Dolan vs. NYT, Round ?

Archbishop’s Dolan ongoing criticism of the New York Times is getting a lot of attention this week.

As I’ve pointed out before, Dolan has been going after the Times since he came to New York, often using his blog to point out examples of what he believes to be anti-Catholicism.

In a blog post last week, the big guy pointed to an “insulting photograph” of a “nun” that accompanied a write-up of an off-Broadway comedy. And he strongly objected to a review of an art exhibit featuring posters produced by ACT UP, the anti-AIDS advocacy group that often attacked the Catholic Church. The review included a photo that showed a poster denigrating Cardinal O’Connor.

Dolan opened his blog by acknowledging that he’s been there before:

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I know, I should drop it.  “You just have to get used to it,” so many of you have counselled me.  “It’s been that way forever, and it’s so ingrained they don’t even know they’re doing it.  So, let it go.”

I’m talking about the common, casual way The New York Times offends Catholic sensitivity, something they would never think of doing — rightly so — to the Jewish, Black, Islamic, or gay communities.

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Numerous Catholic blogs have supported Dolan’s stance.

One said: “Anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice it seems to me in America.” Another: “It seems every time you open a paper or scan the news, there is someone else misunderstanding or mocking the Catholic Church.”

The producers of the play, called Divine Sister, actually responded to Dolan. Their response in part:

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Charles Busch is a wonderfully talented playwright who for decades has lovingly parodied classic Hollywood films in his work. His newest play, The Divine Sister, continues that tradition as a comic homage to nearly every Hollywood film involving nuns: “The Song of Bernadette,” “The Bells of St. Mary’s,” “The Singing Nun” and “Agnes of God.”

The image the New York Times ran on Friday, October 15, 2010 of The Divine Sister shows Mother Superior teaching Timothy how to properly hold a baseball bat. This scene references the classic 1945 film “The Bells of St. Mary’s” where Ingrid Bergman as Sister Mary Benedict gives a young boy boxing lessons.

The Divine Sister is not a commentary on religious faith; it is a joyous look at these films. While our show is indeed irreverent, it is a celebration of the nuns in those iconic works, with a wink and a smile.

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Mark Silk, a prominent analyst of media coverage of religion, caused somewhat of a stir by dismissing Dolan’s criticisms as off-the-mark, if not silly.

He writes: “I don’t exactly know what it is the Dolan would have the Times do. Avoid reviewing plays that deal with nuns and popular culture? Bar from its pages any organization that disrespects his church? Do penance by urging the Empire State Building to light itself up for Mother Teresa?”

CBS New York followed up on the story (as GetReligion points out). CUNY Prof Paul Moses — former religon writer for Newsday –told CBS: “That’s a really scathing image of Cardinal O’Connor. I think that was a lapse with the Times, not that they’re anti-catholic. Maybe it’s more they simply didn’t do a very good job on that story.”

Dolan wrote a second post today.

He’s standing by his guns. But he promises: “No more comment from me on this spat.”

We’ll see.

No runs, no hits, no errors?

After a day off…

I feel like I should at least acknowledge the NTY’s long, page one Sunday story about the Archbishop of New York and how he dealt with sex abuse in St. Louis and Milwaukee.

When I picked up the paper, I probably had the same reaction as a lot of folks: Oh boy. I wonder what they got on Dolan.

I read it all the way through and came out thinking: Not much.

I realize that these things are in the eye of the beholder, but I thought the story gave one a good sense of the very difficult situations that Dolan faced. The main anecdote, about an allegation of abuse in St. Louis, left me without any clear sense of what Dolan should have done.

In the end, although Dolan said and did a few debatable things, I thought the story made him look pretty…good.

The Catholic League’s Bill Donohue, not surprisingly, saw the article as a failed “hit,” noting that it was largely ignored by other media.

On the Commonweal blog, veteran journalist Paul Moses concluded “No runs, no hits, no errors.”

In the comments section, former Commonweal boss Peggy Steinfels more or less agreed: “I thought the reporter managed to convey the hard places in which Dolan found himself over the years.”

Dolan did blog about the NYT on Sunday, but didn’t mention that day’s article by Serge Kovaleski.

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests — SNAP — usually responds to major media reports about abuse. SNAP was featured prominently in Sunday’s article, but I don’t see any statement from the group on their website.


A liberal Catholic shot at the NYT

As I’ve written before, recent media coverage of sex-abuse scandals in the Catholic Church has faced harsh criticism from those who sense anti-Catholic leanings in the secular media.

Weighing in now is none other than Westchester’s own Kenneth Woodward, the former longtime religion editor at Newsweek (where he remains a contributing editor). I’ve often praised the terrific lecture series that Woodward organizes at his parish, St. Theresa’s in Briarcliff Manor.

In fact, the next FREE lecture is this Monday, May 3, at 7:30 p.m., when Christian Smith, director of Center for the Study of Religion and Society and the Center for Social Research at Notre Dame, will talk about “Souls in Transition: The Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults.”

Woodward has written a critique of the New York Times’ recent stories about sex abuse for the Catholic weekly, Commonweal. This is particularly interesting because Commonweal is, of course, a liberal magazine that has been very critical of the church’s handling of the abuse crisis.

Woodward’s essay, called “Church of the Times,” actually has two, almost separate themes.

The first is that the Times is a sort of Church of Secularism that can’t help seeing believers as space aliens — quite odd and difficult to understand. He makes the case that the Times operates much like the Vatican:

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As U.S. newspapers go, the Times is also a venerable institution and its hierarchy of editors, deputy and assistant editors, and copyeditors is a match for the Roman curia. The paper has been controlled by the Ochs-Sulzberger family since 1896. To those who devote their lives to it, the Times has become “a place that will shelter you the rest of your life,” as Arthur Gelb wrote in his detailed memoir, City Room. I know what he means: Newsweek in the nearly four decades I worked there was also a sheltering institution. Moreover, with reporting flowing in from our worldwide news bureaus, we in New York felt as if we were operating at the throbbing center of the known and knowable universe. Given its exponentially larger work force, not to mention hourly input from the Internet, this illusion is all the more powerful at the Times. A journalist could spend a lifetime in its newsroom without encountering a dissenter from the institutional ideology.

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Woodward’s point that the Times sees its mission as Big and Important (“All the news that’s fit to print,” anyone?), not unlike a religious institution, is quirky and fun to consider, whether you agree or not.

His second point is that the Times’ coverage of two high-profile “scandals” was poorly done. He spends much less time on this point, opening and closing his essay with it.

First and foremost, he asserts that the Times has been too reliant on the legal papers (and views) of the lawyer Jeff Anderson, the most high-profile defender of abuse victims.

He writes: “It’s hard for a newspaper to climb in bed with a man like Anderson without making his cause its own.”

But Woodward doesn’t critique the stories — dates, places, chains of command — as other critics have tried to do.

Woodward does make one timely point about all the Times’ recent front-page stories about abuse scandals connected or vaguely connected to the pope: “…clearly the Times considers sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests more newsworthy than abuse committed by other groups. An April 13 verdict against the Boy Scouts of America, which has struggled with the child-sexual-abuse issue for a century, did not merit page-1, above-the-fold treatment but rather a single paragraph deep inside the paper.”

I would like to know how the Times would explain its meager coverage of the Boy Scouts’ case, which involves a national organization having decades worth of files related to scout masters who have abused minors. Here is their most recent story about the case, which ran deep inside the paper.

The Times’ ombudsman, Clark Hoyt, recently defended the paper’s coverage of things Catholic.