Aiming for accuracy

mary_ann_glendon_ambassadorEarlier this week, Elizabeth opened a discussion about what standards religion journalism blogs should be held to. Some mainstream reporters insert quite a bit of personal opinion while others retain their journalistic distance. Some use the blogs as a means of unloading information that couldn’t make it into brief stories. Many use a slightly more personal tone.

Veteran religion journalist Cathy Lynn Grossman wrote a rather flippant post about who should receive Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal in light of the fact that this year’s recipient is declining it:

Who’s Catholic enough — besides Pope Benedict and some ultra-traditionalists aren’t so sure about him — to be honored with Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal this month?

Former US. Ambassador to the Vatican and top-ranked Catholic Mary Ann Glendon, has turned down the most prestigious award given to U.S. lay Catholics — intended to honor someone who exemplified the church’s ideals and contributed to humanity — to avoid sharing the podium with President Obama.

I really find that initial paragraph completely unnecessary. But it’s blog writing and maybe I should lower my standards. And I’m wondering what it means to be a top-ranked Catholic.

But a reader who submitted the link noted other problems as well. Grossman says Glendon declined the award to avoid sharing the podium with President Barack Obama. Not so much says reader Kyle:

Glendon’s stated reasons were that 1) she is concerned that in her view Notre Dame violated [United States Catholic Conference of Bishops] guidelines in honoring the president; 2) did not wish to be used as “balance” for that appearance; 3) did not consider a commencement service the time and place for a discussion of the issues involved and 4) is concerned that there is a “ripple effect” from Notre Dame’s example and didn’t feel in conscience she could participate in it. Zero of those things involve not wishing to share a podium with the president.

Why are so many reporters having so much difficulty accurately conveying such a clear statement?

It’s true. Glendon’s statement was clear and not terribly long or otherwise difficult to digest. By all means, please read it.

But some reporters handled it differently. Writing for the Associated Press, reporter Tom Coyne explained that Notre Dame will not be awarding anyone a Laetare Medal this year:

The University of Notre Dame has decided against awarding its top honor at commencement this year after its intended recipient turned it down over the school’s decision to have President Barack Obama speak to graduates. …

The school originally planned to award the Laetare Medal to Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard University law professor and anti-abortion scholar who turned down the award, saying the school shouldn’t be honoring Obama.

I must note that it is quite interesting to watch Glendon — a scholar in bioethics, property and human rights in constitutional and international law — be described as an “anti-abortion scholar.”

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  • Larry the Grump Rasczak

    “and top-ranked Catholic”

    I was unaware that the church HAD a “ranking” system.

    Is she a level-12 Rosary Repeater? A level-22 Cleric? A Level-14 Novena Prayer?

    Or is this based on some sort of statistical breakdown… like Communion Completion Percentage?

    “Why are so many reporters having so much difficulty accurately conveying such a clear statement?”

    Perhaps because most of them are ignorant, intelectually dishonest, poorly educated, and dumb as a bag of hammers?

  • Martha

    I see that they either couldn’t get anyone as second-choice or thought better of it for the Laetare Medal; instead, they will have a speech by a former recipient.

    “Judge John T. Noonan Jr., the 1984 recipient of the Laetare Medal, has accepted an invitation to deliver an address in the spirit of the award at Notre Dame’s 164th University Commencement Ceremony on May 17. His speech will be in lieu of awarding the medal this year.

    “In thinking about who could bring a compelling voice, a passion for dialogue, great intellectual stature, and a deep commitment to Catholic values to the speaking role of the Laetare Medalist – especially in these unusual circumstances – it quickly became clear that an ideal choice is Judge Noonan,” said Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., president of Notre Dame. “This commencement ceremony, more than anything else, is a celebration of our students and their families. Judge Noonan will join with President Obama and other speakers in that celebration, sending them from our campus and into the world with sound advice and affirmation.

    “Since Judge Noonan is a previous winner of the Laetare Medal, we have decided, upon reflection, to not award the medal this year.””

    I love that “upon reflection” bit :-)

  • Martha

    “Perhaps because most of them are ignorant, intelectually dishonest, poorly educated, and dumb as a bag of hammers?”

    Ah, come on, Larry, that’s not fair.

    The summation of Professor Glendon’s life and work as being all about “anti-abortion scholar” and/or “abortion foe” does irritate me, though. Even the Wikipedia article on her does a better job when describing her as a “pro-life feminist”.

  • Joe K

    If ‘anti-abortion scholar’ were balanced with ‘abortion president’ then at least the journalist would be consistent.
    If there had been space for more copy Glendon might have been described as ‘anti-woman scholar.’ Anything to avoid bringing up the real issues in the debate.

  • jh

    I think there is the whiff of sexism here

  • Joe Perez

    Just dropped into the blog to see if you were writing yet on the news that churchgoing is positively correlated to torture loving, but I see you’re wrapped up in other important matters.

    I have read Glendon’s statement and the bottom line is that she did, in fact, refuse to appear onstage as a consequence of the college also inviting Barack Obama (it just took her a while to come to that decision and she considered many different aspects of the meaning of appearing onstage with the president). Your reader Kyle’s point is wholly lost on me, because each of the four points he raises are direct consequences of Obama’s invitation.

    So here you, Mollie, are tut-tutting in an entirely justified air of superiority to question the accuracy of another blogger’s post. That’s really beneath YOUR standards, which leads me to think that the real reason for this post is that you were offended by her use of “ultra-conservative” and the AP reporter’s characterization of a scholar as “anti-abortion”, and wanted to preen a bit.

    You are well within your rights to beat the drum over your pet offenses, but really it shouldn’t be too hard to find something to more original to write about if you have little more to offer than a snarky superiority. As long as you continue to “Aim for Accuracy”, then I hope you will state clearly that despite your insinuation to the contrary Cathy Lynn Grossman’s post is wholly factual.

  • Joe Perez

    In paragraph 3, I meant “unjustified”

  • Mollie


    What a disappointing comment from you.

    I would think a long-time reader such as yourself would remember that we cover COVERAGE of news — not the underlying news itself.

    So just because something is big news doesn’t mean that we automatically cover it.

    Now, as it happens, I am preparing a post on torture coverage. I imagine it will post tomorrow. Sorry I couldn’t do it sooner for you, Joe.

    But please don’t ever write a comment like that ever again.

    Disagree with the particulars of the post if you want but do it nicely, please. I am 9 months pregnant and in no mood for such childish antics. I’m very disappointed.

  • Stoo

    Well “doesn’t want to share a Podium with obama” is kind of the abbreviated form of those four points.

  • Mollie

    Actually, Stoo, et. al., when Notre Dame said that the fact she would share the stage with an abortion supporter would “balance” the event, she said she would love to share a podium with the president to discuss the areas of contention. But that commencement day – which should be joyous – is not the appropriate time to do so.

    It’s just really not appropriate to put words in people’s mouths — particularly when they have so clearly and concisely said otherwise.

  • Franklin Jennings

    Its only inappropriate if you value honesty. How dare you impose your values…

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Looking at how The Boston Globe’s religion writer, Michael Paulson, wrote up the Glendon story is interesting. In the past he has been pretty fair and his stories didn’t seem to have the liberal spin that is so bad in Globe supposed news
    stories that it is one of the factors that might put The Globe out of business.
    However on the Glendon story he seems to give an indication that that newspaper’s oppressive liberalism is getting to him.
    For example, somehow he found the excuse to use the words so beloved by liberals: “abortion rights” 6 times in a fairly short story. But not once did he use the word “pro-life” or the phrase “sacredness of human life” so dear to orthodox Catholics.
    Also, all Catholics who have the temerity to actually believe in the orthodox Christian teaching against abortion, he repeatedly pigeon-holed as “conservative.” But in many of the sentences simply saying “Catholic” would have sufficed (unless Paulson by some magic was able to see the background of all the 300,000 Catholics who signed petitions against ND honoring the most pro-abortion–even to the point of infanticide–president ever. Paulson forgets (or doesn’t know) that the most radical left wing of the Church (as exemplified by Dorothy Day) is extremely anti-abortion.
    As I write this our Boston Globe may soon be history. However, many will not miss their resident anti-Catholic columnist, John Carroll (and their only columnist to regularly comment on Catholic issues). His columns are always virtual hate screeds directed at the pope, the Church, or the Catholic Faith.

  • Joe Perez

    Mollie, sorry if my tone was off-putting. I really thought that I responded on point to your commentary impugning the accuracy of Cathy Lynn Grossman’s post. I just don’t see what you (and Kyle see) about her alleged mischaracterization of the reasons for Glendon’s decision. I honestly don’t.

    If any US president was scheduled to accept an award at a university with a controversial Leader X of a nation linked dubiously to piracy or terrorsism, and issued a short press statement regarding the university’s following its board-directed guidelines, desire not to appear to be juxtaposed with the Leader X, did not want to discuss piracy or terrorism at the ceremony, and was concerned about political appearances, how … HOW is it in the slightest bit inaccurate for a journalist to write that the president is “refusing to share a podium with Leader X”.

    Now I can see why you might be offended by the condescending phrases such as “anti-abortion scholar” and “top-ranked Catholic”, and I don’t begrude you the right to point out such unfortunate language, but I just don’t get the criticism that she’s inaccurate.

    And best wishes to you and congratulations regarding your child.

  • tmatt

    It’s simply wrong.

    Glendon has no problem appearing on a podium with Obama.

    That’s not the issue. It’s appearing in a clash with a clear violation of the US Bishops statement — on a day that is not about debating.

  • Jeremy

    and what is with all the reporting about Glendon declining “because Obama was asked to speak…”

    the issue is the honour – not the speaking


  • michael


    As I read Glendon’s letter, she initially agreed to ‘share a podium’ with Obama, albeit reluctantly, but declined after discovering that Notre Dame was using her reception of the Laetare Medal to justify their extension of the invitation.

    If this is right, then the issue is not that she ‘refused to share a podium with Obama’, but that she refused to allow Notre Dame to use her to confer legitimacy on an action which which she and an unprecedented number of Bishops took to be a direct contravention of the Bishops’ directive.

    What is so hard to understand about that?