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Posts Tagged ‘Catholicism’

Spotlight’s forgotten reporter

In Blog on February 27, 2016 at 4:45 pm

The two institutions that have most shaped my life – journalism and the Catholic Church – collide in the stunning film, Spotlight. It is the story of the investigative reporting team whose reporters uncovered the systematic cover-up of sexual abuse of children by priests in the archdiocese of Boston. The film is up for five Academy Awards, including best picture.

The Globe’s exposé was published in early 2002. But nine months before, in March 2001, the Boston Phoenix, the alternative weekly, published its story, “Cardinal sin,” which explored in depth allegations that Cardinal Bernard Law was complicit in the abuse cover-up. Kristen Lombardi wrote that first story, and continued her reporting, writing eight stories in all. The Globe’s reporting did not acknowledge her work.

Lombardi lacked the resources of The Globe and was largely working alone, although guided by her editors. But Lombardi, then a young and relatively green reporter, did her best. Her role was consigned to only a throw-away line in the film, when a reporter from The Globe describes the Phoenix as a weak and under-resourced rival that “nobody reads.”

Others have noted The Globe’s dismissal of Lombardi’s contribution. In 2012, media critic Jim Romenesko posted a letter from Susan Ryan-Vollmar on his popular website. Ryan-Vollmar, Lombardi’s editor at the Phoenix, chided The Globe for not acknowledging Lombardi’s ground-breaking work. Ryan-Vollmar praised The Globe’s “phenomenal” coverage, but wondered why the paper seemed determined to take “100 percent of the credit,” unwilling to concede even ten percent to the stories the Phoenix published.

Boston Magazine revisited the credit controversy last fall, when Spotlight premiered.

Despite not getting the credit she deserved, Lombardi went on to become an accomplished investigative reporter. She earned a Nieman journalism fellowship for study at Harvard University and several national journalism awards. She’s now a reporter for the Center for Public Integrity.

I interviewed Lombardi for my forthcoming book, Catholic Women Confront Their Church: Stories of Hurt and Hope. Like so many of the reporters in the film, Lombardi was born and raised Catholic. She went to Mass with her family, made her First Communion and was confirmed.

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When Did Contraception Become Controversial?

In Blog on January 5, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Tell me, when did the media decide that contraception was controversial?  When I did a search on Google News, I found that the words contraception and controversy occurred together more than 4,000 times, often in broadcast and print news accounts.

Contraception is not some bizarre practice that most Americans avoid.  Yet, ideologues and the Catholic hierarchy have managed to brainwash reporters, most of whom I’ll wager practiced birth control at some point in their lives, and persuaded them to treat the term gingerly.  Contraception used to be called family planning. That term better reflects the well-established concept that people have the right to determine how many children they can love, raise and financially support.

Most sexually experienced  Catholic women of child-bearing age – an estimated 98 percent — have practiced contraception at some point in their lives.  As a reporter colleague of mine once put it, “We’re Catholics, but we’re not idiots.”  The statistics are pretty clear that most Catholics don’t see anything wrong with contraception.  Only 15 percent find it morally wrong.  Even among Catholics who attend weekly mass, two-thirds don’t find contraception objectionable.  Count me among that group.  Heck, I even sing in the choir at my church.

And as a few media outlets have tried to point out, federal regulations long on the books already had made the availability of birth control pills a requirement for most employers that provide health insurance.  Many state laws had imposed similar requirements on Catholic institutions. Catholic institutions that fought these rules were often blocked by the courts.

But by and large  journalists have done a terrible job of making the point that contraceptive use is the norm in this country, and that federal regulations and state laws have been quietly requiring that it be a part of employer-provided health insurance for years.

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In America Interview, Pope Got Away With Murder

In Blog on October 8, 2013 at 6:37 pm

I suppose I’m taking my life in my hands, jousting with Jesuits.  But come on, editors of America Magazine, I read your entire interview with Pope Francis, and I came away frustrated.

Did you Catholic journalists never hear of a follow-up question?  Yes, it’s tough interviewing the big boss, but surely some of his answers simply begged for more elucidation.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the U.S. Catholic Conference, gushed in a recent Washington Post blog that the interview was “a journalistic gold mine.” It may stand as “America Magazine’s greatest moment in its 104 years of publishing, a tribute to the Jesuits and the Catholic press and journalism overall.”

Sister Mary Ann may have a vested interest in rooting for her team.  But the mainstream media was equally uncritical.  Reporters from major print and broadcast media outlets savored tidbits from the interview as if they were truly revelatory.

Oh, isn’t that cool, the Pope loves Mozart and Fellini!  And he thinks the hierarchy can be overly prescriptive!

The Pope’s quotes were good, but if you read the entire interview, you realized that America got “Reagan-ed.”  You know, you let a powerful person’s wonderful sound bites prevent you from finding out what he actually has in mind and how he will govern.

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The Press Let the Pope Off Easy

In Blog on July 29, 2013 at 12:13 am

I am a Catholic, but even I thought that the coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to Brazil could have used a bit more hard-nosed journalism.

World Youth Day, occurring biennially, brings hundreds of thousands of young Catholics from all over the world to celebrate their faith and meet with their pope.  The fact that this event occurred in Brazil this year, early in the tenure of this new Latin American leader of Catholicism, gave the pope just the positive exposure that the Vatican PR machine must have hoped for.  Reporters like to cover events that are unpredictable, that evoke emotions, and that can be told with much drama.  In all aspects, the pope delivered. It didn’t hurt that the pope was visiting a country that had lost hundreds of thousands of Catholics, many to evangelical Christianity, adding a bit of political intrigue to the event.

There was nothing wrong about the chronicling of the pope’s dramatic  visit to Rio’s slums, and his eagerness to reach out to the poorest of the poor, or the millions flocking to hear him say Mass on the Copacabana beach.  

And the pope deserved praise for preaching social justice to a country that has been wracked by corruption and income inequality.  The pope is considered one of the world’s moral leaders, and his message of concern for the struggling and homeless, has been a powerful symbol of a new direction for the Church.  But that should not make him immune from scrutiny.

Many reporters seemed reluctant to criticize his decision to reject a pope-mobile and to open the windows of his Fiat sedan as it was mobbed by a crowd as crazy as a bunch of girls at a Justin Bieber concert. Indeed, the Associated Press enthused that this reckless conduct was a powerful symbol of recapturing “the dynamism” of the Church and going out into the streets. To its credit, The Wall Street Journal raised concerns about the pope’s decision to flaunt security protocols. But generally, the media was ready to blame everyone but the pope for the security problems, and focused more on the pope’s lack of fear than his heedlessness.

Again it isn’t that all aspects of the pope’s trip, including its roughly $50 million cost to the Brazilian government, weren’t covered.  It is just that they were asides. And protests from Brazilians about the costs certainly didn’t dominate coverage. For example, CBS’s Dean Reynolds did do a morning news report that included footage of the protests, but that story didn’t appear to make it to the nightly newscast:

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