The Jurassic media landscape

stateoffearBeing in the media criticism game, I like to read the various ombudsmen and press critics out there. I’m pretty sure Jack Shafer at Slate is my favorite. His criticism is unconventional and thought-provoking. His latest column looks back at novelist Michael Crichton’s 1993 prediction that mass media would die within a decade. When the decade came and passed and media remained strong, people thought Crichton misguided. But now that the media giants are faltering, Shafer revisits the issue with Crichton.

The interview with Crichton only briefly touches on religion but mainstream media treatment of religion news is, of course, part of this larger story. I’m curious what readers think about Crichton’s media analysis and the future of mass media. Do you agree with hm? If so, how do the problems he cites play out in religion news, if at all? Here are a few of the questions from Shafer’s Q&A with Crichton:

Do you think the media’s factual content and accuracy is up or down from 2002 (when we last corresponded)? Do you still think it’s flashy but junk?

Surely you jest. Factual content approaches zero, and accuracy is not even a consideration. I think many younger reporters aren’t really sure what it means, beyond spell-checking. And in any case, when the factual content approaches zero, accuracy becomes meaningless.

Why do I say factual content approaches zero? The easiest way is to record a news show and look at it in a month, or to look at last month’s newspaper. That pulls you out of the narcotizing flow of what passes for daily news, and you can see more objectively what is actually being presented. Look at how many stories are unsourced or have unnamed sources. Look at how many stories are about what “may” or “might” or “could” happen. Look at how many news stories have opinion frames, i.e., “Obama faced his most challenging personal test today,” because in the body you probably won’t be told much about what the personal test was, or why it was most challenging (which in any case is opinion). In summary, reliance on unnamed sources means the story is opinion. Might and could means the story is speculation. Framing as I described means the story is opinion. And opinion is not factual content.

At my last job, we had to rely almost exclusively on unnamed sources. We covered the federal bureaucracy and our subjects weren’t allowed to speak on the record, for the most part. Or consider how difficult it would be for Jacqui Salmon to write about the Washington National Cathedral layoffs. Fifteen percent of the staff there were laid off but given severance packages conditional on their silence. I think she handled the story really well. but readers should be cautious about the almost complete lack of accountability inherent with the use of anonymous sources. More important is Crichton’s first point. I do get the feeling that many reporters don’t even know what objective journalism is as a goal. They do view themselves as activists. Remember what Chicago Sun-Times reporter Lynn Sweet said about coverage of the Rev. Michael Pfleger? That the press corps was admiring because they shared his activist tendencies?

Here’s another interesting tidbit:

The truth is, we live in an age of astonishing conformity. I grew up in the 1950s, supposedly the heyday of conformity, but there was much more freedom of opinion back then. And as a result, you knew that your neighbors might hold different views from you on politics or religion. Today, the notion that men of good will can disagree has disappeared. Can you imagine! Today, if I disagree with you, you conclude there is something wrong with me. This is a childish, parochial view. And of course stupefyingly intolerant. It’s truly anti-American.

If this doesn’t describe the ideological ghettoization of the internet, I don’t know what would. This is probably one of the main reasons why I support American-style journalism over the European model. It’s easy enough for us to all retreat to our communities where everyone agrees with us on everything. I’m astonished at how many people seem to think that their views are held by everyone but the most intolerant freaks (who are, of course, undeserving of respect or acknowledgment). We’ve been witnessing a bit of that in our discussions of same-sex marriage. A newspaper, by presenting just the facts and showcasing differing viewpoints can do so much to support the community.

Shafer asks Crichton why his prediction that consumers would demand better information has not come true. Crichton says he’s perplexed but ties it into the changing nature of the economy:

I have been very interested in the differences between how scientists and engineers treat information, for example. The fact is, engineers are much more rigorous about information, and it has legal consequences for them. In contrast, scientists (and politicians) are just playing with information. Broadly speaking, they have no responsibility for what they say at all. Now, as our society shifts away from manufacturing (now something like 15 percent of workers are engaged in making something), I speculate that this is having an effect on what we regard as information. I speculate we are moving from the rigor of engineers to the free-for-all of politicians. In which case, nobody is interested in high-quality information. It only gets in the way.

It’s an interesting hypothesis. What do you think? Is Crichton all wet? Does he tap into why newspapers are facing problems?

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More theology, please

eucharistWhen my wonderful wife first told me about the mother fighting a church’s legal ban on her autistic son attendance at Catholic Mass, I worried the news coverage would be rather shallow. On Sunday, Dave Kolpack of the Associated Press was able to publish a longish well developed update of this ongoing story that has important Catholic theology at its heart.

A reader had the following to say:

It’s a decent story, but I noticed that it has quotes only from the mother about Sunday Mass obligations — the reporter apparently did not ask the diocesan spokesperson about this theological question that is one of the issues at the heart of this dispute.

As is often unfortunately the case, the church official requesting the restraining order, Father Daniel Walz, did not respond to requests for comment. A church spokesman is briefly quoted about how the church’s board tried to work with the family to find an accommodation to this difficult issue, such as a live video feed of Mass that could be watched in the church basement, but the family was not too thrilled with the idea to say the least:

Carol Race dismissed the church’s suggestion that Adam watch a video feed in the church basement, saying that “does not have the same status as attending Mass. Otherwise we could all just sit home and watch it on TV and not bother to come in.”

“It’s considered a sin in the Catholic church not to attend Mass on Sundays and every holy day of obligation,” she said. “And that’s what this is about. I’m just trying to fulfill my obligations.”

Adam is one of five children. The family’s home in nearby Eagle Bend has separate study rooms so the other children can read books and use crayons that Adam could otherwise destroy.

I am no expert in Catholic theology, but even a life-long Presbyterian like myself will understand that attendance at Catholic Mass is quite significant. According to fellow-blogger Mark Stricherz, the mother quoted in the story is largely correct according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

A Catholic must “take part in the Divine Liturgy on Sundays and feast days and, prepared by the sacrament of Reconciliation, to receive the Eucharist at least once a year, if possible during the Easter season.” (1389)

I understand what reporters go through when key sources won’t talk, such as the case in this story. But there are ways around those barriers, such as seeking out official documents that are readily available. There is also an endless range of experts that would be more than willing to expound on the mother’s comment regarding Mass attendance.

As one who has worked with autistic children in a church setting, I know this is a touchy issue for everyone involved. As much as this is a touchy private issue, when a family is willing to speak about it reporters ought to do their best to cover all the bases thoroughly.

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Warning: Lubavitchers are coming

lubavitch 1Conflicts between the various streams of American Judaism have always fascinated me, all the way back to my graduate school days at the University of Illinois in Urbana. There are so many parallels with similar conflicts between traditional and liberal Christians, between pre-modern doctrines and the believers who are rooted in the modern and, I guess, the postmodern.

The Los Angeles Times ran a story the other day, focusing on a zoning issue raised by Chabad-Lubavitch activities, that was a perfect example of the “Culture Wars” in Judaism. I’ve been thinking about this story for several days now, trying to figure out what bothered me about it.

The actual zoning conflict — involving a preschool, among other things — is quite complex and it helps to read the details. Here is a short sample:

“The new facility will be open for community visits on or about May 5. Enrollment is now underway,” the item read.

“What preschool?” residents of the quietly exclusive coastal enclave wondered.

Thus began a saga with more twists and turns than “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride,” as one resident wryly calls it. How else to refer to a controversy, now coming to a head, that involves a branch of Judaism often characterized by ecstatic piety, the Mormon church, the Getty Villa, the state Department of Parks and Recreation, the California Coastal Commission, a city councilman, and a bunch of his affluent and highly agitated constituents for whom money is no object?

In other words, the loud, Orthodox Jews are coming. There goes the neighborhood.

But here is the background passage that jabbed at me, as someone who has done some reading about the life and times of Orthodox Jews and their critics.

The controversy is shining a light on the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, a controversial branch of Orthodox, Hasidic Judaism. Chabad is an acronym from the Hebrew for wisdom, understanding and knowledge.

Many mainstream Jews regard the movement’s outreach as evangelizing, a practice they frown upon. In California, Chabad is perhaps best identified with its annual star-studded telethon, which raises money for charities. Chabad is also known for zoning conflicts with neighbors as rabbis seek to establish gathering spots — known as Chabad houses — in residential areas. Over the years, zoning battles have raged in Florida, New York and New Jersey.

As usual, we have the generic “controversial” label. But what hit me was the reference to “evangelizing.” This is a word that, normally, is explicitly Christian. For example:

e.van.gel.ize (-vnj-lz) v. e.van.gel.ized, e.van.gel.iz.ing, e.van.gel.iz.es

v.tr.
1. To preach the gospel to.
2. To convert to Christianity.

v.intr.
To preach the gospel.

In the context of a Jewish debate, what does this word mean? Is this, in effect, a slur — given the strong emotions that Jews feel toward Christian evangelism efforts in general?

There are several possibilities for the word, as used in this Times report:

(1) That Chabad-Lubavitch is trying to win converts from other faiths to Judaism. This would be a rather strict interpretation of the word “evangelize,”

(2) That the movement is conducting outreach to woo Jews from modern and progressive movements into its fervent, conservative approach to Jewish life and faith. This is where liberal Jews might fight back, with this kind of hot-button word.

(3) The Lubavitchers are attempting to reach out to Jews who have lost their faith or are not practicing Judaism in any sense of the word (as opposed to actively being part of liberal Jewish communities).

(4) That Lubavitchers are building programs that, for the most part, are intended to defend their own community and families. In effect, they are seeking to evangelize their own children (since, as the old saying goes, God has no grandchildren). The high birthrate among Orthodox Jews often causes tensions with secular Jews and those in the religious left.

It’s impossible to tell what the word means, which is my point. It’s dangerous for journalists to use such hot word — like I said, this one verges on being a slur — without making the meaning and relevance of the word clear.

The principle again: Don’t label unless the label is clear and accurate. Tell us what people believe. Give us the facts, not your opinion.

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Give JPII critics their due

jpiicritics Imagine getting access to the building that stores files for and against Pope John Paul II’s case for sainthood. How would you explain and describe to readers the process by which this occurs?

Michelle Boorstein of The Washington Post had this task. In Rome she visited the Office of the Postulator of the Cause for Beatification and Canonization, going to the very office that houses the documents for and against JPII.

Boorstein deserves credit for explaining Catholic doctrine and providing good details to support her main point, as the paragraphs below illustrate:

… (What) is found here overwhelmingly supports the late pope’s “cause,” often in the most affectionate terms — a stuffed animal from a couple who credit him with an end to their infertility, a wedding dress from someone who had longed for a partner. Countless letters include those from a prostitute who got her faith back and a singer who was able to forgive her daughter’s killer. There are also historians’ studies of his long papacy, and John Paul’s own writings, including verse that refers humbly to his “fallible thoughts.”

Blesseds and saints aren’t metaphors in Catholic doctrine. They are held up as real examples of people who successfully imitated Jesus in their lives (or deaths, in the case of martyrs), and are well known among Catholics for their holiness.

Boorstein also deserves credit for making an important subpoint — so popular is the late pontiff that criticism of him is difficult:

From the start, this has not been a typical investigation. On the day of John Paul’s funeral in 2005, Catholics in St. Peter’s Square shouted out “Santo subito!” — “Sainthood now!” In the face of strong public enthusiasm, his successor, Benedict XVI, waived the usual five-year wait before formal considerations could begin. Since then, the advocacy has only stepped up to get John Paul quickly through a process that can take centuries.

Yet Boorstein’s story could have used more balance. Yes, she named his critics; and yes, she outlined the general case against the idea that JPII lived a life of heroic virtue, as the paragraph below shows:

The office has received a handful of arguments against sainthood for John Paul, whom church reformers, particularly in Europe and Latin America, have long lambasted. Letters circulating point to the clergy sex abuse scandal, the treatment of women in the church and the repression of dissident theologians.

But Boorstein’s story contained no quotes from critics. This is a key omission. What is the specific case against JPII? Readers are never told.

Maybe no critics are willing to speak on the record against JPII. If so, that is a story: JPII’s critics have been silenced. But that certainly wasn’t the case during his pontificate!

Boorstein’s story overall was well done. If more stories were like hers, the press would be a lot better off.

(Photo by user Jim Forest used under a Creative Commons license.)

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What is next for YFZ

YFZ RanchNow that the Texas Supreme Court has ruled that Texas officials were wrong to remove more than 450 children from a FLDS ranch, journalists should be focusing on what is next in the legal process. The idea being portrayed in some news accounts that this case is over and the FLDS group will be left alone should be set aside because allegations and evidence of forced underage marriages and impregnated minors don’t just disappear.

In fact, the concept that all of the children are headed home to their parents should not be reported because it is highly unlikely to be the case. Some children will eventually be sent back to their parents, but it will be interesting to see which of them do not and on what grounds.

The key for journalists to understand is that all the Texas courts have said is that it was wrong to remove all of the group’s children on a single theory of child abuse. The case for removing children due to abuse or potential abuse must be proven on an individual basis. In other words, Texas officials cannot break-up families because of their religious beliefs.

Here is a nuanced account from The Salt Lake Tribune:

Based on that, the state’s action was too over-reaching, one attorney said.

“Sadly, I think there may be some children that needed to be protected within that community,” said Polly Rea O’Toole, a Dallas attorney representing an 8-year-old child. “But because of the way the department went about it by sweeping up 460-odd children at one time they may have deprived themselves of the opportunity to protect children.”

Willie Jessop said the “FLDS I’m acquainted with do not allow children to be married until they are of legal age.”

For a good perspective on what is next, check out this report by Stephanie Simon and Ann Zimmerman at the Wall Street Journal:

Authorities said they feared that the polygamist families, once reunited, would flee out of state and resume practices that officials consider abusive, such as yoking young girls to older men in marriage.

The Supreme Court acknowledged those concerns. But the majority of justices ruled that the state could take other measures, short of separating families, to protect the children from sexual abuse.

For instance, the district judge handling the case could order the families reunited on condition that they promise to remain in Texas. Or she could insist that men identified as possible perpetrators of abuse move out of the home.

The judge could also grant the state custody of the children deemed most at risk, specifically pregnant girls or teenagers who have hit puberty and are considered ready for marriage in the culture of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“Basically, it’s back to square one,” said Jack Sampson, a family law professor at the University of Texas.

He said he expected that all young children and boys would be returned to their families within days, but some older girls might remain in state custody pending individual review of their circumstances and the risk that they will be abused. “The return of all the children is certainly not mandated,” he said.

Two important news angles are at risk of disappearing from the news coverage.

Of course there are those who still believe, as the Texas state officials alleged, that the group’s religion and beliefs justify removing the children for their safety. While that viewpoint is no longer legally sustainable without more evidence in Texas, reporters should not forget that the argument still exists and could re-emerge if the state is able to uncover more evidence.

Secondly, The New York Times picked up the important previously under-reported angle of the harm done to the children through the state-forced separation.

Since the public’s perception of this situation is formed largely through reporting by journalists, it is essential that the reality of the situation is portrayed and not wild allegations by government officials. Just as journalists covering the planning stages of military invasions should never take the words of public officials as the gospel truth, journalists covering the FLDS or other groups should never assume allegations made by state officials have proper legal or evidentiary support. That can lead to disastrous consequences and poor decisions that may or may not be reversible.

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Betrayed by the media

judas3 01Readers of GetReligion are familiar with that mainstream media holiday tradition of releasing news stories that are supposed to shake the foundations of Christianity. Easters over the last few years have featured stories that Jesus walked on an ice floe (not water), that he wasn’t crucified in the manner in which people think, that Jesus’ father was a Roman soldier named Pantera, not Joseph, and that Jesus didn’t die on the cross so much as pass out after being doped up.

Easter 2006 featured an unrelenting public relations offensive (emphasis on offensive) by the National Geographic Society and its National Geographic magazine that argued that Judas was unfairly maligned by Christians. The story was covered far and wide by all the major media outlets.

In December of last year, I noted April DeConick’s op-ed in the New York Times arguing that the National Geographic version was completely wrong about Judas as hero.

The latest Chronicle of Higher Education, which I found via Peter Smith, the religion reporter of the Louisville Courier-Journal, analyzes what went wrong. As the name of the publication indicates, the story deals mostly with the politics and personalities of higher education. But it’s also an indictment of the media:

[S]ome members of the team were sent to a one-day media-training seminar in Manhattan to prepare them for the coming onslaught of attention. They would have to explain to reporters, repeatedly, that the Gospel of Judas was probably written in the second century, long after the actual Judas was dead. There is no scholarly debate over whether the conversations in the gospel actually took place. Everyone agrees that it’s fiction, but it’s fiction that reveals how a certain sect of Christians viewed the meaning of the crucifixion and the role of Jesus’ disciples. . . .

One of the questions the National Geographic team was asked most frequently was “Is it the real thing?” — which, of course, depends on what you mean by “real” and “thing.” The manuscript is real in the sense that it’s not a fake. And it does appear to be the Gospel of Judas referred to in the writings of one early church father. But it is not a journalistic account of conversations between Jesus and his disciples, nor could it have been written by the historical Judas. That message didn’t always come through: Some of the news reports read as if the gospel came straight from Judas’ pen. . . .

Reporters ate it up. Word of the discovery made the front pages of newspapers around the world. “Ancient Text Says Jesus Asked Judas to Hand Him to the Romans” was The Arizona Republic‘s headline. USA Today said the gospel “recasts” Judas. The Austin American-Statesman put it this way: “Ancient Judas as ‘good guy,’ not Jesus’ betrayer.”

The Chronicle article explains in detail the myriad ways in which the team of bible scholars hired by National Geographic messed up. They translated the word diamon as “spirit” instead of “demon.” There were other problems:

Then there’s the number 13. The Gospel of Judas is thought to have been written by a sect of Gnostics known as Sethians, for whom the number 13 would indicate a realm ruled by the demon Ialdabaoth. Calling someone a demon from the 13th realm would not be a compliment. In another passage, the National Geographic translation says that Judas “would ascend to the holy generation.” But DeConick says it’s clear from the transcription that a negative has been left out and that Judas will not ascend to the holy generation (this error has been corrected in the second edition). DeConick also objected to a phrase that says Judas has been “set apart for the holy generation.” She argues it should be translated “set apart from the holy generation” — again, the opposite meaning.

DeConick’s problems with the translation are now shared by a growing chorus of scholars. The scholars who mistranslated the work, who largely agree that they messed up, feel that she should have handled her concerns privately rather than outing them in the New York Times. DeConick disagrees, saying that all most people will remember is the Judas as good guy impression created by the media.

She is, of course, correct. The media offensive during Holy Week two years ago cast major doubt on the historic teaching of the Christian faith. The revelation that there were major, major problems with that story? Well, unless you happened to read a December New York Times op-ed or subscribe to the Chronicle of Higher Education, you won’t hear a word.

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Slamming door on bad journalism

womenpriests2 03We have covered more than a few of the mainstream media stories declaring that female priests are being ordained in the Roman Catholic Church. Since the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t ordain females, we usually have a few nits to pick with the coverage.

Earlier this month, Graeme Morton began a story for the Calgary Herald, horribly headlined “Calgary woman becoming priest: Campaign for reform feels ‘prophetic’,” this way:

On May 29, Monica Kilburn Smith of Calgary will be welcomed into the small worldwide community of female Roman Catholic priests.

Her ordination ceremony will take place in a United Church in Victoria and, of course, will not be recognized by the global Roman Catholic Church. However, Kilburn Smith and local supporters of major reform within the world’s largest Christian church say it will be one more small step in a campaign to bring up questions, start discussion, open eyes and, eventually, win hearts.

“Many Catholics, both women and men, have been working for change within the church for centuries,” says Kilburn Smith, a chaplain with the Calgary Health Region.

“But the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement is doing something tangible about it. It seems prophetic and courageous, something I feel called to be a part of.”

The first ordinations of Catholic women as priests were held in 2002 in Europe. More than 50 women, including two other Canadians, have taken the bold step since then.

The lengthy article continues in such uncritical fashion. It does mention that “some women” who have been ordained priests have been excommunicated. But it doesn’t manage to quote anyone explaining why the church does not ordain females. Instead, readers learn about “gender apartheid” The article gives readers the impression that these “bold” women are reforming the church and that the change is inevitable.

Perhaps the story wouldn’t have been so laughably bad — as these female priest stories so frequently are — if the reporter had managed to consult Catholic doctrine or someone familiar with the same.

In fact, it was only this week that the Vatican restated a decree that people who are involved with illicit ordinations are excommunicated by their actions. Coverage thus far leaves a bit to be desired. For instance, the first Associated Press story I read, published on the Fox News and Washington Post sites and also in the New York Daily News reads:

The Vatican is slamming the door on attempts by women to become priests in the Roman Catholic Church.

It has strongly reiterated in a decree that anyone involved in ordination ceremonies is automatically excommunicated.

Is the door being slammed? Or was the doorway never even built? The metaphor is horribly inapt and misleading. A later Associated Press story by Victor Simpson was much better and had a much more interesting beginning. This CNN story, headlined “Vatican sends threat over women priests” was weak:

The Vatican announced Thursday in a general decree that it will excommunicate anyone who would attempt to ordain a woman as a priest and the woman herself.

According to the decree, the excommunications would take place with immediate effect.

The problem with these ledes is that they act like the decree is something altogether new. In fact, the decree was a reiteration — and a clearer statement — of long-held doctrine.
doorway
The best article I saw on the matter was by Reuters’ Phil Stewart. The headline — “Vatican says will excommunicate women priests” — suffers from the same problem I just mentioned. But the story gets the facts down quite well:

The Vatican issued its most explicit decree so far against the ordination of women priests on Thursday, punishing them and the bishops who try to ordain them with automatic excommunication. . . .

A Vatican spokesman said the decree made the Church’s existing ban on women priests more explicit by clarifying that excommunication would follow all such ordinations.

Excommunication forbids those affected from receiving the sacraments or sharing in acts of public worship.

The article puts the decree in context and summarizes the theological arguments of the church. The article even digs down into different types of excommunication to explain how the renegade priests and bishops essentially excommunicate themselves:

Excommunication is usually “ferendae sententiae”, imposed as punishment.

But some offences, including heresy, schism, and laying violent hands on the Pope, are considered so disruptive of ecclesiastical life that they trigger automatic excommunication, or “latae sententiae”.

The decree says that women priests and the bishops who ordain them would be excommunicated “latae sententiae”.

If only we could so easily excommunicate journalists who report this issue sloppily!

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A Bishop in full, sort of

taylor As faithful GR readers may know, I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area of the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s. My perception of the local media was that it mostly ignored the region’s Catholics bishops, though not liberal theologians or dissidents. I read long features on the theology of Matthew Fox and top-of-the-fold stories about lay Catholics’ alleged opposition to Church teaching. But I can’t ever remember reading a quote-heavy, profile about the local ordinary.

So like any such Catholic interested in the faith, I looked forward to reading the Arkansas Times’ long profile of the Arkansas diocese’s new bishop. Here was a chance to read about the man in full.

Times reporter Mara Leveritt’s profile of Bishop Anthony Taylor cannot be faulted for ignoring his spiritual development or theology. To her credit, Leveritt let Bishop Taylor speak at length about these and other topics:

In 1960, Taylor’s father, who worked for Conoco, moved the family to Ponca City, Okla. There, as in Arkansas, Catholics constituted a small religious minority. Family life for the Taylors revolved around their parish church. The family prayed before every meal. Taylor and his brothers became altar boys. Their Boy Scout troop was based in the church.

The values taught by scouting made a lasting impression on Taylor, who progressed to the rank of Eagle. But it was the assassination of Martin Luther King, when Taylor was 14, that affected him most profoundly. On the day King died, Taylor says, “God gave me an insight that helped me eventually hear his call to the priesthood.”

At the press conference announcing his appointment, he explained: “The insight was this: Being a faithful Christian requires more than just saying prayers, obeying the Commandments and trying to get your own soul into heaven. … Martin Luther King taught me that being a faithful Christian required that I do whatever I could to help build the Kingdom of God here and now, and that to do so would require courage, not timidity, fear of God, not fear of man.”

In his study in Oklahoma, he reflects further on that moment. “From the time of Martin Luther King’s death I understood that the teaching of the church and the teaching of the government were not always the same.”

In high school, Taylor acted for the first time on that understanding. He organized a black-armband campaign to protest America’s war in Vietnam.

“And that very same year,” he says, “I got the Knights of Columbus Civics Award. That was interesting because it meant that people got to see that being involved civically didn’t necessarily mean agreeing with everything the government was doing.”

When Taylor was required to register for the draft at 18, he filed as a conscientious objector. But with the war winding down by then, he didn’t have to experience the consequences that had befallen resisters before him. He says, “I never had to defend that decision.”

Leveritt’s profile was also relevant, and not just because of Taylor’s new status. Bishop Taylor is a staunch opponent of tough illegal-immigration measures and proponent of the state’s growing Hispanic population. As a priest in Oklahoma, Taylor signed a “pledge of resistance” to a state law that, among other things, makes it a felony for employers to transport or shelter illegal immigrants. That information is important to know for religious, civic, and political leaders.

The problem with Leveritt’s feature, however, is the absence of quotes from people familiar with Bishop Taylor or the local diocese. Did Leveritt not speak with anyone or was no one willing to talk? Based on the quote below, the former seems to be more likely:

A blogger on a Catholic website, noting that Taylor had chosen Jesus’ words “The humble shall inherit the earth” as the motto for his bishopric, wrote: “Sounds like liberation theology to me.” The reference was to a school of Christian thought, popular especially in Latin America, that views Jesus Christ as both Redeemer and Liberator of the oppressed. It regards political activism to achieve justice for the poor as an appropriate part of the Christian mission.

Getting a quote from a blogger is fine, so long as the blogger is identified and the quote verified. Otherwise, depending on anonymous bloggers for quotes is irresponsible. If a source demands anonymity, the reporter should explain briefly to readers why. That’s a journalistic fundamental.

I don’t want to come down too hard on Leveritt’s story. She wrote an in-depth profile of a significant local religious figure, which is more than can be said in my hometown. And if she had quoted others about him and his influence, the story would have been considerably better.

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