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AP sees the Catholic abuse scandal everywhere: GetReligion, March 15, 2014 April 24, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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The news of the election of Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan as president of the Polish Catholic Bishops’ Conference has me scratching my head and asking myself “What were they thinking?”

I have nothing against Archbishop Gadecki. In fact I know little about the man. And after reading the story from the Associated Press you dear reader will know even less. The rolling of eyes and gnashing of teeth (it didn’t reach the rending of garments level of distress) I experienced came not with the archbishop but the AP.

I have seldom seen such a poor job of reporting as found in the AP story whose headline in the Buffalo News read: “Poland’s Catholic bishops pick new leader Gadecki”.

While there are no major errors of fact in this story — the man’s name was spelled correctly, he is a Catholic archbishop, and was elected to lead the Polish Episcopal Conference — you might be excused in thinking this was another story about the clergy abuse scandal.

The opportunities to make mistakes in a four paragraph story are limited. Yet in a story ostensibly about the election of Archbishop Gadecki to lead the Polish church, his name is not mentioned until the third of four paragraphs, while we get pedophilia in the opening and the close.

Here is the lede:

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s Roman Catholic bishops have elected a new leader to succeed Archbishop Jozef Michalik, who angered many with 2013 comments that suggested victims of pedophilia were partly to blame.

The news of the election of a new archbishop is contained in clause one, but the real story is the departure of Archbishop Michalik from office. The AP is using its editorial voice to set the tone for the story. And what we are told is the archbishop was an insensitive lout who said stupid things about the clergy abuse scandal.

The AP doubles down in the second paragraph …

Wednesday’s vote was unconnected to the controversy over Michalik, who had served 10 years — the maximum permitted — as leader of the Polish Episcopal Conference. He remains archbishop in the southeast Polish diocese of Przemysl.

… where the “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” theme is strengthened. In paragraph three we read:

Catholic commentators welcomed the election of Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, a conservative but conciliatory figure based in the western city of Poznan. Gadecki previously was deputy leader of the bishops conference.

But this amount of space devoted to Gadecki seems a bit too much for the AP as we are back to Michalik in the close.

In October, Michalik told reporters that children of divorced parents were more likely to suffer sexual abuse because they may seek “closeness with others” and encourage sexual contact. Michalik denied he meant this.

Tell me again, what was this story about? Was it a report on the election of a new leader for Poland’s Catholics? The title and the opening clause of the first sentence might suggest this to be true. Or was this article about the departure of Michalik, tainted by the ordure of the abuse scandal?

One can see the questionable news judgment the AP displayed when you compare this piece to the article on Radio Poland‘s English-language service webpage. It’s lede stated:

Archbishop of Poznan Stanislaw Gadecki was elected to the post on Wednesday afternoon, after predecessor Archbishop Jozef Michalik completed the second of a maximum two terms. “I am shaken in the face of this responsibility, which moves me from a diocesan level to a nationwide one,” Archbishop Gadecki told reporters following the election.

“The situation of the Catholic Church in Poland today is very delicate, but I will not lose courage,” he said.

This story discussed the Catholic Church’s troubles in Poland, but also lets us know a bit about Gadecki.

Commentators in the Polish press emphasized in the lead-up to the election that Archbishop Gadecki belonged neither to the circle of the conservative private station Radio Maryja, nor to the liberal faction within the Church.

And if you turn to the Polish press you can read the real story of the significance of Gadecki’s election. According to journalist Dominika Wielowieyska writing in the liberal Gazeta Wyborcza Gadecki is the right man for the Catholic Church as he will pull the bishops back from politics.

I am particularly pleased that Gadecki criticized the bishops for becoming active in political parties – especially in the PiS. (Conservative opposition party) That is already a step forward. The departing chairman Jósef Michalik once voiced the strange opinion that he didn’t see such meddling as a problem. The new chairman, by contrast, also no longer backs Radio Maryja, which makes no bones about its support for the PiS.

There is a story in the Gadecki election that I believe Western readers would find of interest in light of the American Catholic bishops recent forays into the political arena. But the AP is the news service that time forgot. They write as if a Catholic story must include references to the abuse scandal, no matter if the space given to this issue crowds out the story being covered.

This is what is called hack work. Somebody was paid to knock this story out for the AP, who then passed it on to their subscribers without giving it proper editorial scrutiny. The AP and the author made a few bucks, the readers and truth were left the poorer for this story.

Master of my Domain: Get Religion, April 23, 2013 April 24, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Abortion/Euthanasia/Biotechnology, Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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… (T)he best persuaded of himself, so cramm’d, as he thinks, with excellencies that it is his grounds of faith that all that look on him love him.

Twelfth Night, 2.3.150-152 (1623)

The counterrevolution has begun.

The press is pushing back against its critics over the Kermit Gosnell affair. Stung by the criticisms and the hypocrisies detailed by Mollie Hemingway on this website, Kirsten Powers at USA Today and other outlets, some have begun reporting on the murder trial of the Philadelphia abortionist. Other outlets in their op-ed sections havedefended their non-coverage or sought to deflect criticisms – – the New York Times‘ Tiller editorial is classic sleight-of-hand, substituting one story for another. “Nothing here to see folks. Move along.”

A few have embarked upon the high road. Writing in Religion Dispatches Diane Winston argues in “The Myth of News Media as Secularist Conspiracy” there has never been a golden era when reporters

provided smart, in-depth, contextualized coverage of religious leaders, issues, ideas, and communities.

In support of this contention, the article offers historical examples purporting to show the press has always done a poor job — missing stories, printing pablum in place of news or voicing prejudice such as H.L. Menken’s critique of Fundamentalism in his account of the Scope’s “monkey” trial or the “anti-Hindu coverage that ran through Western newspapers in the 1910s and 1920s.” The crux of her argument is that the problem is not a lack of:

trained religion reporters, but rather Americans’ widespread ignorance about religion. Religion is absent from many high school curricula and university classrooms, and many of us barely know the religious history of our own country much less the role of religion worldwide.

But her argument then pivots, stating:

Yet, I’m not convinced that improving the American educational system is really at the heart of Cannon’s plaint about religion coverage and his subsequent post on Kermit Gosnell.

Making more Americans aware of religion and historical incidents like an anti-Hindu press — a history of which I was not aware — would not have mattered in the Gosnell story as:

The Gosnell story is not a religion story, it’s a crime story. People with religious convictions may read their passions into it, but Gosnell did not seem to be motivated one way or the other by a faith commitment. Yet cultural religionists imply that the absence of religious commitment in the nation’s newsrooms—and consequent acceptance of baby-killing, oops abortion, is among the reasons that the Gosnell story was overlooked.

The notion that the news media is a secularist cabal ignoring stories that challenge its shibboleths is wrongheaded.

I do not agree. There is just a hint of Coriolanus going before the plebs here. That large sections of the media believe an abortionist charged with multiple counts of murder is a crime story without significant religious or moral overtones speaks to the failings and biases of the press, not readers. (One need only look to the loss of market share and trust the mainstream media have experienced to know that all is not well — or the studies and monographs on the triumph of ideology over reporting in major American newspapers.)Nor does she show a logical connection between her observations about ignorance of the audience and the silence about Gosnell.

Criticisms voiced by GetReligion have nothing to do with the private conscience of reporters who write about religion but about their ignorance of the topics they are covering coupled with a self-satisfied, complacent, high opinion of their own importance and disdain for views that conflict with their own. Large sections of the American press are like Mr. Podsnap who “stood very high in Mr. Podsnap’s opinion,” — they see religion reporting through the lens of anthropology and institutions, not through the culture and belief of people.

And it is this failure of intelligence, relevance and imagination that lies behind the Gosnell fracas. The personal views of reporters are irrelevant — it is their professional competence at issue.

Let me offer an example of good religion journalism to illustrate my argument of ideology free competent reporting. In a front page story Warsaw’s Gazeta Wyborczalast week reported on a paper released by the Polish Bishops’ Conference (Konferencja Episkopatu Polski) objecting to in vitro fertilization, abortion, euthanasia, and contraception, arguing they were a threat to humanity.

In vitro fertilization should be “banned” because it:

begins with masturbation… All doubts in the field of human existence should be resolved in favor of life. We must also stand firmly against all kinds of action that are a threat to humans. Even the loftiest purpose does not justify actions that put human life in danger,” reads the document written by the Bishops’ Bioethics Expert Team

“A Christian must care about the truth. This is why he or she should uncover lies, one of which is the particularly harmful suggestion that in vitro fertilization is a treatment for infertility. It does not treat anything. Infertile people stay infertile. They entrust the production of children to strangers,” the bishops write.

According to the authors of the document, in vitro is the poorly-fulfilled desire of infertile couples, who wish to be parents. The church authorities believe that it gives permission “to sacrifice a few human beings” in order to have a child. This refers to the embryos that are destroyed during in vitro trials. “The sperm is obtained from a father through masturbation, the mother’s body is repeatedly manipulated, meaning that the child becomes a product,” the document reads.

These quotes are a gift. When reporters dream, unlike other men (and women), they dream dreams of bishops condemning masturbation. The possibilities for displaying smutty lowbrow humor are endless. Yet given this set up, the Gazeta Wyborcza plays it straight giving the bishops space to explain their views — to paraphrase my colleague TMatt, they allow people not just paper to speak.

Archbishop [Henryk] Hoser is the main author of the paper. Trained as a physician, he is one of the Episcopal Commission on Bioethics’ experts.  Yesterday he said: “The prenatal human is viewed more as a thing, not as a human being [by those who support IVF]. Many lives are lost in a procedure intended to produce a sole survivor. 

[The Church] opposes the creation of extra embryos produced to be frozen and considers this tantamount to killing them. “Most frozen and thawed embryos die in the process or are otherwise unable to continue healthy growth. Yet the embryo is a person and each embryo turns out to be a helpless member of the human family,whose dignity and rights are ruthlessly trampled.”

Against these comments Gazeta Wyborcza sets contradictory medical opinion.

“Not true. Medicine is moving forward. Maybe 20-25 years ago you could propound this thesis, but not today. … [If properly stored the rate of success of frozen embryos] in implantation in the uterus is the same, or even greater than in the case of embryos transferred without freezing,” argues Prof. Waldemar Kuczynski, Chairman of the Section of Fertility and Infertility of the Polish Gynecological Society and consultant to the government program … The bishops’ arguments are “biased and unfair”.

The article also points to what it believes to be an inconsistency in the bishops’ argument.

The hierarchy also criticized contraception and abortion … “Claiming the right to abortion is an expression of a highly unworthy conduct …”. Anti-abortion rhetoric is heard more often in the church, but in the 90s the bishops approved the so-called Compromise Law that allowed abortion in three cases: rape, danger to life or health of the mother, and severe irreversible damage to the fetus.

Why is this a good article? It is a straight forward summary of the report with comments from critics. First off, the article pulled quotes from the report that would excite its readers, while also providing quotes that placed the controversial statements in context. Both sides can hear their points of view expressed clearly, the article provides the key quotes from the report, places them in context and allows the church to explain why it said what it said. It also wrote this story with its audience — not against it. There is no mockery (that I could see) as it takes its audience’s faith seriously — it understands these are moral questions not merely “health news”.

But this is not a pro-church puff piece. The criticisms are given a full airing and the newspaper’s skepticism of the absolutist position on abortion is made clear by reference to the church’s tolerance for some abortions.

Ask yourself if you believe the New York Times would have printed this story? Which takes me back to the defense of the non-reporting on the Gosnell trial. Perhaps it is old news, a local crime story that would upset readers with the testimony of savagery and barbarity worthy of Auschwitz? Or then again could there be a “secularist cabal ignoring stories that challenge its shibboleths”?

Whatever you may decide, what the press has done (returning once more to Maria’s description of Malvolio in Twelfth Night) is that it has shown itself to be an “affection’d ass”.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

First printed in GetReligion.

Polish anti-Semitism and the press: Get Religion, November 20, 2012 November 21, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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A new film that premiered last week has resurrected moral questions that some Poles hoped had been settled long ago. The 20 Nov 2012 front page of the Warsaw daily Gazeta Wyborcza was dominated by the controversy surrounding the film Poklosie (Aftermath).  The headline reads  “Poklosie under attack — but the reaction of many Poles is that they are under attack from Poklosie.

The film questions Poland’s self-identity as an innocent victim of Nazi aggression. While there is no doubt that Germany sought to destroy the Polish nation, killing  millions, destroying its cities and attempting to eradicate its culture, film director Wladyslaw Pasikowski has challenged one of the pillars its post-war identity — the country’s innocence in the Holocaust.

Poklosie is a war movie that dramatizes the 1942 massacre of 340 Jews in the village of Jebwadne. However these Jews were not killed by the Nazis, but by their Polish neighbors who herded men, women and children into a barn and set it alight. Set in the fictional village of Gorowka, the site of a war-time massacre blamed on the Germans, the film takes place shortly after the fall of the Communist regime. The movie tells the story of two brothers who in attempting to preserve Jewish tombstones arouse the ire of villagers who fear they will uncover the crimes of the past.  As they used to say in Hollywood, this is a message film, and the message is that hiding past sins results in modern evils.

Amongst the motives for the massacre of the Jews by their Polish neighbors in the film is that Jews were Christ-killers. The incidents recounted in Poklosie are based on true events. In 2003, a Polish government commission released a report saying that claims the Polish Jews of Jebwabne were killed by the Nazis was false. They had been murdered by their Polish Christian neighbors.

I have not seen reference to this story in the American or British press so far — but articles last week in the French press on this story caught my eye. Le Figaro‘s story « La Pologne confrontée à une page noire de son histoire » and Le Nouvel Observateur « Poklosie  : le film qui fait polémique en Pologne » approach the story from an entertainment angle — a film that forces Poland to confront a “black page” in its history — that sort of thing.

The Polish press has treated this not as a movie story, but as an existential question. “Who are we? Where have we come from in our history? Do we share in the sins of our ancestors? Has our faith as Catholics led us to this?”

The Associated Press last year reported that in 2001:

Poland’s bishops made an apology for the Jedwabne massacre and other crimes against Jews under the German occupation, in a special ceremony of prayers in Warsaw. It was viewed as a step toward reconciliation with Jewish groups who often accuse the Catholic Church of being too tolerant of anti-Semitism.

However, conservative and nationalist newspapers have been harshly critical of the movie. They reject the assertion that Poland shares in the collective guilt of the Nazis for the Holocaust and reject the movie’s depiction of Polish peasantry being “evil anti-Semites” roused by their priests to commit murder against the Christ-killers. In the conservative weekly Uwazam Rze, Piotr Zychowicz writes in an article entitled “Polacy, Zydzi, kolaboracja, Holokaust”:

No nation has a monopoly on being evil and no nation has a monopoly on being good. Nations are composed of millions of people, and people, it so happens, are very different.

In an interview published in the right wing news and opinion website  Niezalezna.pl, Bogdan Musial argues the historical narrative of Poklosie is a false creation of the media.

Many American Jews left Poland and their father and grandfathers became victims of Holocaust. A big part of the Jewish Diaspora considers Poles to be anti-Semites. Remember the film industry and the media have a strong influence on the intellectual environment and they impose their cultural belief in Polish anti-Semitism.  There is also in German a harmful and false belief in “Polish nationalism” while there is also a lack of historical consciousness in Poland.

Prof. Musial goes on to state there is no doubt that a crime was committed in Jebwabne, but “reactions to the accusation of anti-Semitism should be measured.” He also suggests the “discussion about the anti-Semitism is designed to draw people’s attention away from the crimes of the Communist” era.

A crime has been committed and this is a fact. But the same fact is that the [2002 book Neighbors by Jan  Gross about the Jedwabne pogrom] is unreliable and distorts the history. The problem is that the so-called forces of progress in Poland consider this distorted history to be dogma. The people who denies this are called (by the so-called forces of progress in Poland ) freaks and nationalists. … Through the Gross’ glasses Poles are greedy, primitive, murders who are jointly responsible for the Holocaust and as anti-Semitic as Nazis. Not Germans, but Nazis! … Films such as Poklosie can only strengthen this image …

However the liberal Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland’s largest circulation daily appeals for critics to stop trying to halt the “cleansing process” of the national soul by appeals to to “nationalistic ideology”. Quoting Gross’s book it states there were Poles who killed Jews simply for profit. It defends Poklosie saying it is a:

… valuable work, unique in Polish cinema, reopening an only superficially healed wound of the Polish conscience.

In my recent posts at GetReligion I have been critical of the European-style advocacy journalism practiced by the New York Times and have argued its stories are neither balanced, fair nor complete in their reporting. And, the Times appears to be blissfully unaware of this problem. Yet advocacy journalism when it is done well can produce exceptionally fine work — such as the front page of today’s Gazeta Wyborcza — because it is written from an ideological and moral perspective that is not hidden by spurious claims of being objective. While I find the views express in Niezalezna to be unpalatable, taken in conjunction with Gazeta Wyborcza they provide a better picture of the affair than any single source.

I applaud the Polish press for addressing these issues of national identity, religious bigotry, and historical memory. Well done.

First published in GetReligion.

Perils of a Polish Pop Princess: Get Religion, June 24, 2012 June 25, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Free Speech, Get Religion, Popular Culture, Press criticism.
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The deadly consequences of blasphemous speech have been the focus of some great writing on militant Islam and its intolerance of free thought. While I wish to take nothing away from these reports, I would urge GetReligion readers not to forget that censorship under the guise of hate speech laws is  alive and well at home.

While the consequences of insulting religion in America or Europe are nothing as to what might happen to a blasphemer in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, the mindset that animates intolerance in the Middle East is not absent from the West. Last week a Warsaw appeals court upheld a lower court decision finding that Poland’s premier pop star had violated the country’s hate-speech laws by disparaging the Bible.

The Polish court’s ruling that singer and reality TV star Doda will have to pay a 5,000 Zloty fine (approximately $1500) for offending religious sensibilities is an example of this phenomena. However, the Polish press has done a great job in questioning the wisdom of laws that privilege the sensibilities of a politically well-connected constituency.

Who is Doda? According to a 2008 CNN  story entitled “Famous Poles through the ages” she is Poland’s Britney Spears.

Doda or Doda Elektroda or “the Polish Britney Spears” … was born in Ciechanow [in 1984], and is one of the most famous and successful pop singers in Poland.

Doda started her career at the age of 14 and became popular after her participation in a reality TV show “Bar.” In 2000, at the age of 16, [Doda] became the vocalist of the Polish rock band Virgin.

In December 2005 and October 2007, she posed nude for the Polish edition of Playboy Magazine. She also posed for CKM Magazine several times.

Doda received a Superjedynka award on National Festival of Polish Song in Opole in 2006.

In 2007, she left her record company, Virgin, to begin a solo career. Her first solo album was released in 2007 and was certified as gold on the day before its official release. In 2008, her album “Diamond Bitch” went double platinum after 60,000 copies of the album had been sold.

Her career has continued on its upward trajectory and she remains Poland’s most popular pop artist. And like Britney Spears, the tabloids love her — and she loves them. Her latest rendezvous with fame came with comments  she made in a 2009 interview disparaging beliefs in the inerrancy and historicity of the Bible.

The website for Radio Poland reported that:

Dorota Rabczewska, known to the public as Doda, was initially sentenced in January this year, having claimed in an interview that the Bible “was written by someone who was hammered on wine and who’d been smoking herbs.”

The Warsaw District Court rejected her appeal on Monday, upholding the original sentence.

Miss Rabczewska had been brought to court owing to complaints filed by Ryszard Nowak, chairman of the privately run Nationwide Defence Committee Against Sects, and Stanislaw Kogut, a senator for the conservative Law and Justice party.

In her original defence, the singer had claimed that she had not intended to offend anyone, and that the cited herbs “were certainly therapeutic ones” and the alcohol in question “sacramental wine.”

… At present, the Democratic Left Alliance party is working on a draft bill that will cut the maximum penalty for insulting religious feelings from two years imprisonment to six months.

Meanwhile, Rabczewska may not appeal to Poland’s Supreme Court, but her lawyer is considering an extraordinary appeal to Poland’s Omsbudsman on Civil Rights. An appeal to European Court of Human Rights could also be pursued.

Liberal and conservative newspapers in Poland have come out in favor of Doda’s right to speak her mind — even if what she has to say is offensive (or foolish).

Writing in the liberal Warsaw daily Gazeta Wyborcza on 20 June 2012, Wojciech Maziarski said:

Poland is in the grips of a sort of religious censorship. Doda’s statements offended and outraged many people. They sparked a scandal and provoked much protest. But it was precisely to protect such statements that democratic constitutional states created the right to freedom of opinion. Civil rights aren’t needed to protect uncontroversial opinions that meet with no disapproval. You don’t need to help those who swim with the current and fully agree with the majority opinion. Civil rights are meant as a guarantee for the very people who swim against the current and who offend their fellow citizens. Regardless of whether they’re right or not.

The conservative news site Wprost also objected to the criminalization of unpopular speech. Journalist Maciej Kawinski stated:

Every child knows the dinosaurs existed, and we have irrefutable proof that they did. The Bible, by contrast, contains both academically proven facts and myths better suited to a fantasy film than a historical chronicle. As a result I have no problem at all with someone who believes more in dinosaurs than in the Bible. Did the authors of the Bible drink wine and smoke hash? In some cultures marijuana is believed to be a ‘wisdom weed’.

Kawinski argued the court “should regard Doda’s statements as expressions of opinion and not an attempt to insult people’s religious feelings.”

The Radio Poland summary mentioned two issues I hope are addressed elsewhere in the press — the role of politicians in pushing hate speech prosecution and the role of self-appointed speech guardians. While the Catholic Church exerts tremendous influence in Poland, it was not the church that pushed the prosecution but a political action committee and a senator.

Who exactly is the Nationwide Defence Committee Against Sects and for whom do they speak? And is the senator from the conservative Law and Justice party pushing this issue for domestic political reasons? Are there parallels between Senator Kogut’s actions in the Doda affair and Senator Jesse Helms’ comments in the “Piss Christ” controversy?

On one level Doda’s words are akin to the stunts beloved by Madonna and Lady Gaga — actions that appear to have been undertaken to be provocative — and to sell concert tickets. And as such, some may question whether this is truly a free speech issue.

I find it hard to draw a line between the  stunts pulled by Doda, Madonna, and Lady Gaga, and middle brow épater le bourgeois events like Terrance McNally’s “Corpus Christi” or “Piss Christ”. Mockery of religion in art lost its edge about 75 years ago and is more often silly than profound.

These may be in bad taste and of dubious artistic merit but how can we distinguish them from writers such as Salman Rushdie or artists like Gilbert and George? What the Polish press is doing is setting the question of aesthetics to one side and concentrating on the right of a minority to speak against the views of the majority.

The stories in the Polish press — Radio Poland excluded — are advocacy stories, I should note. They recount the facts but are not shy about taking a side and stating their opinion. I salute them for speaking out — even if it is on behalf of multimillionaire pop stars. Would the press in the U.S. only challenge the pieties of this country — sexual orientation, race, gender, ethnicity — as the Polish press has done.

But is the Polish press really speaking out for the underdog here? Or, is their support for free speech misguided when it comes to deliberate attempts to be provocative? What say you GetReligion readers? Is there a place for speech codes — above and beyond slander laws — in journalism and in public discourse?

First printed in GetReligion.