When a Catholic high school theology teacher posted some thoughts on her Facebook page, she never expected that two Hollywood actors and an online lynch mob -- including professionals at several newspapers -- would make her take it down.
So here are the basics. Note that much of the reporting turned into cheerleading for one side of the debate.
Patricia Jannuzzi teaches at Immaculata High School in Somerville, N.J. When she read an article on theyoungconservatives.com web site about an obscene tweet by gay activist Dan Savage -- posted about presidential hopeful Dr. Ben Carson -- she saw red. She posted a jumbled response on her Facebook page that said in -- in part -- that homosexuals have an “agenda” and “they argue that they are born this way and it is not a choice to get the 14th amendment equal rights protection … bologna.” And that gays “want to reengineer western civ into a slow extinction. We need healthy families with a mother and a father for the sake of humanity!!!!”
A 2001 graduate of Immaculata saw her post and created a change.org petition calling it “hate speech” and asking for “action” to be taken at Immaculata. One of the 953 people who supported the petition was Greg Bennett, an openly gay 2004 alumnus of the school who once acted in “Real Housewives of New Jersey” and had Jannuzzi as a teacher. He signed the petition and asked his 165,000 Twitter followers to do the same.
Another gay alum, Scott Lyons, got his aunt, actress Susan Sarandon, to weigh in on her Facebook page:
So proud of my nephew Scott and the dialogue he started. He was responding to a teacher he had at his high school who still believes that homosexuality is a learned behavior. High school is a tough time anyway... students don't need teachers making it even more difficult.
She got 5,343 likes on that one.
These various posts made their way to school officials, who ordered Jannuzzi to deactivate her page. By Wednesday, the media began noticing and Kellerism (click here for info) began flying everywhere. Catholic school asks New Jersey teacher to take down Facebook page with homophobic rant, screamed The New York Daily News on Thursday.
A New Jersey private school is distancing itself from one of its theology teachers after the discovery of a homophobic rant on Facebook.
Immaculata High School officials asked Patricia Jannuzzi to take down her public profile after learning she said gays and lesbians were trying to “reengineer western civ into a slow extinction” with marriage equality.
Her now-deleted rant against the extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples on constitutional grounds engendered negative attention among the Somerville school’s alumni and sparked a petition drive demanding discipline.
Remember that this is supposed to be basic news copy. Thus, “Rant”? “Homophobic”? The Daily News wasn’t even trying to be fair to this woman. The Newark Star-Ledger’s piece was a bit more restrained; at least it had “homophobic” in quotes but there was not one voice in the article that defended this woman’s First Amendment right to speak on her own Facebook page. But at least this piece tried to include comment from the main players.
Immaculata said in its statement that the school is reviewing its social media policy with faculty and staff members. "It is the policy of the school that all faculty and staff demonstrate respect and sensitivity to all people at all times and to avoid offending any individuals or groups," the statement said.
The petition was addressed to Principal Jean Kline, who provided the statement to NJ Advance Media. It also names John Hack, director of alumni relations, Assistant Principal Anne Brigid Gallagher and Monsignor Seamus Brennan. Hack deferred any comments to Kline. Messages left for Gallagher and Brennan were not returned. Januzzi did not respond to an email and phone message seeking comment.
Later, the Ledger ran another piece on some of the 760 the online comments about Jannuzzi and the media frenzy. At that point several people stood up for the teacher’s right to free speech.
USAToday.com picked up the story from the Bridgewater (N.J.) Courier-News which repeated much of what other media had published. Still, look at its opening paragraph:
SOMERVILLE, N.J. -- An anti-gay rant by a religion teacher at a Catholic high school in New Jersey is drawing the ire of alumni across the country, including a former Real Housewives of New Jersey cast member and New-Jersey-raised Susan Sarandon.
Isn’t “rant” kind of prejorative, folks? Even NBC got involved.
While Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone holds the line on the teaching of orthodox moral doctrines of the Catholic Church out in San Francisco, here in New Jersey a theology teacher in Immaculata High School in Somerville is threatened with dismissal from her position for . . . agreeing with orthodox moral doctrines of the Catholic Church. ...
Now it is reliably reported that Patricia Jannuzzi is under pressure to resign, and threatened with dismissal if she utters a peep about the matter. This is rapidly becoming an outrageous assault against a person whose worst offense was to speak with what some (but by no means all) would call an intemperate passion, in favor of the Church’s teaching.
This high school teacher is not a public figure. Yet, someone who’s related to a Hollywood actress gets upset about her garbled Facebook post and all of a sudden the local media are jumping all over this woman. (Whether this would have been in the media if Sarandon hadn’t gotten involved is a good question). As one commentator on the Ledger’s page said, are we at the point where people are going to lose their careers (in a Catholic school) over their words and thoughts? Are there certain groups in this country who have a right to not be offended -- ever?
Oh, and when covering this kind of story, is it an appropriate journalistic approach to do cheerleading for one side?