Wall Street Journal resists news media entropy, finds faith in the 'Sooner State'

Editor's note: Another GetReligion byline from the past has returned to active duty. The Rev. George Conger will once again be writing essays on global media -- with an emphasis on England and Europe -- that will appear on the homepage for The Media Project and here at GetReligion. While serving as an Episcopal priest, he has a long history of journalism and commentary in mainstream and religious publications on both sides of the Atlantic.

-- tmatt

***

Almost three years have passed since I took pen to paper in aid of the work of The Media Project and GetReligion. I welcome the opportunity to return to the team of writers led by tmatt who cover the coverage of religion reporting in the secular press. 

Much has changed in my life these past few years. I have left the Church of England Newspaper after 18 years and have been engaged in the parish ministry in rural Florida as rector of Shepherd of the Hills Episcopal Church in Lecanto. I’ve gone up a notch in the church world and now can claim the right to wear purple buttons on my cassock following my election as dean of Northwest Central Florida. I remain active with two online media ventures, Anglican.Ink and Anglican Unscripted. 

The media world has not stood still either. The decline in professional standards -- clarity of language, honesty in reporting, balance and integrity in sourcing -- continues. From my perspective, it would appear that we in the media are all doomed.
 
Rudolf Clausius’ 1865 maxim: "The energy of the universe is constant; the entropy of the universe tends to a maximum" -- from which he formulated the second law of thermodynamics -- is true for journalism as well as physics. In terms of journalism basics, a race to the bottom is underway.  

We are now at a point where The Sun, a British redtop or tabloid, is a better source for religion reporting than The Independent (one of Britain’s national papers). Compare these reports on a Catholic abuse scandal in Italy published earlier this month.

The Sun’s story is entitled: “ROMPING IN THE PEWS: Randy Italian priest ‘with 30 lovers’ faces the sack for ‘organising wild S&M orgies on church property’.” The Independent’s piece has the less colorful headline: “Italian priest faces defrocking for ‘organising orgies on church property’.”

Naughty vicar stories are a staple of the British press.

 

Though the influence of religion may have receded in the lives of many Europeans, they still enjoy a good story about sex, hypocrisy and the clergy. Both articles give details of the misconduct of Father Don Andrea Contin. (With that name like that, I was surprised not to see allusions to "incontinence." That might say more about me, but I digress.)

Both report the police raided Contin’s home, and noted the Bishop of Padua was awaiting the results of their criminal investigation, saying he will act once the law has run its course. 

Yet only the Sun tells us why the law is at issue.

Why are the police involved? Are the police called out in Padua every time there is an orgy, or just clerical orgies? I must say the Italians do things with style. When we Episcopal priests gather for a wild time, it means wearing Bermuda shorts on the golf course. 

The Independent story works on a premise that sexual misconduct by clergy (not involving children) is subject to criminal investigation. While the Catholic Church does have its own “church police,” e.g., the Swiss Guard, they were not called out to investigate. It is left to the Sun to state the police became involved after allegations of “pimping” (criminal pandering and procurement) were leveled against the vicar.

All of which led me to think of Tom Stoppard’s play, "Arcadia." Set in a country house in Derbyshire, it moves between 1809 and the present day, juxtaposing the lives of modern to past residents. 

In 1809, Thomasina Coverly, the daughter of the house, is presented as a precocious teenager with ideas about mathematics, nature and physics well ahead of her time. Her character is based upon the historical figure Lady Caroline Lamb (who coined the phrase ‘bad, mad and dangerous to know’ about Lord Byron). Thomasina studies with her tutor Septimus Hodge, a friend of Lord Byron, who is an unseen guest in the house. 

In the present, writer Hannah Jarvis and literature professor Bernard Nightingale converge on the house: she to investigate a hermit who once lived on the grounds, and he to research a mysterious chapter in the life of Byron. As their studies unfold with the help of Valentine Coverly, a post-graduate student in mathematical biology, the truth about what happened in Thomasina's time is revealed -- with Thomasina formulating the laws of entropy -- the second law of thermodynamics. 

Stoppard’s play argues that in some sense, we have always known about these physical laws of inevitable decay and decline. Writing (in real life) in exile in Switzerland in 1816, Lord Byron speaks to their implications in his poem, Darkness. It begins:

 

Continue reading "Wall Street Journal resists news media entropy, finds faith in the 'Sooner State'," by George Conger, at the homepage of The Media Project.

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