1. Religion & Spirituality
Scott P. Richert

The New York Times' Attack on Pope Benedict: The Rest of the Story

By April 30, 2010

Follow me on:

A few days ago, I examined the response of New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt to criticism of the Times' coverage of the clerical sexual-abuse scandal.

There were a few particularly glaring problems with Hoyt's response. First, he dismissed criticisms that Times reporter Laurie Goodstein had relied on attorney Jeffrey Anderson as her main source, without mentioning the fact that Anderson proudly proclaims that he has filed over 1,500 lawsuits against the Catholic Church. Moreover, Hoyt himself failed to mention that, three days before his article appeared, Anderson filed yet another lawsuit against the Vatican—this one concerning the subject of Goodstein's story.

Second, Hoyt never explained why he asked Goodstein if her article was written "at the instigation of the lawyers" if he thought there was no problem with her reliance on Anderson.

And finally, Hoyt didn't explain how Goodstein happened to be investigating a decades-old case that had been discussed at great length in the Wisconsin media years ago.

Now, however, we have answers to these puzzling questions—and they have come from the New York Times itself.

In "A Frenzied Pace for Lawyer Behind Vatican Suits," a profile of Jeffrey Anderson published on April 27, 2010, Monica Davey writes (in the second paragraph of the piece):

Mr. Anderson, 62, has been filing suits against priests and bishops since 1983 and, at least once before, against the Vatican itself. But a new wave of accusations reaching ever closer to Rome has emerged in recent weeks, helped along, in part, by Mr. Anderson’s discovery of previously undisclosed documents [emphasis mine].

Davey saves the full reveal, however, for the 16th paragraph of the 24-paragraph piece:

The New York Times was working on a different article last month when a reporter contacted Mr. Anderson. He provided documents about the Murphy case describing how efforts by Wisconsin church officials to subject Father Murphy to a canonical trial and remove him from the priesthood were halted after he wrote a letter to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, asking for a cessation of the trial [emphases mine].

So, according to the Times' own reporting, Laurie Goodstein was not working on a story about the Father Murphy case, but a different story altogether. That explains the third problem with Clark Hoyt's response.

On the second problem, however, Mr. Hoyt's response now appears woefully inadequate. A month before Mr. Anderson filed his latest lawsuit against the Vatican, Goodstein "was working on a different article" when she "contacted Mr. Anderson," who gave her "documents about the Murphy case"—documents which form the core of Anderson's lawsuit.

At the very least, this calls into question Goodstein's claim that "her article was not done at the instigation of the lawyers." Mr. Anderson's key role in bringing about Goodstein's story at a time when he was preparing to sue the Vatican over the subject of the story makes both Mr. Hoyt's unquestioning acceptance of Goodstein's claim and his failure to mention Anderson's latest lawsuit inexcusable.

To her credit, Monica Davey interviewed Jeffrey Lena, a U.S. lawyer who represents the Vatican and who has extensive experience with Mr. Anderson and his techniques. Mr. Lena perfectly encapsulates the problem with Goodstein's reliance on Mr. Anderson:

“It [Anderson providing the documents to Goodstein a month before filing his lawsuit] shows,” Mr. Lena said, “how you can both create a media frenzy, and then capitalize on it. Jeff is very, very good at creating intense media interest, and then shaping a narrative for the press to write their stories around.” He added later: “He serves these media events up like nice little meals for reporters to chow down on, and they do."

Monica Davey's story provides the missing link that explains some of the problems in Goodstein's original story—problems that I pointed out at the time. Goodstein's own story was contradicted by the very documents that Anderson gave to her—but her story fits Mr. Anderson's interpretation of those documents to a tee.

Thus, whatever else Goodstein's article might have been, it wasn't objective reporting. That makes her failure to note the extent—1,500 lawsuits!—of Mr. Anderson's admitted bias all the more glaring. And it makes Mr. Hoyt's defense of her article—and his omission of any mention of Anderson's latest lawsuit—all the more disturbing.

Comments
April 30, 2010 at 11:31 am
(1) Tom Piatak says:

Thanks for the continuing good work on this, Scott.

April 30, 2010 at 11:57 am
(2) A Secular Franciscan says:

Further evidence of the decline of journalistic standards by the NYT, particularly when the Catholic church is the target. Good work, Scott.

April 30, 2010 at 12:00 pm
(3) Sheila says:

The more they attempt to bring down the Church that Christ established, the more I KNOW that I am in the right church. Healing is taking place and has been for 20 years, thanks to changing seminary practices and better screening in the US. What bishops and priests did is not excused, possibly even cardinals. However, we have all 7 sacraments, we have Jesus Himself in the Eucharist. I wouldn’t want my family any other place in the world. Thanks, Scott.

April 30, 2010 at 12:04 pm
(4) Rosalee Adams says:

In reply to your question about the NY TIMES and the Catholic Church.
The TIMES is anti whatever. It is your basic rag. I do not dignify the NY TIMES, LA TIMES, SF CHRONICLE and our local rag, the OREGONIAN and it is all because they are very intent on dragging anything or anybody in the mud at the drop of a hat.
However, I still stick to my earlier comments about the pedophilia and the unconscionable way it was handled by the church. I have nothing but contempt not only for those who violated these children, but for those who looked the other way and by doing so, condemned more children to such violation.
I trust God has a special place in Hell for those who
violate the innocence of a child.

April 30, 2010 at 12:18 pm
(5) Eve Winter says:

What happened to Cardinal Law?? We never read anything about him any more.
Whre is he and what is he doing??

April 30, 2010 at 12:18 pm
(6) Alice Seidel says:

I believe the NY Times is not only anti-Catholic, they are one of the little anti-Christs that have arisen in our secular times.
One of the things which will make me VERY happy will be when I walk out of the Port Authority bus station in Manhattan only to see their huge letter logo across the street no longer there! Who will they blame for their downfall then? Jesus or the Pope, or both?!

April 30, 2010 at 12:22 pm
(7) Nnaemeka Ajuka says:

Scott,I so much belive that the gates of hell shall never prevail against the church.Keep doing a good work.

April 30, 2010 at 1:52 pm
(8) Rey Genaldo says:

Is New York times anti-Catholic? Scott, you are obviously colored by the desire of conservatives to be viewed well by the left as “nice,” or worse, “open minded.” I won’t even speculate the possibility of a conflict of interest between you and the one who carries your column.

If a newspaper ignores to report on the actual facts, I agree the reporter is the one at fault. If the newspaper accepts that report WITHOUT due verification, the newspaper becomes complicit, if not a willing indorser of that reporter’s views.

Yes, Scott, think that always, I like the optimism.

Is the New York Times a Catholic hater? Are taxi drivers in NY rude? It depends on whom you ask. I hope you are one of the taxi drivers.

April 30, 2010 at 1:58 pm
(9) Scott P. Richert says:

Rey, if you think that my discussions of the New York Times‘ coverage of the clerical sexual-abuse scandals are “obviously colored by the desire of conservatives to be viewed well by the left as ‘nice,’ or worse, ‘open minded’” or have been compromised by a “conflict of interest,” I can only assume that you haven’t actually read them.

April 30, 2010 at 9:28 pm
(10) theresa says:

well said

May 1, 2010 at 8:56 am
(11) MuhamidX says:

The pope needs to drive accountability throughout the Roman Catholic Church. As long as the pope continues to allow Cardinal Law et. al. continue to wear their Roman collars, then the job of the NY Times is not complete. It is time for Cardinal Law to be returned to Boston as Mr. Law!

May 1, 2010 at 12:43 pm
(12) John Seiler says:

Goodstein and Hoyt win this year’s Walter Duranty Award.

May 3, 2010 at 2:30 pm
(13) Johnnny in wi. says:

To Muhamedx: Anyone who follows the prophet who had a six year old wife, loses all credibility on this issue. Keep up the good work Scott.

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