Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Spirit - news with a Catholic Heart...


and Ambush Journalism.

"Back in June, a blog writer made the bold statement amid rumors that the Vatican was about to name a coadjutor..."This is no speculation, Bishop Samuel Aquila of Fargo will be coming to the Twin Cities...my prediction is the announcement will be made on the 13th or 20th of June." (I think I said "This is not speculation." While I termed it a "prediction" - not a fact.) However, this is the lead (read mis-lead) for Chris William's article for The Catholic Spirit this week, he's writing on the the 8th commandment, for which I cooperated in an email interview.

I know I posted the piece he quotes, but I checked my archives and could not find it, so I'm sure it was one that I deleted, since I thought the entire statement so brazen. If one ventures into my archives, one will see that there were a series of speculative posts around those dates concerning the prospect of a coadjutor for Flynn. Rumors were flying in Rome and across our country and just about all the Catholic blogs, with "guess who's coming to Town as new Archbishop!" Everyone who reads my blog, and was following my speculation for sure knew I was guessing and trying to be first with the news - I admitted I was having fun with the rumor mill. No one knew me from Adam at that time - and some people laughed me out of the water. Most amateur Bloggers were guessing - not writing the news.

I didn't post about the sodomites having a Mass to celebrate the sin of Sodom - that was another entry from some other blogger, and Chris does point that out - I think I know the event in question however. What I believe may have been false about the sodomite Mass is that it was initially misunderstood to be sanctioned by a particular Church, and I believe it turned out that it wasn't a Mass at all, but a prayer service. I'm quite certain I had not commented at the time on the matter - there is so much queer stuff that goes on in this archdiocese, it's kind of hard to keep track. In this particular case, readers or the blogger corrected the misinformation, much as a small, local Church newspaper such as the Catholic Spirit would do. Only it would take an entire week to be able to read a retraction - it's just a weekly "news" paper after all.

At least Chris added this from my interview;
"When an inaccuracy does occur, Nelson said he believes most bloggers try to quickly correct the error." That would be the reason why I took the "prediction" post down saying Aquila would be the coadjutor - whereby I had vainly attempted to pre-empt KSTP 10PM News in a lame attempt to be 1st with the news - which never came at all. I took the post down almost immediately, therefore I find it hard to believe a post can be cached so fast. Unless the chancery and the Spirit have some sort of "blog watch" thing going on...who knows?

What was the point of this article? Ostensibly, to point out blogging and other tech-media as a conveyance of gossip, lies - and sins against the 8th commandment. The journalist appears to have been convinced of this point before he started the interview. In the volley back and forth over the few days of interview, Williams asked me in at least 2 emails and also in phone conversation, to name blogs that lie, or spread gossip. I answered honestly that I knew of none. He kept probing -and his editor sent him back to re-ask the same question. (I'll post the text of the interview at the end of this piece.)

What I think they may have been getting at, is me. (Although, maybe I flatter myself.) I recently posted a critical remark concerning Dennis McGrath over the play "The Pope and The Witch" - the same play the Archbishop himself finally said something about in the Strib, in condemnation. I've also not been shy in the past with my criticism and opinion of the chancery, as well as statements by the Archbishop or his spokesman, just as I'm not afraid of other hot button issues in this Archdiocese or our Nation. I can do that. Think of the blog as a weblog, a journal, even a 'letters to the editor' type venue.

What is so interesting about the Spirit interview is there was no disclosure that they were going to reference or use the content of my personal blog, Abbey-Roads - in fact I asked them not to since I didn't want my personal opinions associated with the Company I work for. Chris told me he would only use text from my Company blog after asking me to post an entry on that blog discussing his interview. My immediate reaction is that his article feels kind of like an ambush, can it be called dissimulation or subterfuge? - I'm not sure - These are kinda 8th Commandmentie-type things aren't they though? If the Spirit wanted to discuss my posts on Abbey-Roads, I would have gladly cooperated - just as I naively agreed to the interview regarding my Company blog.

Inserted in the article, which I was led to believe would be focused upon my straight answers in the interview, is a pull-quote from Dennis McGrath, spokesman for the archdiocese, that strikes me as rather ironic. He is quoted:

"If someone corrupts the channels of communications in this day and age, it spreads far and wide like a virus because it gets picked up by one blog and spreads to another." - says McGrath, whose reputation for veracity has been questioned by other blogs and websites; Spero News and Desert Voice to name two.

So here is the actual email interview I cooperated in, which now feels more like a set up.

The Interview:

Do you believe in the Ten Commandments, especially focusing on the Eighth Commandment of "Thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor"? Do you think it is still relevant in our internet world?
· I most definitely believe in the 10 commandments, and I’m very concerned about the 8th commandment in particular when it comes to the blogs I write. I suspect that caution can get cast aside somewhat as regards this commandment in the process of getting a particular news item up before another blogger beats you to it. (Not that the blogger would lie or dissimulate, rather, he may be negligent in getting all the facts, or checking his facts, in the rush to post. Nevertheless, most will immediately write a retraction if there is something incorrect in a post. Bloggers tend to be very honest.) As for Catholic/Christian bloggers, I’m confident everyone is careful to speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth – that is the point of blogging.

Do you think blogging opens the opportunity to violate the Eighth Commandment of "Thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor? If so, can you cite blogs that have violated this commandment?
· Blogging does indeed open the way for violations against the 8th commandment, just as live conversation and discussion does. Since I read mostly Catholic blogs, I have not encountered any obvious faults such as lying, Catholic bloggers have a great deal of integrity.

· On the other hand, another aspect of the 8th commandment prohibits detraction – revealing the faults of another without serious reason. That happens everyday, and not just on blogs. Do bloggers do so deliberately or maliciously? I do not believe so. On any given day, a blogger may hear something and feel so passionately about it, he has to get it out – without thinking through the consequences.

· Then again, in some instances, there seem to be ‘cover-ups’ as regards people, places, and things, that are perhaps serious enough to warrant exposing a situation as a step in the process of correcting a wrong, uncovering a crime, or removing a scandal. It’s a very touchy subject however, and I don’t know of any blogger that is not concerned about this stuff.

As you may know, blogs feature a lot of gossip, untruths and half-truths, have you come across this in your blogging? How did you deal with it?
· For the most part, I’m convinced Catholic blogs are generally on the up and up. Most bloggers I know check and re-check their facts. (The “Post a Comment” feature on most blogs is a guard against writing falsehoods or anything mean spirited – your readers call you on it.) The majority of Catholic blogs are functioning to present the truth, since quite a few believe they are not always getting the complete truth from the typical news sources available. There can be an element of gossip, but most try to avoid it, unless the story is relevant to contemporary issues that seem to be in the process of being swept under the rug or undergoing some other avoidance tactic by the principals involved.

Recently, Pope Benedict XVI encountered a misquote in regards to Islam as being a violent religion. Did you receive any or read any blogs that contained gossip, untruths or half-truths?
· That’s a funny question, because many Catholic blogs wrote favorably about his comments as soon as the news hit – taking it out of context just as many Muslims did – only Catholic blogs hailed the Holy Father’s courage. When the context of his remarks became evident, most bloggers still cheered, recognizing his intention was to call everyone to a clear, rational dialogue and honest assessment of fundamental religious principles.


· The blogs were really the first on the scene to clear up the misunderstandings, since secular media focused more upon the inflammatory aspect of B16’s words as well as the violent protest. Blogs such as Amy Welborne’s “Open Book” [http://amywelborn.typepad.com/openbook/], Gerald Augustinus’ “The Cafeteria Is Closed”[ http://closedcafeteria.blogspot.com/] and Domenico Bertinelli [http://www.bettnet.com/blog/index.php] along with others, pretty much set the record straight, doing it faster than conventional print and television media.

Besides that firestorm, have you encountered any topics dealing with the Catholic faith where bloggers took an opportunity to gossip or spread half-truths or lies?
· That’s kind of a long list you’re asking for. Gosh, where do I start? People have huge issues with liturgy, in fact it’s one of the most talked about subjects on Catholic blogs, save for the continuing soap opera involving the sexual abuse crises and it’s ramifications concerning educational strategies to protect our children. Again, bloggers are out for the truth – brutal as it may be, and that’s what they write about. I have never encountered a Catholic blogger telling half truths or lies – most feel it’s their mission to expose such things."

Here is William's follow up questions after his talk with his editor:

Thanks. I had a few quick questions. Joe read the initial story and thought I might try to flesh out the following questions.

1. Can you give me an anecdotal story about how a blogger may have broke the Eighth commandment?
The answer has to be no. I’m not aware of anyone breaking the eighth commandment by lying about something on their blog. Rather than pointing any fingers toward anyone else, I can say that I may have been somewhat precipitous at times in a post when I started out blogging on my personal blogs – not the (Company) blog however.

In my desire to be candid and frank about issues I write on, I have sometimes been a little too specific when citing certain persons or figures connected to a particular controversy or issue. The facts were there however, and I pointed them out, as honestly as possible.


2. In your opinion, how prevalent is blogging today?
Blogging is huge. Some bloggers either supplement their income by advertising on the blog, while some seem to be able to make a living at it. Famous authors blog, many priests blog. In my opinion, it is becoming serious competition for print media. There is a blog for every topic and state in life imaginable. When you get into the more immoral areas – well that’s where you’re going to find sins against just about every commandment, and more.


3. What are some useful tips for blog writers?
If you are a writer, get your facts straight, and watch the sarcasm. Proof read your work. Don’t blog when you’re angry, tired, or drunk. And don’t write a book, people do not like long articles – they don’t like to read – that’s why they go on-line and no longer read magazines. And try using tag lines for blog titles – such as a movie title or something from pop culture that ties in with your article – it gets you noticed when people are searching the web.

If anyone does read the Catholic Spirit, and read the piece from William's, do note that relatively little was used from my interview. Also, please be advised that my Company has nothing to do with this blog and my views are views entirely independent of Company policy or mission. This blog has absolutely no association with the Company I work for.

The Spirit may be interested to know I've been involved in an interview with the National Catholic Register regarding my post concerning the play, "The Pope and The Witch" - several good, honest local bloggers are involved in this project as well... :)

EAT FRESH! (I miss Jon Lovitz!)

11 comments:

  1. Geez, Terry. I was looking forward to what the Catholic Spirit would print from your interview. It was in my mail box today when I got home from work. The first thing I did was look to see if the story was there yet. Yep. Sure enough.

    I have to say, though, that I was just a bit tweaked by the article. They picked up on bloggers to illustrate lying? Oh, sure. That's why we all have such great faith that journalists are feeding us the the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

    Thank you for clueing us in with the actual and factual by giving us the text of your email interview. Sometimes the truth hurts, and apparently sometimes telling the truth hurts, too. Looks to me like ya got ambushed.

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  2. Thanks Ronnie - all the emails I've received so far agree with you - somehow beta bloggers cannot log in to comment, so there is little to show in agreement with you. Hopefully, blogger will fix this.

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  3. Anonymous10:18 PM

    Don't be too concerned - this is what journalists do - they interview and take what they can use. You may be confusing the term interview with what they do with celebrities. Journalists are given an assignment and use the information they gather to meet the requirements of the assignment. I don't think you were exactly 'roasted' - just used.
    You got press boy! You got press! Keep them talkin'! It's win win!

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  4. You know who you little rat!11:33 PM

    Nice on the detraction bit, good form!

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  5. Anonymous11:07 AM

    I think you are over-reacting - the article wasn't bad.

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  6. Lady Fett12:09 PM

    The Catholic Spirit isn't Catholic anyways so who cares what they think? Besides that, I thought the article was two-faced. On the one hand they were trying to make you look good and on the other trying to paint you as inconsistant. Shrug. They should talk. Ask them sometime about the articles they did on Sophia (feminine version of God)

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  7. I don't think that they particularly went after you, Terry. They were just trying to flame all bloggers in general because they are the big enemy of newspapers these days.

    20 years from now, blogging of a sort will be the way to get the news. Of course we still may have to pay for it.

    Who of us bloggers will have the gumption to stick to it for 20 years and then make a living off of it?

    Not me, for sure. Too old.

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  8. Isn't that interesting?

    I got through by entering my Blogger data in "other." And it worked.

    But it doesn't remember what it just did three minutes ago so I have to enter it again. So don't expect a lot of multiple comments from me.

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  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  10. Hi Terry,

    That was me- I switched to the new system & can comment now.

    I can't wait to see the interview! Great job:)

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  11. Hi Terry,

    I saw the article as well and didn't think it looked like they were grilling you in particular, per se; just blogs in general. But that might be a good thing. As they say in "the media", all news is good news, all publicity is good publicity, right? I imagine this article serves to push the curious to check out blogs for themselves now!

    I thought that the article did have a subtle underlying tone of condescension to it, though, as if it were saying that readers cannot discern opion as expressed as rambling thoughts, ideas and journal entries from fact; and as if readers are not savvy enough to do the simple search-engine research to verify facts for themselves!


    The article really sounded more like sour grapes than anything else. It makes me think that perhaps Dennis McGrath was still writhing over the grilling he got online a few months ago (especially concerning the letter from CRCOA which appeared on renewamerica.com, Spero News and other online Catholic news organizations which are perhaps more reliably Catholic than "The Catholic Spirit"). In such quarrels, "truth and lies" are often in the eyes of the beholder and has nothing to do with "gossip". The readers are intelligent enough to see through all of it, and indeed have the right to read both sides.

    (Now let's see if blogger will let me post this comment--which it has not been letting me do!)

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