The Times, the VP, the Nuns, & the Church

The Times, the VP, the Nuns, & the Church September 18, 2014

When covering the Catholic Church, the New York Times reliably gets it wrong. The newspaper has a narrative that its writers serve faithfully, which requires, to put it as nicely as possible, a shading of the facts.  Here are paragraphs two and four from today’s story on Joseph Biden speaking in Iowa for the “nuns on the bus.”

Last year, Mr. Biden seized on an audience with Pope Francis as another opportunity to praise the sisters who remained the target of a Vatican crackdown for their activism on issues like poverty and health care. . . .

The issue of obedience has weighed on those nuns of late, as the Vatican has deemed the women on stage with the vice president radical feminists who pay too much attention to social justice and too little to promoting church teaching on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.

And then in the eighth paragraph:

In an interview, Sister Campbell said Mr. Biden had expressed a willingness to join the nuns after their first tour in 2012, “Nuns on the Bus: Nuns Drive for Faith, Family and Fairness.” That was the year that the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith cracked down on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella group that represents about 80 percent of America’s 57,000 nuns. The report explicitly cited Sister Campbell’s group, which helped lobby for President Obama’s health care law, as being a particularly bad influence.

The worst line is that last line of the fourth paragraph: “pay too little attention . . . to promoting church teaching on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.” Everything a Vatican official and the official documents have said is that the concern is that the nuns oppose and reject Church teaching on those matters. The Vatican has been very clear about this. That’s the story. It’s an easy story to get right. Unless you want to make the Vatican look bad.

Imagine if a state’s Democratic party apparatus started endorsing Republicans and Republican policies and the Democratic National Committee investigated them for what seems like a clear defection from the party’s principles and aims. Would the Times report that the DNC “deemed that the state party paid too much attention to effective policies and candidates and too little to promoting the party’s 2012 platform”? No. There getting the story right, a.k.a. telling the truth, fits the newspaper’s narrative.

On a lesser but till revealing note, the article leads with  a story about Pope Benedict asking Biden for advice. Who would be the source but Biden himself, though the reporter left out the required “Biden reported.” He is, let us remember, a man known for his ability to make up flattering stories about himself.

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