Thank you to all the readers who helped out by finding working URLs, online and in wayback machines, for the Associated Press story that I referenced -- by memory and in incomplete form -- in my post about what I called the emerging world of "omniscient anonymous" voice journalism.
Here's my theory as to what happened. The story -- "Pope Francis drawing criticism from some conservative Catholics" -- went up on Drudge report and caused so much traffic that Lodi News took it down. Thus, the broken URL for the story.
Now, let me state right up front that I was wrong about the key paragraph in that Associated Press story being an example of "omniscient anonymous" voice reporting. It's a remarkable paragraph, for the other reasons I listed, but it does include a kind of attribution in its interesting reference to "conservative Catholics."
Here is that passage, in context, as it ran at Newsday. Let's work through this, shall we?
Robert Royal, founder and president of the conservative think tank Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C., said in a statement that he was "astonished by some of the things he's said about the public order. He's the pope least prepared to do public commentary in about 150 years, and yet he's waded in on Cuba, Scottish independence, Greece, Israel, international economics, etc., in which it's clear he knows very little."
Hit pause for a moment.
Here is a quote from a solid source on the doctrinal right. However, note that this is from a "statement," I assume a printed press release of some kind, as opposed to a real, live interview between a wire-service professional and the source. In other words, the AP people didn't have to actual talk to the man.
Nice. How often do you see news reports these days -- as opposed to columns or essays -- on hot-button doctrinal debates in which the traditional faith side of a debate is represented by a mere sentence or two taken from a piece of paper, either analog or digital? Then, the progressive voices -- several of them, for sure -- get to talk, share anecdotes and frame the discussion.
A Gallup poll released last month showed Francis losing support among conservative Catholics. It found his favorable rating among them fell from 72 percent last year to 45 percent in July. His favorable rating among all Catholics dropped from 89 percent to 71 percent.
The decline among conservatives "may be attributable to the pope's denouncing of 'the idolatry of money' and linking climate change partially to human activity, along with his passionate focus on income inequality -- all issues that are at odds with many conservatives' beliefs," the Gallup poll analysis said.
Curious. In the text on this piece of paper, how did the Gallup professionals define "conservative" Catholics?
Now we reach the paragraph that I previously discussed:
For conservative Catholics, broadly defined by experts such as Fordham University theology professor James McCartin as people who attend Mass regularly and support the church's teachings on birth control, same-sex marriage and other issues, taking on the pope is not easy.
Here is my correction. There is a kind of attribution in this paragraph.
Here is my question: Is this an actual attribution to McCartin, alone? Note the interesting "experts such as" language. Also, for the record, McCartin is a church historian, not a theologian. In a way, that makes him a better source on this issue.
Also, anyone who follows life in the American Catholic Church knows the reputation of Fordham in the eyes of the Catholic hierarchy. Now, this provides a strong point of view from the left, which is a key element in a solid story on this point. But once again, where is the high-level voice on the other side of that debate?
The story does include a few comments from conservative Catholics. Ironically, the key quote from a fire-breathing voice on the right actually, in a way, praises Pope Francis, while knocking how the pope has been viewed by outsiders. Check this out:
William Donohue of the Manhattan-based Catholic League, a vocal conservative, praised the pope for imposing change on the Vatican's bureaucracy, though he said Francis sometimes sows confusion with off-the-cuff remarks and has made some questionable critiques of capitalism.
"I think he's been good on a lot of those central moral issues of our time," Donohue said. Some conservative Catholics "are just whining because they don't have Benedict, they don't have John Paul II," he said. "Well, they have to move on with the world. He's going to make some changes."
So who keeps the focus on snippets from the pope's off-the-cuff comments, as opposed to the pages and pages of written material he has released that backs basic church doctrines? Also, what about the doctrinal conservatives who BACK everything the pope has said in economics, justice, peace, etc.? There are some very conservative Catholics -- on moral issues -- who totally track with the rest of the pope's agenda, maybe even a majority of the doctrinal, as opposed to political, conservatives.
Let me end with a repeat from several articles I have written on this topic. For me, this is the bottom line:
It is ... clear that there are a wide variety of positions on the Catholic right, at the moment, when it comes to the work of this pope.
There may be a few -- repeat few -- who see him as a secretly liberal Machiavelliwho is steering the Catholic boat toward icebergs in order to cause massive doctrinal changes. There are others who think he is fine, when you read him in context, and that the press is totally to blame for any confusion that exists. There are others who think he means well, but that he is naive when it comes to how his off-the-cuff papacy will be presented in the media. I am sure there are other options on the right that I missed.
So how do you cover all of that? Well, you quote people -- on the record whenever possible. You quote insiders and outsiders and you cover that debate.
The traditional side of the Catholic aisle, again talking doctrine not politics, is very complex. So is the world of Catholic liberalism. There are plenty of voices who do not agree with one another, even on a central topic like the work of this pope.
Interview people. Quote them, on the record. Let readers know their names and affiliations. Isn't that the best thing that journalists can do to retain the trust of readers?