Catholic News Agency blistered for journalistic malpractice [Addendum]
Bold Faith Type deftly summarizes:
Helen Osman, the Secretary for Communications at the bishops’ conference, writes in the USCCB blog that the Catholic News Agency simply “cobbled together its own fabrication of the session.” Osman, who attended the executive session closed to reporters, also went back and reviewed the transcript to verify the errors. In contrast to CNA’s report, Cardinal George “never used the phrase ‘so-called Catholic,’ accused the Catholic Health Association of creating a ‘parallel magisterium’ or said the meeting of the three bishops with Sr. Keehan had ‘frustrating results,” Osman writes. Disagreement between the USCCB and CHA over health care legislation has been well documented. But, as Osman points out, to “confuse the situation with quotes that aren’t true is just plain dishonest.”
For CNN to elaborate even more on what CNA said in error is even more disturbing. If CNN had tried to verify the citations, it would have learned that CNA fabricated quotes. It also would not have made its huge and erroneous assumption that the issue in question was an example of the bishops at odds with the sisters.
So now we know: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops cares more about its authority than being right. That’s the clear import of a fine piece of reporting by NCR’s John Allen on the split between the USCCB and the Catholic Hospital Association (CHA) over the health care bill (which, you’ll recall, the former opposed and the latter supported).
Nor would it be fair to argue (we were tempted) that the sting from such analysis helped prompt the corrective, which stands quite well on its own merits.
CNA stood by its story.
The Catholic weekly America averred that perhaps the USCCB and CNS were “telling the truth,” albeit “In very different ways, and that is the bad news.”
es, Helen Osman was in the room, CNA was not, and we have no reason to doubt that the quotes she mentioned were, in fact, fabricated. Even though CNA is a tendentious and slanted media outlet, fabricating quotes goes beyond the pale. Why anyone would trust them before this is beyond me, but now their reputation is in tatters. You do not put a person’s remarks in quotes unless you know that they said it. This is reason enough for Bishop John Wester, who has a column at CNA, to disassociate himself from the organization immediately.
CNA would argue that their sources – “several bishops” – provided the quotes, leading me to think that no one at CNA ever played the game of telephone, in which a group of people sit at a table, and the leader whispers something into the ear of the person on their right. The whisper goes around the table and it is often unrecognizable by the time it gets back to the leader. The “several bishops” may have heard what they wanted to hear, that is to say, they placed their own prejudices and arguments in Cardinal George’s mouth. CNA needs to evaluate these “several bishops” as sources going forward but, arguably, the reporters and editors at CNA thought when they published their original article that the quotes were accurate.
But, here is where it gets dicey. What if the quotes are not “fabrications” and “several bishops” did tell CNA what they thought Cardinal George had said. It is one thing for Cardinal George to have difficulty with a fringe right-wing media outlet. It is a different, and larger, problem to have “several bishops” who have decided to leak to the press in order to push the USCCB towards their more conservative position. Cardinal George’s first task as leader of the USCCB is to keep the body of bishops on the same page, to keep them together and I think a case can be made that while his raw intelligence has helped, the principal reason for his success as president of the Conference is that all the bishops trust him. The question now is: Can he trust them? Why did these “several bishops” go leaking to the press after the meeting? Given the nature of the quotes, they obviously want some severe sanctions taken against the Catholic Health Association, they want some kind of showdown and, I think it is safe to venture that, not detecting sufficient movement in their direction at the USCCB meeting, they decided to take their arguments to the press.
Which, if they were thus taken in, does little to redeem CNS. Being aware that axes are being ground, and communicating that, is after all part of a journalist’s job.
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