Imagine this lede atop a national wire service story:
CINCINNATI (AP) — Parochial teachers are so ignorant of basic Roman Catholic doctrine the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is giving them a cheat sheet on some of the things that can get them fired.
That is, of course, not the spin that The Associated Press took.
Here’s the actual opening paragraph of an AP story published this week:
CINCINNATI (AP) — The doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church is so complex the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is giving teachers a cheat sheet on some of the things that can get them fired.
Complex doctrine, huh? According to whom?
The story continues:
A new contract proposal from the diocese specifies some violations of Catholic doctrine that could put teachers out of a job — including abortion, artificial insemination and “homosexual lifestyles” — and extends forbidden behavior to include public support for those kinds of causes, drawing some complaints that the language is overly broad and a cynical attempt to make it harder for wrongfully terminated teachers to sue.
Again, the story seems tilted — and tell me if I’m wrong — toward the teachers’ perspective.
Notice that the proposal is characterized as a “cynical attempt to make it harder for wrongfully terminated teachers to sue,” not a “crafty attempt to make it harder for rightfully terminated teachers to claim naiveté.”
AP quotes an archdiocese spokesman as saying the proposal clarifies what is expected of teachers, then provides background on a lawsuit filed by a teacher fired for getting pregnant through artificial insemination and a separate lawsuit filed by an unmarried teacher fired for getting pregnant.
Keep reading, and the story gives three sources critical of the proposal an opportunity to bash it, one after another. That tag team of critics starts with a union leader not even from Cincinnati:
The president of the Philadelphia-based National Association of Catholic School Teachers says some educators in the archdiocese have contacted the union with contract concerns, even though the union doesn’t represent them.
“This contract is way over the top and very oppressive,” said union president Rita Schwartz
Later in the piece, there’s this twist:
The new contract also for the first time describes every teacher as a “teacher-minister,” wording legal experts view as an attempt to prevent fired teachers from bringing wrongful termination charges.
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling has said religious groups can dismiss “ministerial” employees without government interference, although Andriacco says the archdiocese has always considered all of its teachers as ministerial employees.
David Ball, co-chairman of the Religious Organizations Subcommittee of the American Bar Association, said labeling someone a minister doesn’t necessarily make them one.
“I’m not sure that would hold up in all cases,” he said.
Ah, legal experts. Apparently, Ball is the only one of the “experts” with a name since he’s the only attorney quoted. How does the archdiocese or its attorney respond? No idea, since AP doesn’t give them a chance to defend the proposal’s wording.
To its credit, the story ends by quoting a father who supports the proposal and a mother who opposes it.
But by that point, the slanted nature of the piece makes it impossible to salvage the story. It’s that simple.