During my days at the Charlotte Observer, I had quite a few tense interviews with Southern Baptists. This in not surprising in a major New South city in the early years of the great Southern Baptist Civil War.
While in Denver, I had many tense interviews with United Methodists, Presbyterians and other oldline Protestants. This is not surprising in a progressive Western city during the era of oldline Protestant decline, in terms of numbers and social clout.
I learned a lesson in both settings. When facing hostile sources, urge them to tape the interview for themselves. That way, you have a tape and they have a tape. Everyone knows that everyone else knows what everyone said during the interview. In effect, you are saying: I am doing everything I can to be accurate and fair. If you feel I have misquoted you, then you can play this tape to my editor. Now can we talk?
The bottom line: Tape unto others as you would want them to tape unto you.
Obviously, the World Wide Web adds another potential scene to this little drama between a source and a reporter — as demonstrated this week by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Denver. It has published a full transcript of the recent showdown between the conservative Archbishop Charles Chaput and the “issues that divide conservatives” specialist at the New York Times.
Currently, the transcript can be found on the front page of the archdiocesan website. In the future, it may end up on the archbishop’s own site, along with his newspaper columns and other media materials. Here is the transcript introduction, complete with its blogger-style link urging Catholics to read the New York Times report for themselves. Nice touch.
The motto of The New York Times is, “All the news that’s fit to print.” On October 6, 2004, David Kirkpatrick, a reporter for The Times, conducted an extensive interview with Denver’s Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., on issues surrounding this year’s national elections. In the interests of accuracy, archdiocesan staff recorded the interview. A heavily truncated and framed version of the archbishop’s views appeared in an October 12 New York Times story. Read story here.
A transcript of the full interview appears below. Readers are invited to compare the published New York Times story and the actual interview transcript, and then decide for themselves whether the October 12 Times story is slanted or fair; complete or misleading.
Odds are, the archbishop believes that the Times turned him into a narrow, right-wing fundamentalist talking head.
The Times cannot, of course, run the whole interview. Sources are always going to wish that reporters had used 10 quotes instead of one. That’s journalism. But the whole interview does show the degree to which there were multiple dogmas involved in this Times report. Read it for yourself.
Meanwhile, here is the context of the most controversial Chaput quotation that the Times saw fit to print. Let’s go to the tape.
NYT: Archbishop Burke in St. Louis caught my attention again on Friday [October 1]. He issued a statement basically stating that it’s a sin if you vote for a pro-choice politician[.] I believe he was saying even if that wasn’t the reason you voted for him, that you voted for a pro-abortion politician that is still something that you ought confess. Is that ?
AB: I don’t believe that’s where you should start. The place to start would be, does our voting for someone make us responsible for what that person does as a legislator or as a judge? And the answer is yes, because we are in some ways materially — we use the word “materially” — cooperating in that person’s activity because we’ve given [him or her] the platform to be elected. Now, if the person does something wrong, are we responsible for that? Well, if we didn’t know they were going to something wrong, our participation is remote, but if we knew they were going to do something wrong and we approved of it, our responsibility would be really be close, even if we knew they were going to do something wrong and we voted for them for another reason, we would still be responsible in some ways.
The standing is that if you know someone is going to do evil and you participate in that in some way, you are responsible. So it’s not “if you vote this way, should you go to confession?” The question is, “if you vote this way, are you cooperating in evil?” Now, if you know you are cooperating in evil, should you go to confession? The answer is yes. There’s a more sophisticated thing here it’s not so crude. The reason I want to stress that is because it is not like bishops are issuing edicts about who should vote for whom. It’s issuing statements about how a Catholic forms her conscience, or his conscience and remote material cooperation or proximate material cooperation is cooperation, and it’s important for Catholics to know that, to be sophisticated in their judgments.