60 Minutes’ ‘outrageously slanted’ nuns story

CBS released this clip last week, previewing the Sunday 60 Minutes piece. Talk about hard-hitting! Talk about the opposite of obsequious!

Oh wait. It looked horrific.

Apparently it was. After it ran on Sunday, one person tweeted:

“60 minutes” tonight marked the election of Pope Francis with an outrageously slanted Bob Simon piece hammering the Church

Another:

aaaand first up on 60 Minutes: Will Pope Francis continue using the same office as the Inquisition to persecute American nuns?

yeah, reporting is one thing. Glowing as you question the subject is quite another.

You can watch the whole thing and make your own judgment, but Godbeat veteran Jeffrey Weiss said the piece failed on a number of counts.

So he begins by praising 60 Minutes and notes he has no particular interest in the dispute between the Vatican and the nuns, “but the job of objective journalism, even investigative journalism, is to lay out the facts and even suggest conclusions — without tipping the scales beyond where the facts go.” He makes some excellent and reasonable points, after he cites a few of the problems early on in the piece. One is the over-the-top reference to a “new Inquisition.”

Another is this passage:

“The crackdown last year on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious has sparked outrage — creating yet another rift between those who want the Church to reform, and those who do not.” …

And then there’s the “rift between those who want the Church to reform and those who do not.” Let’s look at a definition for “reform.”

“To put or change into an improved form or condition.”

Which side of this argument is pushing for change into an improved form, do you suppose?

One way of looking at it would be that the Leadership Conference of Women Religious has drifted away from the doctrines and authoritative positions of the Catholic Church and are in need of, ahem, reform but do not want to reform. Which means the Vatican wants the American branch of the church to reform. Do you think that’s what Simon was suggesting?

Me, either.

There’s much more from Weiss and it’s well worth a read. OK, I have to pull out another part:

Simon sits down with Sr. Pat Ferrell, the now-former president of the LCWR, to discuss her view of the dispute. And we have this exchange:

She met with the enforcers of church orthodoxy who ordered the investigation that found her group had undermined the Church — the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Bob Simon: This is the same group, is it not, that ran the Inquisition?

Pat Farrell: It is the same office, under a different name, that’s right.

This, apparently, in case you missed the first reference.

Sigh. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, under exactly the same name, illegally investigated American citizens and interfered with civil rights and anti-war organizations not so many decades ago. What exactly does that tell us about the current agency? Maybe something. Maybe not. That’s what reporting is supposed to reveal.

Weiss, like any good critic, is sure to praise what’s good about the piece. And he reminds us that this is an interesting story to tell and one that can be told without taking sides.

Great media analysis of a piece that failed to achieve some important standards.

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  • Dan Crawford

    It was pretty awful – no mention at all of the LCWR’s flirtation with “re-imaging Jesus” and its forays into New Age “Spirituality”. It shouldn’t have been all that difficult to find women religious not affiliated with LCWR who also do good works and who may not have sold their souls to the Republican Party. It was as lousy a piece of CBS journalism as I have seen in over 50 years. Simon’s “obsequiousness” was indeed “over the edge”.

  • Will

    “When Johnson called patriotism ‘the last refuge of a scoundrel’, he overlooked the possibilities of the word ‘reform’.” — Roscoe Conkling.

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    Thanks for the shout-out! As I said in my column, I’m not remotely in a position to parse out the theological right and wrong of the argument. But that has nothing to do with the journalism of the 60 Minutes presentation…

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Most of the media can’t seem to find traditional type Catholics to interview. There is a group of conservative-traditional nuns called the Council of Major Superiors of women religious that is almost never called on by the media. And it is the radical nuns group that 60 Minutes loves whose religious orders are sinking into oblivion as very few women seem interested in the radicalism they are selling. Meanwhile more traditional groups are growing rapidly–but little news coverage seems to find them.
    Oddly, except for Oprah Winfrey who ran a number of segments about an exploding in numbers order of traditional Dominican Sisters.

  • Lori B.

    Call the Dominican Sisters at St. Cecilia in Nashville for a contrast to the nuns on a bus. I don’t know if it’s due to the fact that I’m a Lutheran or a Nashvillian or both, but those sisters fascinate me. A Catholic convent that is bursting at the seams with “old” nuns – in Nashville of all places – makes for a great story. Bob Smietana has done some good ones on them over the years. Let religion reporters with ears hear.

  • http://www.twitter.com/jdeklittle jdl

    Thank you for this post! I listed to about 2 minutes of the segment before I had to turn it off.

  • Zoomie

    It’s fascinating that any movement by religious bodies in the leftward/liberal direction is lauded by the press as “reform,” when any effort to return to the roots of the Church’s beliefs is decried as “regressive” or equivalent to the inquisition.

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