No doubt about it, news professionals do love images of nuns who look like nuns. How many news stories have you seen, in recent years, about tensions between the Vatican and liberal religious orders for women (those who lean toward pant suits and similar business attire) that have been illustrated with photos of old-school nuns wearing traditional habits?
Journalists also like stories about nuns doing things that would shock the public, or at the very least might shock traditional Catholics. Remember this recent example?
This brings me to that recent Newsweek story that ran under this headline (all upper-case letters in the original):
CALIFORNIA NUNS SEEK PROTECTION FOR THEIR CANNABIS BUSINESS
The top of the story offered this information:
Two Northern California habit-wearing nuns, the self-proclaimed “Sisters of the Valley,” say their cannabis business is under threat now that the Merced City Council is considering a full ban on all marijuana cultivation in the city. Should the measure pass next week, Sister Kate and Sister Darcy may need to eliminate the small crop of pot plants they have growing in their garage.
The pair produces salves, tonics and tinctures from the plants they sell on Etsy for pain management.
That produced this epic headline on a response post at Aleteia.org by Deacon Greg Kandra, a former CBS News writer with 26 years of news experience, two Emmys and two Peabody Awards to his credit.
Newsweek, Go Home. You’re Drunk. Those Aren’t Nuns.
Now the key here are two words slipped into the Newsweek lede -- "self-proclaimed." It's pretty easy to miss that information, due to the visuals of these two women dressed in what appear to be traditional habits favored by Catholic nuns.
In terms of identifying the religious tradition represented by these two women, this is pretty much all Newsweek offers:
The sisters told ABC that while they don’t really spend much time praying, the process of making cannabis-based medicine is a spiritual experience. The women keep an active YouTube channel, to which they post detailed videos of their cultivation and production process.
In what is clearly an aggregated, click-bait quickie, Newsweek editors also pointed to The San Francisco Chronicle, which offered a story with this headline:
Cannabis-growing nuns campaign to fight Merced marijuana ban
That story included this information:
While they are not traditionally religious, the two call themselves “nuns”, wear a habit, and believe their business is of a spiritual order.
“It’s part of my life design to help people,” Sister Darcey said to ABC. “I have to feel important, and this really does.”
Thinking like a journalist, Kandra did something logical: He looked up these women online -- their homepage is easy to find, which is good for business -- to see what they have said about their own faith and work. That yielded information that would have added crucial substance to the headlines and stories printed elsewhere.
Based in California’s Central Valley, The Sisters of the Valley are not affiliated with any traditional earthly religion. The Sisters’ spiritual practices support the process of making medicine. We respect the breadth and depth of the gifts of Mother Earth, working to bridge the gap between Her and her suffering people.
The Sisters prepare all medicines during moon cycles, according to ancient wisdom. We are activists who are on a mission to heal the world.
Now, yes, I know that this may sound a bit like some of the doctrinal reforms offered by a few postmodern Catholic nuns. But the basic fact is that these women are, in their own words, "not affiliated with any traditional earthly religion."
They are nuns because they say they are nuns, sort of. Look up the word "nun" in a dictionary and you will find that this whole "religious order" question is rather crucial.
Kandra unloaded on that point:
Okay. Let’s get something straight. Just because someone calls herself a “nun” doesn’t mean that she is, okay? ... The Newsweek report clearly implies these gals must be Catholic. But there is nothing in the story, nothing at all, to clarify that these women are pretty much pagans.
Shouldn’t that have been mentioned? Somewhere? Newsweek? Hmmm?
At the end of the post, he focused on the obvious. This whole "news" story was basically a wink-wink, non-nod operation from the get-go. Thus, Kandra used that slap up against the side of the head image in his headline.
... Of course, the notion that “nuns” are growing weed is so tantalizingly naughty; this is the stuff that makes producers and editors salivate.
Here, Newsweek. Take a napkin. Wipe your chin. And then go home. Sober up and get real. You’ll feel better in the morning. I’ll call you a cab.
It would be nice to see a correction in Newsweek. However, do the rush-rush, click-bait-hungry people that do this kind of work these days care enough about accuracy to correct this kind of error? After all, it's the error that produces most of the clicks.