Greetings from one of my favorite, somewhat obscure corners of the wonderful state that I called home for about a decade, back in the 1980s and early 1990s. That would be Colorado.
At the moment, I’m on vacation out West with family. Bobby is in Southern California and I’ll be stunned if he doesn’t manage to produce a post on his smartphone while inside Dodger Stadium.
It’s summer. The result is often fewer posts and even a tweaked schedule. Some of our quick posts may even be a little strange — like this one.
The other day I received a comment that deserves discussion. It was a criticism of my recent post with this headline: “Associated Press digs into hush-hush network that protects priests – on Catholic right only.” The key AP statement:
Still, since 2002, Opus Bono has played a little-known role among conservative Catholic groups that portray the abuse scandal as a media and legal feeding frenzy. These groups contend the scandal maligns the priesthood and harms the Catholic faith.
Are there groups on the Catholic right that do this? Yes. Are there groups and networks on the Catholic left that do this kind of work? I wrote:
… At the heart of the accusations swirling around men like former cardinal Theodore McCarrick (and others) are claims that these men have been hidden and supported by networks of powerful Catholics inside and outside the church. The questions I keep asking: Who helped McCarrick come to power? Who protected him? Who profited from his support and protection?
AP has raised very serious issues about Opus Bono and shown strong signs of work that crossed ethical and doctrinal lines. But is the assumption that there are no similar problems in groups — perhaps inside church structures — with ties to the Catholic left?
This Associated Press report does not contain a single factual hint that this problem exists anywhere other than on the Catholic right. It contained valid and important information, but failed to provide essential context — that the Catholic clergy sexual abuse scandal is not a left-right thing. This cover-up is too big for that.
A frequent GetReligion commentator defended the AP piece, arguing that the AP report was not about the abuse scandal, or even the problem of Catholic leaders hidingthese crimes, but:
… It's a story about a particular organization of Catholics providing support to accused priests and, in some cases, hiding them and helping them escape the consequences of their acts. It's not about "Catholics" simpliciter — and I don't actually see how it could be. …
If I understand your objection correctly, the reporters who did "tons of journalism legwork" should not have published this story until and unless they also did more "tons of journalism legwork" to find other groups on the Catholic "left" that did similar things? Do I have that correct?
My response, with a few tweaks and additions for this post:
I realize that it is a story about one group. I said it was a valid AP story and an important one.
But here are some journalism comparisons I would make. Let's say that a newspaper did a lengthy and valid report on how some members of the New York Giants had conspired to hide a rising number of concussions on their squad.
That's a valid story. It's even a story that, in New York City, would justify many, many inches of type. However, shouldn't the story at least mention that the whole NFL also has a concussion problem and that accusations have been made -- and evidence gathered -- that others have committed the same kinds of crime or violations of league "doctrines" as the Giants?
Should the story be totally silent on that front? On the larger context? Of course not. A solid story would have placed the Giants problems in the context of the larger issue -- without leaving readers with the impression, through silence, that this was a problem with only one team or only one kind of team.
How about campaign fundraising issues? Is mentioning one group is enough? How about the #MeToo crimes in Hollywood and network news? Yes, by all means cover crimes at one newsroom. But there is no need to mention the wider problems in others? It’s OK to bash bash NBC, without even mentioning the same kinds of problems at Fox?
How about holes in the American healthcare system? Yes, it’s appropriate to do a story about one hospital in which some leaders have been accused of misconduct. But is it good journalism to not even mention — in a few sentences of paragraphs — the deadly problems in the system as a whole?
How about the reports linking former President Bill Clinton to sex offender Jeffrey Epstein? It would be valid to write a story about Bill Clinton — alone. But shouldn’t that story mention the very similar history of Donald Trump?
So let’s end with a typical GetReligion question: Would liberals think highly of a story in which the nation’s most widespread wire service described efforts by a network on the Catholic left to hide the sins of some priests and never mentioned — even in a few sentences — public evidence and accusations that conservative Catholics were doing the same thing?
No. Liberal Catholics would be furious about that. With good cause.
It is frequently impossible to jam everything into a story that deserves to be there. I have been there. I get that.
Still, I believe that it’s always possible to add a bit of context that let’s readers know that a larger picture, a larger context, exists and that it is important.
Many importnt stories are bigger than left vs. right.