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

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

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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Gingrich softens his tone, but still questions opponents’ faith

June 16, 2010, 5:14 pm | Posted by

Last month former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich dismissed faith leaders who worked to pass health care reform as socialists looking for another opportunity to redistribute wealth. This came on the heels of his release of a book warning of Democrats’ “secular-socialist machine” working to drive God out of public life. Before that, he played an instrumental role in stirring up opposition to the president’s commencement speech at Notre Dame, saying Obama has “anti-Catholic values” (at the time, Gingrich had not yet converted to Catholicism). In other words, Gingrich has a track record as a self-appointed judge of other people’s faith.

Now it sounds like he’s changing his tone, if not his tune. On a segment responding to President Obama’s remarks on the power of prayer in his speech about the BP oil spill last night, Fox & Friends host Gretchen Carlson gave him an easy opportunity to question the sincerity of President Obama’s faith, asking

But Mr. Speaker, did you find it at all disingenuous, because some people are analyzing that this morning as saying it was disingenuous from a president who does not go to Church on a regular basis?

Gingrich answered:

Well, I hope he means it. [...] I’m sad that it took a crisis of this scale, but I’m delighted that the president has recognized that we in fact all are subordinate to a larger God and that we need to seek guidance from that God.

Gingrich declined to directly challenge Obama’s faith, and even gave him qualified praise, but saying “…I hope he means it” is a subtle way to cast doubt on the president’s faith. Why would Gingrich “hope” President Obama means it, unless he suspected the president was being insincere? For Gingrich, the segment is a step toward civility, but it shows he still has a lot of room to improve when it comes to respecting other people’s faith.

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Death camps?!?!

May 28, 2010, 4:16 pm | Posted by

Glenn Beck took to the airwaves today to respond to a letter from Simon Greer, president and CEO of Jewish Funds for Justice, which recently targeted Beck with a brilliant Twitter campaign in which people tweeted haikus about social justice to Beck. On the show, Beck quotes from Greer’s letter:

“…Government makes our country function. To put God first is to put humankind first. To put humankind first is to put the common good first.”

Glenn Beck responds:

“This leads to death camps. A Jew, of all people, should know that. This is exactly the kind of talk that led to the death camps in Germany. Put humankind and the common good first.”

I am totally flabbergasted by this insane “logic.” Particularly in light of Newt Gingrich’s comments today, in which he backed down from his comparison of the Obama administration to Nazi Germany, I would’ve thought conservative commentators would have started to wise up. Incendiary and irrational statements like this, particularly ones which reference a horrific moment in history, are not only cruel, but also undermine the shreds of credibility they have left.

Listen to the whole excerpt here, or see the transcript over at Media Matters:

UPDATE: Simon Greer responded with a powerful statement today:

…Glenn Beck has a history recklessly invoking Nazi Germany and the Holocaust in order to advance his political agenda. But never before has Beck accused Jews – including survivors of the Holocaust and their children and grandchildren – of paving the way for fascism. Through his comments, Beck has demonstrated that he has no idea what leads to fascism. Jews and others, who were victims of the Holocaust, do not have the luxury of his ignorance.

Beck’s reflexive hatred for government is rejected by Americans of all backgrounds, who have seen the powerful role government can play in providing us with greater freedom, security, and opportunity. I am proud of the work we do at Jewish Funds for Justice, where our belief that we are all made in the image of the divine compels us to petition private enterprise, charities, and yes, the government, to do their part to ensure our shared divinity.

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Worst lead ever

May 20, 2010, 11:59 am | Posted by

From today’s Denver Post:

First lady Michelle Obama came face-to-face with the sometimes-uncomfortable repercussions of the nation’s immigration-enforcement policies Wednesday when a second-grader voiced her worries that her mother might be deported. [emphasis added]

Seriously. Having your foot fall asleep is uncomfortable; having your mom taken away is traumatic.

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All press is good press, right?

May 7, 2010, 6:13 pm | Posted by

Normally we’re pretty happy when the faith community’s work on important issues like immigration reform get noticed in the press (like this great piece from TIME).

However, on occasion the faith communities advocacy attracts attention from some, er, odd quarters.

Take this piece from the hilariously named “Accuracy in Media.”

They’re none too pleased with faith groups, particularly the Catholic church, advocating for comprehensive immigration reform:

Russell is honest about the motivation behind these efforts, noting that the Catholic Bishops and their agencies, some of which get government money to provide services to illegal aliens, “benefit from immigration by increasing the number of Catholics in the United States.”

Yeah, because there is so much money in providing immigrant services, especially for those without papers. Why didn’t we think of this earlier?

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