Gray Lady

Pounding George Pell in the press: The cardinal takes a hit from the Gray Lady

Pounding George Pell in the press: The cardinal takes a hit from the Gray Lady

The “trial of the century” of Cardinal George Pell -- the Vatican’s “number 3” man and head of its finances - on sexual abuse charges has been passed by a Melbourne Magistrate to the Victoria County Court for adjudication. On April 30, Magistrate Belinda Wallington found there was sufficient evidence to justify a trial for the 76-year old former archbishop of Melbourne and Sydney, who has been placed on leave by Pope Francis to respond to the charges.

The case has been closely followed by the Australian and Italian press for the past three years, while the US and British press has also covered the spectacle. The coverage has been all over the map. 

Some outlets, like The Australian, have done a thorough balanced job -- others like the New York Times have fallen short in their professional standards. Conservative Catholic blogs have long criticized the coverage of the Pell case as  against the cardinal -- and part of the larger battle of doctrine being waged between progressives and traditionalists within the church.

Not unexpectedly, the Italian press has viewed the Pell case on advocacy-journalism lines - the anti-clerical or liberal papers have already found him guilty, the Catholic papers see him as a martyr to police misconduct, media bias and anti-Catholic sentiment, while the center plays it down the middle with a ‘too soon to tell’ what to think about George Pell approach.

When the charges surfaced last year, the Australian Associated Press (AAP) observed:

The centrist Corriere Della Sera newspaper noted the cardinal was "the highest representative of the Catholic Church every involved in such a case". The liberal La Repubblica warned "the shadow of pedophilia and rape returns to obscure the church". It described the cardinal as the "controversial kangaroo" and branded Australia as "a paradise of the orcs", saying in the past seven per cent of priests had been accused of sexual assault.

Today’s headlines from Italy follow this pattern. The lede in La Repubblica’s story “Abusi sessuali e pedofilia, il cardinale Pell rinviato a giudizio in Australia” (Sexual abuse and paedophilia -- Cardinal Pell indicted in Australia) states: 

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The New York Times does its 'religious liberty' thing, with zero input from voices in middle

The New York Times does its 'religious liberty' thing, with zero input from voices in middle

Back in 2004, the public editor of The New York Times wrote a famous column with a very famous headline, which said: "Is The New York Times a Liberal Newspaper?"

GetReligion readers with long memories will recall that Daniel Okrent followed that headline with this lede: "Of course it is."

That column contained lots of memorable quotations and it remains must reading. However, here is one passage that was especially controversial at the time and it remains controversial to this day.

... (F)or those who also believe the news pages cannot retain their credibility unless all aspects of an issue are subject to robust examination, it's disappointing to see The Times present the social and cultural aspects of same-sex marriage in a tone that approaches cheerleading.

Okrent was, let me stress, not talking about the great Gray Lady's editorial page. He wasn't talking about op-ed pieces or even first-person features in the newspaper's magazine. The public editor -- a post recently shut down by Times management -- was trying to describe the urban, blue-zip-code tunnel vision that often slants the newspaper's hard-news coverage, especially on issues of culture, morality and religion.

Thus, I do not know what Okrent would have said about the "Fashion and Style" essay that ran in 2013, written by Times reporter Jeremy W. Peters, with this headline: "The Gayest Place in America?" The lede:

WASHINGTON -- My earliest sense of what it meant to be gay in the nation’s capital came more than a decade ago when I was a summer intern. I was a few blocks from Union Station when a congressman walked by and gave the reporters I was standing with a big, floppy wave hello.

That's fair game for first-person analysis writing. However, I do think that, if Okrent time-traveled to the present, he would raise a question or two about the hard-news Times feature by Peters that dominated my email over the Thanksgiving weekend. The provocative headline: "Fighting Gay Rights and Abortion With the First Amendment."

The subject of this A1 story was the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative religious-liberty group that has become a major voice in cases at the U.S. Supreme Court and elsewhere. Here is the thesis statement, high in the report:

The First Amendment has become the most powerful weapon of social conservatives fighting to limit the separation of church and state and to roll back laws on same-sex marriage and abortion rights.

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New York Times correspondent pays faith-free visit to #NeverTrump #NeverHillary territory

New York Times correspondent pays faith-free visit to #NeverTrump #NeverHillary territory

As we stagger closer to election day, the political desk at The Washington Post has produced several stories focusing on the fact that many centrist voters (Catholics in particular) are sickened by the thought of going into a voting booth and supporting either Donald Trump or Hillary Rodham Clinton.

What’s the problem? It’s something called “values,” apparently.

However, it appears that journalists believe that this has nothing to do with the whole “values voter” phenomenon seen in recent elections. In other words, this panic out there in many corners of the heartland has nothing to do with faith, morality, culture, religion or what have you. Yes, I have written several posts about this Post trend. In particular, see the recent post with this headline: “Washington Post: USA more pessimistic, divided than ever (and don’t ask about religion).”

Now, the New York Times political desk has bravely sent a correspondent into the heartland and found pretty much the same thing. Lots of folks in red zip codes are upset about the Donald vs. Hillary situation and, what do you know, it appears that there is more to this anger than the state of the economy. The Times headline proclaims: “Reliably Red Ohio County Finds Both Trump and Clinton Hard to Stomach.”

As you can see in the overture, the Gray Lady team visited a rust-free part of Ohio in which the economy is doing just fine. 

DELAWARE, Ohio -- Donald J. Trump is not popular in this prospering county north of Columbus. The Republican nominee’s dystopian language does not resonate here. Signs that read “Now Hiring” outnumber “Trump” campaign placards.
But many residents of this reliably Republican county, which last voted for a Democratic president in 1916, simply cannot imagine voting for Mr. Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. And that goes a long way toward explaining why she has struggled to separate herself from Mr. Trump in this bellwether state.

This doesn’t fit the received wisdom among the chattering-class elites.

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GOP establishment in a panic! Guess what kind of leaders the Gray Lady ignores?

GOP establishment in a panic! Guess what kind of leaders the Gray Lady ignores?

In case you have not noticed, there is a little bit of panic right now spreading among Republican Party leaders. It's in all the newspapers.

If you push the panic to its logical conclusion, one needs to ask how many security professionals will be needed at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, just to handle the task of tossing out the party faithful who will be hating on the nominee.

So, precisely WHO is in a #NeverTrump panic?

The most common answer is the "Republican Establishment." This is usually defined as the people who are calling the shots in the party. And who is that? For Trump, that term points toward the big-shot donors, Republicans in Congress, the old-guard Republican experts who are constantly interviewed on television, etc., etc.

The New York Times produced a major piece the other day -- "Inside the Republican Party’s Desperate Mission to Stop Donald Trump" -- about this panic attack and, as you would expect, it was packed with familiar names from the GOP establishment Rolodex. But as I read it, I kept thinking: What is the connection between the party's ESTABLISHMENT and its BASE, the people it can count on to turn out on election day?

To be specific, are there leaders of the GOP BASE who are not considered to be honored members of its ESTABLISHMENT? If so, why is that the case? Might that disconnect have something to do with the Trump insurgency? Hold that thought.

This is long, but you need to read the whole overture (Spot the names!) to get into the mood of the story:

The scenario Karl Rove outlined was bleak.

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Kryptonite update: Gray Lady keeps using political labels in Pope Francis coverage

Kryptonite update: Gray Lady keeps using political labels in Pope Francis coverage

Faithful GetReligion readers know that we have, through the years, stressed that reporters are not responsible for the headlines that top their stories. Sadly, it is very common for a simplistic or even inaccurate headline to warp readers' perceptions of the content of a story before they even read it. Reporters are not amused when that happens.

In this online age, reporters at major newsrooms -- The New York Times is about as major as things get -- are also not in charge of writing the promotional materials posted to promote their stories or, in many cases, sent to readers who have signed up for daily email digests describing the contents of the newspaper. The odds that an online editor understands the story as well as the reporters? Not very good.

So with all that in mind, let's note the wording, in the Today's Headlines digest shipped by the Times, of the blurb describing the newspaper's story about the controversial secret meeting between Pope Francis and Rowan County clerk Kim Davis of Kentucky. That promotional summary stated:

Pope Francis' meeting with Kim Davis cheered conservatives troubled by his words on poverty, the environment and immigration, and dismayed liberals who said it negated much of the good will he had built up on his trip.

OK, once again we see a pitch-perfect -- in a negative sense -- use of the flawed, inaccurate political labels that many mainstream journalists keep using when covering this papacy, as well as the Catholic Church and prominent religious institutions in general. This problem existed with St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, but things have gotten even worse with Pope Benedict. You see, many journalists have developed an image of this pope based on their own interpretations of a few off-the-cuff remarks he has made, as opposed to his writings.

In this blurb, who are the "conservatives" who have been "troubled by his words on poverty, the environment and immigration"? Are they Catholic doctrinal conservatives or activists linked to the Republican party?

When one looks at this statement from a doctrinal point of view, it is simply ridiculous.

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Pope Francis exits U.S. stage: Time for thumbsuckers explaining what it all meant

Pope Francis exits U.S. stage: Time for thumbsuckers explaining what it all meant

The pope has come. The pope has gone. Now it is time for mainstream journalists to tell us what it all meant, to show readers the big picture and to reveal larger truths about what Pope Francis said and, maybe, even about what he should have said.

There's more to this process than news, of course.

About a decade ago, New York Times editor Bill Keller -- yes, the man who soon after his retirement offered the "Kellerism" doctrines -- told an audience of young journalists that his newspaper had changed its credo. He told them: "We long ago moved from 'All the News That's Fit to Print,' to 'All the News You Need to Know, and What It Means.' "

The theologians at the great Gray Lady got started even before the pope was gone, offering a "thumbsucker" analysis piece on Sunday A1 (even thought it was not labeled "analysis") that said the "pastoral" tone used by Pope Francis was a loss for conservatives, who wanted him to defend doctrine. The Times team did note that the pope offered no comments that supported the doctrinal left, either. Thus, the bottom line: Compassion is the opposite of doctrinal orthodoxy. Click here for my earlier post on that.

The thumb-sucking process continued in American papers yesterday. The Times weighed in, once again, with a piece stressing that the pope showed a "deft touch" when handling issues in American politics (since we all know that politics are what ultimately matter):

... Mostly Francis demonstrated a nuanced political dexterity, effectively sidestepping the familiar framework of American debate while charting his own broader path. He advocated “life” but emphasized opposition to the death penalty, not abortion. He made strong stands for religious freedom -- a major issue for American bishops -- but refocused the concept on interfaith tolerance and harmony.

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