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Catholic News Agency: All the News That’s Fit to…Spin?

June 22, 2010, 1:20 pm | Posted by John Gehring

An old journalism professor once barked at my class: “If your mother tells you she loves you… Check it out.” Catholic News Agency, which often operates more like a conservative propaganda outlet than a legitimate news source, has been called out for fabricating quotes attributed to Cardinal Francis George in this article describing a closed meeting at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ recent spring assembly. The executive session included discussions about the Catholic Health Association’s high-profile rift with the USCCB over health care reform legislation.

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.”

Even worse, CNN picked up Catholic News Agency’s flawed report in this online story. Many of us who work at the intersection of faith and politics have come to expect spin from outlets like Catholic News Agency or Raymond Arroyo’s segments on EWTN. CNN should know better than to use CNA as a credible news source. CNN would have been better off doing their own digging or calling John Allen, a National Catholic Reporter correspondent regarded as one of the most respected chroniclers of Catholicism in the world. Allen covered the same meeting and got on-the-record quotes from Cardinal George that offered a conciliatory tone toward CHA. He also included a quote from Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., that could be read as thoughtful criticism of the bishops’ conference approach to health care legislation. “I’ve been associated in one way or another with the Episcopal conference of the United States since 1972,” Bishop Lynch said. “I have never before this year heard the theory that we enjoy the same primacy of respect for legislative interpretation as we do for interpretation of the moral law.”

Not surprisingly, there is more to this unfolding story than you’re ever going to be reading about in Catholic News Agency.

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