Trust me, I understand that for many religious leaders -- some on the left, but armies on the doctrinal right -- it feels good to unleash a holy flood of anger at the mainstream press from time to time. Frankly, I am amazed that newsrooms don't get picketed every now and then by people with incense and holy water. This temptation may be growing, now that it is common knowledge that the analog news business is having a rough time dealing with the impact of the digital age on advertising dollars.
Thus, the following sad story from the Pacific Northwest did not surprise me, after weeks of growing strife between Catholic leaders and the principalities and powers that buy ink by the barrel. This is most of the report by the Portland Oregonian:
The Most Rev. John G. Vlazny, archbishop of Portland since 1997, canceled his subscription to The Oregonian ... and asked Catholic pastoral ministers to do the same. In a statement e-mailed to priests and lay ministers, Vlazny said a March 31 editorial was "the last straw."
"The editors arrogantly scolded the church for its past failures in handling this matter of child abuse and, in an insulting and unfair attack, chose this most holy time of the year, during our church's Year of the Priest, to connect the practice of celibacy among our clergy with the problem of child sexual abuse, when everyone knows that most abusers by far are married persons!"
Vlazny cited a March 29 syndicated column by E.J. Dionne Jr. and a March 30 editorial cartoon by Jack Ohman of The Oregonian depicting Pope Benedict XVI as deaf to demands that he "do something about pedophile priests." The cartoon "was a portrayal dripping with hostility, an attack against our high priest, our universal pastor, our faithful teacher, the one person who, in the eyes of the world, symbolizes all that we are and do as Catholics," Vlazny wrote. ...
Vlazny did not require priests to include his statement in parish bulletins, but some planned to do so, according to Bud Bunce, spokesman for the archdiocese. Vlazny was traveling to Eugene on Thursday and did not want to discuss his statement, Bunce said.
Folks, folks, this isn't an effective way for the leaders of minorities to push for more accurate, balanced, informed coverage of events and trends in their communities.
What should you do? First of all, you start taking editors out to lunch. If they won't go, well, then take your lunch to the newspaper's headquarters and ask for a few minutes of their time. If they keep refusing, bring video cameras and think local news or YouTube.
It also helps when religious groups prepare basic, accurate information about the history of their organizations, explanations of basic terms and a few white papers about how basic issues are handled. If I was running a Catholic diocese right now, I'd be preparing a "Canon Law for Dummies" FAQ or brochure.
Journalists also need to know who they can call, on deadline, and receive background briefings and answers -- in simple English -- to hot questions (on the record, even). Religious groups need to find out if anyone in their key offices has the ability to deliver quips and soundbites that help clarify tough issues, rather than making things worse.
There's much more that I could say. It might help if journalists and clergy pondered the following tips on media relations offered by the pastor of an evangelical lightning rod named Sarah Palin.
But boycotts? That is the last, last, last, last resort. There are so many other options that must be tried first.