Torture lost to Mafia coverage, at least in news on pope talks

If the coverage of Pope Francis this weekend was any indication, the Mafia is more interesting to mainstream journalists than torture chambers are. The reporters paid lots of attention to the pope’s anti-Mafia statement on Saturday, but hardly seemed to notice the next day when he urged all Christians to join in ending torture.

Meanwhile, torture is used in 141 nations in every region of the world, according to Amnesty International. Yet when Francis focused on it in his weekly Angelus address, it got little more than a brief in some media.

The Associated Press gave the story a mere five paragraphs. And only three of them had to do with the speech:

VATICAN CITY (AP) – Pope Francis is urging Christians to work together to abolish every form of torture, condemning the practice as a grave sin.

Francis told the public in St. Peter’s Square Sunday he wanted to reiterate his “firm condemnation of every kind of torture.” He sought united efforts to work for torture’s end and to support victims and their families.

Francis said it was a “mortal sin, a very grave sin, to torture people” and noted that Thursday marks the United Nation’s day for torture victims.

The other two paragraphs mentioned that the military government of Argentina, Francis’ homeland, often used torture from 1976 to 1983. “Francis has been credited with saving lives of political dissidents while a Jesuit priest in Argentina,” the story adds.

Surprisingly, one of the best mainstream stories on the Angelus ran in the International Business Times:

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‘Fred Phelps has been excommunicated’ and other gossip

OK, folks. We need to keep news over here and gossip over there.

First, we have multiple stories that Fred Phelps — of Westboro Baptist Church fame, of “God Hates Fags” fame, of picketing veterans’ funerals fame — is “on the edge of death”.

Now he was supposedly kicked out of the Topeka-based church for advocating “kinder treatment of fellow church members.”

And what are the sources for this “news”? Facebook postings by Nate Phelps, an estranged son, who left the church 37 years ago. Here’s what he says, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal:

On Nate Phelps’ Facebook page, Nate Phelps posted: “I’ve learned that my father, Fred Phelps Sr., pastor of the ‘God Hates Fags’ Westboro Baptist Church, was ex-communicated from the ‘church’ back in August of 2013. He is now on the edge of death at Midland Hospice house in Topeka, Kansas.

“I’m not sure how I feel about this. Terribly ironic that his devotion to his god ends this way. Destroyed by the monster he made.

“I feel sad for all the hurt he’s caused so many. I feel sad for those who will lose the grandfather and father they loved. And I’m bitterly angry that my family is blocking the family members who left from seeing him, and saying their good-byes.”

The other main source is another son who is also estranged:

However, a second Phelps brother estranged from Westboro Baptist Church confirmed Sunday morning that Fred Phelps Sr. is in poor health and has been excommunicated.

“Just a quick note to assure you the information you wrote and published this morning is accurate,” Mark Phelps emailed to The Capital-Journal at 10:30 a.m. “I do not know anything more than you know, at this time, but what you wrote I know to be true, personally, just as Nathan (Nate Phelps) knows to be true also.”

Not exactly the same as hard evidence, is it? Especially given that Nate now says he’s an “LGBT Advocate”?

Years ago, when I worked at the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, an investigative reporter told me how he worked: Whenever a source denied something, he would have it confirmed by four other knowledgeable sources. Only then would he go with it.

The mainstream media I’ve checked today don’t meet that standard. Besides Nate Phelps’ assertions, all they have is Westboro spokesman Steve Drain — who has denied that Fred Phelps is dying:

Drain acknowledged Fred Phelps Sr. has been admitted to Midland Care Hospice, adding he “has a couple things going on” but disputed the gravity of his health.

“The source that says he’s near death is not well informed,” Drain said Sunday.

The Capital-Journal stories have been picked up uncritically by major media, including Reuters, Huffington Post and The Blaze.

Instead of looking critically, they’ve simply been piling on, like a particularly brutal football scrimmage.

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