Does The New York Times still hate Cardinal Dolan?

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Inspector Gregory: Is there any point to which you wish to draw my attention?
Holmes:  To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.
Col. Ross: The dog did nothing in the night-time.
Holmes: That was the curious incident.

From Silver Blaze, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (1892)

If may have taken five weeks, but The New York Times has finally reported the news that New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee were exonerated by a Federal court in Wisconsin of having improperly shielded diocesan assets from the reach of church creditors.

Last month I wrote that The Times‘ silence in the wake of the court’s ruling was curious in light of their pre-verdict coverage: a news story entitled “Dolan Sought to Protect Church Assets, Files Show”; an editorial entitled “Cardinal Dolan and the Sexual Abuse Scandal”; and an op-ed piece entitled “The Church’s Errant Shepherds”.

They were silent in August even though on 30 July the Associated Press and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that a Federal District Court judge had ruled that Cardinal Dolan had acted properly — and morally. The Journal Sentinel wrote:

In issuing the ruling Monday, U.S. District Judge Rudolph T. Randa said including the funds would violate free exercise of religion under the First Amendment and a 1993 law aimed at protecting religious freedom. Randa cited the Catholic belief in the resurrection, which teaches that the body ultimately reunites with the soul, and the role of Catholic cemeteries in the exercise of that belief under canon law.

“The sacred nature of Catholic cemeteries — and compliance with the church’s historical and religious traditions and mandates requiring their perpetual care — are understood as a fundamental exercise of this core belief,” said Randa in overturning an earlier decision by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Susan V. Kelley.

Last month, after four weeks  of silence from The Times, I asked:

What message is The New York Times sending by not reporting the court verdict, which as the Journal Sentinel story points out, stressed the judge’s decision that what Cardinal Dolan did was not only lawful, but was a moral act based upon the Catholic Church’s doctrines. Is The Times motivated by animus towards the Roman Catholic Church? Does it hate Cardinal Dolan?

Today I received a note from Dave Pierre of The Media Report alerting me to the news The Times had finally reported the news of the church’s court victory.

Its 4 September 2013 story entitled “Judge Is Asked by Creditors of Archdiocese to Leave Case” notes the church won the case, but reports this in the context of a bid by the church’s creditors to have the judge removed from the case and the decision overturned. The Times‘ article opens with:

A federal judge who ruled in favor of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee in bankruptcy proceedings, and against sexual abuse victims and other creditors, is being asked by the creditors to recuse himself because they say he has a conflict of interest.

And then reports the news of the church win, but closes out the second paragraph with the charge of misconduct.

Judge Rudolph T. Randa ruled in late July that the archdiocese did not have to turn over the millions in its cemetery trust fund to a group of creditors who include hundreds of abuse victims. But lawyers for plaintiffs say the judge has a conflict of interest because many of his family members are buried in archdiocesan cemeteries.

The article offers background information on the court’s decision then opinion from a law professor identified as being “special counsel to the committee of creditors” in this case who argues the court’s decision was wrongly decided, and an opinion by a second law professor who is identified as a neutral party who questions the wisdom of the creditors having brought the charge of judicial misconduct.

Professor Gillers said the judge’s monetary interest in the cemetery trust was probably not sufficiently substantial to merit recusal. And he said that the timing would also be in question. “An appellate court is going to say, if you could learn these facts after the ruling, why couldn’t you do it before the ruling?” Professor Gillers said. “Why all of a sudden did you become interested in whether this judge could sit, other than the fact that you lost. That’s something they have to explain.”

Mr. Pierre’s Media Report article eviscerated The Times coverage, accusing it of bias and unprofessional conduct. The Times was:

endlessly recount[ing] old stories of sex abuse occurring in a single institution – the Catholic Church – in order to advance the agendas of contingency lawyers like Jeff Anderson and other Church haters.

The New York Times, one could conclude, still hated Cardinal Dolan. But was this true? Could there be another explanation for the way this story unfolded?

Unencumbered with facts and unable to read the hearts and minds of The Times’ editors and reporters as I am, I do not see malice here but face-saving. True the news articles were constructed to show the creditors in a favorable light, but we do hear from the archdiocese’s lawyers. The latest story ends with an independent source rubbishing the creditor’s theory of judicial bias. If The Times were truly out to get Cardinal Dolan they would not have structured the story so that each side could recognize their arguments. They may not have sympathy for the Catholic Church, but dislike is not malice.

What is likely to have happened is the 30 July 2013 decision was missed — vacations, breaking news — any number of reasons could have prevented its having been reported in a timely fashion. And once the wave passed, The Times reporters had to paddle about on their boards waiting for the next nug.

Given how this story was crafted I think that the likely explanation. All through August The Times should have been barking at the news of the Milwaukee decision. Yet like the dog in the night-time it was silent. It knew and we knew they had dropped a brick. The Times just needed an opportunity of having new news to paste over the old. So, Get Religion readers, which way do you vote. Your choices are malice or CYA. What say you?

Times image courtesy of Shutterstock.

About geoconger
  • helen

    One wonders whether the Times would have “missed the story” if the judge had ruled that the cemetery fund should be available to the suing lawyers.

    The NYT should be grateful to Christianity, which teaches “best construction”.
    As with the Gosnell case, they didn’t report a story which conflicts with their biases until the omission was conspicuous and they were nagged into it.

    Some way to run a “newspaper of record”! The Times was better once.

    • DPierre

      helen wrote, “One wonders whether the Times would have ‘missed the story’ if the judge had ruled that the cemetery fund should be available to the suing lawyers.”

      BINGO. A ruling *incredibly* damaging to Cardinal Dolan would never have been “missed” by the Times!

      I’m sorry, but Goodstein’s “we-were-on-vacation” excuse doesn’t pass the smell test, imo.

      Goodstein’s long and verifiable track record of unfairly maligning the Catholic Church speaks for itself. I, for one, do not trust her as an impartial reporter at all.

      DPierre
      TheMediaReport.com

      -

  • Laurie Goodstein

    Such a screamer of a headline – assuming that news decisions must be motivated by animus – when the reality is so much more mundane.

    In fact, George’s presumption is correct, either because he’s a gracious soul or because he actually understands how newsrooms and journalism work. When this decision came down, I was on vacation, without access to the internet. My editor was also away. George is right that we looked for a news “peg,” not only to catch up with the story, but to advance it – which we did.

    George is incorrect, however, in casting the judge’s decision as an “exoneration” of Cardinal Dolan. In fact, the decision’s import is quite the opposite. At issue is some $57 million that the Milwaukee archdiocese, under then-Archbishop Dolan, moved into a cemetery trust fund. Victims of sexual abuse had accused Cardinal Dolan of shifting the money in order to shield it from lawsuits, but Cardinal Dolan has denied that was the motivation. The story in July, carried by many news outlets in addition to the NY Times, was prompted by the release of a cache of documents that included a letter from Cardinal Dolan to the Vatican asking for permission to move the money into a cemetery trust in order to protect the funds from legal claims. The judge’s decision in August says yes indeed, the archdiocese did move to protect its assets, and was justified under RFRA and the First Amendment’s free exercise clause.

    By the way we did have a great vacation, in Germany and Poland. I recommend Wadowice, the home town of Pope John Paul II.

    • George Conger

      Headlines are where the fun takes place.

      Was not the cardinal’s action, though found to be lawful, and motivated by his his church’s doctrines? I would argue that he was exonerated from charges of acting from purely mercenary motives and that the court saw his actions as proper under the circumstances.

      • Laurie Goodstein

        Indeed, the judge found that the cardinal and archdiocese had the right to transfer the funds into a cemetery trust, on free exercise grounds. But your post made it sound as though this news somehow contradicted the previous Times story and that’s the reason we failed to follow up – which sorry to say was quite incorrect on both counts.

    • http://returntorome.com/ Francis J. Beckwith

      Translation: the internet ate my homework.

  • Julia B

    The case was wrongly decided and did not need the 1st Amendment to prop it up.
    The money was being held in a constructive trust by fiduciaries and should have been in a formal trust all along. If the Cardinal had not moved the money into a trust and it was doled out in judgments, the families of people who had paid for perpetual care could have sued the Archdiocese for failing in their fiduciary duties and probably would have won.

    The newspaper was claiming that Dolan was improperly shielding the monies – no, the archdiocese was under a fiduciary duty to do so. Very different motives. Judge goofed his reasoning, but it was the right decision.

    • FrankieBeanPie

      Folks (this includes you Laurie Goodstein), pay attention to what Julia B just wrote above. She nailed it.

      Many attorneys who practice Bankruptcy law or have a passing familiarity with it are wondering why the judge didn’t at least buttress his First Amendment argument with the constructive trust issue (was it raised by the diocesan attorneys?). When Cardinal Dolan wrote to the Vatican asking for permission to move the money into a cemetery trust in order to protect the funds from legal claims, he must have understood (or at least been advised) that those funds should have been held in a separate account and in trust for the various cemeteries. And although I’m not familiar with the accounting, the amount placed into trust does not appear unreasonable considering the number of cemeteries and their size.

      On a personal note I’m disgusted that the plaintiffs attorneys and creditors are going after funds that are to take care of graves. Robbing the graves of the deceased does not in turn create justice for those who were abused, it just adds to the already sad state of affairs.

  • steve weatherbe

    Some CYA, but more malice. Pierre got it right. The bs conflict-of-interest claim is up front, the counter-opinion comes last(remember, this is pyramid style–the last gets cut first), and the Church exoneration is a subordinate clause to the bs conflict claim. It is not even given equal status.


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