24 September 2013

Why journalism gets a bad name -- because it deserves it

We all know the anecdote of the childhood game which teaches how information can get lost in the re-telling.  But what is amazing is how often journalists--who are tend to work with printed sources--do the exact same thing.  Here's a real example:

Earlier this month, The Wanderer did an interview with Raymond Cardinal Burke, the Prefect for the Apostolic Signatura, which means that he is head of one of the highest courts at the Holy See.  The Wanderer is a very old Catholic newspaper, that publishes from a decidedly orthodox and traditional Catholic viewpoint.  In the interview, they ask Cardinal Burke about Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a self-described Catholic and the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives.  She also advocates and actively supports a number of positions directly in opposition with the Church's moral teaching.  In the article, Cardinal Burke is asked about Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law, which says that Catholics which manifestly persist in grave sin are "not to be admitted to holy communion".  The Cardinal, a preeminent canon lawyer, said the following:
Certainly this is a case when Canon 915 must be applied. This is a person [i.e., Rep. Pelosi] who obstinately, after repeated admonitions, persists in a grave sin — cooperating with the crime of procured abortion — and still professes to be a devout Catholic. This is a prime example of what Blessed John Paul II referred to as the situation of Catholics who have divorced their faith from their public life and therefore are not serving their brothers and sisters in the way that they must — in safeguarding and promoting the life of the innocent and defenseless unborn, in safeguarding and promoting the integrity of marriage and the family.
This is fairly uncontroversial as it goes, and has been Cardinal Burke's view for many, many years, going back even to his time as Archbishop in St. Louis.

Some outfit called the Western Center for Journalism (WCJ) then takes snippets from the interview and puts them into an article under the headline: "Vatican Chief Justice: Nancy Pelosi Must Be Denied Communion".  Now, while one might infer that, note that Cardinal Burke never says those words.  He simply says the the Canon should be enforced.  Even the title, "Vatican Chief Justice" is a tad misleading, to say the least.  Otherwise, the article itself is a fairly accurate restatement of one small piece of the original interview.

The next phase of this journalistic daisy chain goes to the Washington Times.  They pick up the WCJ article under the headline: "No communion for Nancy Pelosi: Vatican court head".  Again, a fairly misleading headline.  Even more interestingly, the article is written crediting the WCJ for the article, when all they did was cut and paste from the original Wanderer article.  These journalists can't even figure out where their sources are from!

We finally get to the last line in this long phone conversation, The Drudge Report.  On today's front page of Drudge, you find this headline, which links to the Washington Times article:

Reading this headline, one gets the impression that there was an official decree issued by a court at the Holy See directing that Nancy Pelosi not receive Holy Communion.  This conclusion is, of course, completely false!  If you then click open and read The Washington Times article, you could easily conclude that that's exactly what they're talking about.  It's only if you then link to the WCJ article which finally links you to the original Wanderer interview that you realize that that's not what this is about--that rather than some official sentence handed down, this is just the private opinion of Cardinal Burke.  Moreover, it's not even really news--Cardinal Burke has held this opinion quite publicly for years.

This is terrible journalistic practice, and a reminder that you can never fully trust the media's reporting on the Catholic Church.