline: "'Sopranos' stars divided on bawdy body language."
As they would say in the cathedral: Lord have mercy.