The Depressingly Predictable Media

[Note: Friends of Justice is a personal blog. I speak only for myself.]

Dear Friend of Justice,

The media on the Shanley hearing was as inaccurate and as unfair as I feared it would be. I’m not sure why those reporters even bothered to sit in that courtroom, given that the proceedings went above their heads and that they had drawn their conclusions beforehand.

Reporters now just ignore anything inconsistent with their assumptions. What they ignore doesn’t make the six o’clock news. And if it doesn’t make the news, it doesn’t exist.

The overriding assumption is that accusers must never be doubted. Accusers are victims and victims are Holy. To doubt a sainted victim is to commit heresy. And heretics don’t have a lot of career opportunities.

The rush to judgment of accused Catholic priests was additionally complicated by a lot of pent-up homophobia and anti-Catholicism. Paul Shanley never had a chance. He was tried and convicted by the Boston Globe in January of 2002. Since then, his guilt — and that of other accused priests — has never been doubted by the Globe or most other media.

But it is as absurd to believe that all accused priests are guilty as it would be to assume that they are all innocent.

Because Shanley’s guilt is assumed by the media, and because the only evidence against him was the repressed memories of a highly disturbed young man, the press now considers the theory of repressed memory validated. In other words, Shanley is guilty because of repressed memory and repressed memory is proved by Shanley’s guilt. A perfectly circular argument.

The press refused to address the fact that there is no support for repressed memory within the scientific community. What did they do instead?

Some of them interviewed Mitchell Garabedian, an ambulance chaser who has earned millions of dollars, mainly from the Catholic Church, through civil suits based on repressed memory. Is Garabedian their idea of an objective observer?

Other members on the press instead concentrated on the outrage, expressed by victim-survivors, that Shanley was exercising rights given to him by the U.S. Constitution. Now I think it is newsworthy when any group asserts that the Constitution should only apply to people they happen to like. But since so many members of the press themselves endorse this notion, it’s not surprising that they took no note of it.

There was a time when I was naive enough to trust the press. But during the early 90s I became an anti-censorship activist. I soon learned that what I directly observed bore almost no resemblance to what was reported in newspapers and on television. Since then I have observed the failure of the press in many areas. They certainly failed big time from the beginning in their coverage of the Shanley case.

The press, of course, does OK when it operates with an open mind. The recent coverage of the Baran case by the Berkshire Eagle, for example, has been very good. Their coverage of the case back in 1985, however, was quite a different matter. Baran’s guilt then was considered as obvious by the press as is Shanley’s guilt now. Then and now, conflicting information was just ignored.

In my opinion, media unfairness is independent of ideology. For example, much has been made of the inaccuracies and unfairness of Fox News. But are the people who rely on Fox any worse than those Massachusetts “liberals” who get all of their information from the Boston Globe and NPR?

Citizens make decisions based on the information available to them. And most citizens get their information from the mainstream media. Without a fair and hard-working press, democracy cannot function.

Thomas Jefferson once said something to the effect that if given a choice he would prefer newspapers without government to government without newspapers.

What would Jefferson think if he knew the sorry state into which this nation’s media has fallen?

-Bob Chatelle