In his new book, Sins of the Press, Catholic writer and media equalizer David F Pierre takes aim at a news Goliath: The Boston Globe’s Pulitzer endorsed Prejudice.
Do you remember Robert McCall? He was The Equalizer, a retired espionage operative in a popular 1980s TV series. It was never clear whether he was CIA or MI5, but each week he placed his formidable skills in the service of some underdog up against powerful oppressors. With British actor Edward Woodward in the role of Robert McCall, The Equalizer managed to even the odds in a perfect storm of tyranny. He appeared rather benign, and at times he seemed a bit in over his head, but he was patient and bided his time. When he struck, the powerful and powerfully corrupt were unmasked and undone.
In a world of media atrocities, David F. Pierre, Jr. aims to be an equalizer. With the patience of Job, he waited a dozen years before loading his small stone of an expository book into a sling to take aim at a media Goliath, in this case The Boston Globe and its 2003 Pulitzer Prize for – don’t miss the irony in this – “Public Service.” Here’s how the Pulitzer Committee described its 2003 award to The Boston Globe…
“… for its courageous, comprehensive coverage of sexual abuse by priests, an effort that pierced secrecy, stirred local, national, and international reaction, and produced changes in the Roman Catholic Church.”
I found that description by the 2003 Pulitzer Committee to be incredibly tragic and sad. The recipients of that Pulitzer, The Boston Globe and its Spotlight Team, had an opportunity to pierce entrenched secrecy, to stir long dormant local, national and international reaction, and to produce substantive changes in the epidemic of sexual abuse from which millions in this culture have suffered. Indeed, that would have been a public service.
But the Globe let that opportunity pass for the creation of a moral panic aimed exclusively at the Catholic Church, and the Pulitzer Prize Committee chose to underwrite that fraud. It was an adventure in media narcissism, and David F Pierre struck the eye of that self-serving Goliath in Sins of the Press.
His publication of this book is timely. On November 6th this year, Hollywood will release its own version of The Boston Globe’s Pulitzer-endorsed prejudice with the film, “Spotlight” written by Thomas McCarthy, who also directed, and Josh Singer. Some have suggested that the film is on a par with the great 1976 Oscar winner, All the President’s Men that explored The Washington Post’s dogged pursuit of President Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal. The claim is laughable.
David Pierre posted an exclusive of sorts here on These Stone Walls two weeks ago in “Spotlight On Spin: The Sins of the Press” in which he first introduced his book. On page after page, it presents clear and compelling evidence of the Globe’s reckless disservice to humanity in its shameless pursuit of Catholic priests. Like David Pierre’s previous books, Catholic Priests Falsely Accused, and Double Standard, Sins of the Press is right on point without its author telling us what to think about the sordid revelations it contains. He lets the facts speak for themselves, and they do, quite loudly, sometimes with echoes that resounded in my soul and psyche for days.
What The Boston Globe did, and what the Pulitzer Prize Committee honored, was patently reckless, unjust, and unfair, not only to the Catholic Church and priests, but to the tragic and silenced majority of victims of sexual abuse. Dave Pierre’s book exposes one media tenet clearly: “If a priest didn’t do it, we’re not interested!”
The reader is left with no doubt that the harsh glare of a spotlight brought to bear by The Boston Globe was meant for a singular purpose, to isolate the Catholic Church and priesthood as a sort of special locus of sexual abuse. At the same time, the Globe accommodated by omission the prevalence of sexual abuse in other institutions throughout, with the effect of silencing victims when there’s no cash to be had. I live with some of them and wrote of them, most notably in “Catholic Scandal and the News Media.”
CASHING IN ON THE DEAD
The Boston Globe Spotlight Team accomplished its goal with the creation of a perfect storm of moral panic. The paper’s spin presented every claim and accusation as demonstrably true, reported every settlement as evidence of guilt, spun decades old claims to make them look as though they occurred yesterday, and never once questioned the financial motives of accusers.
In this arena, the Globe assisted in the continued abuse suffered by real victims by repeatedly giving a platform to personal injury lawyers who stood to pocket forty percent of every settlement wrested from a beleaguered and bludgeoned hierarchy while the millions abused in non-Catholic venues suffered in silence. The Globe’s “public service” was mostly to contingency lawyers.
David Pierre has visited this topic before on These Stone Walls. In a shocking 2012 guest post, “Kicking the Dead and Collecting Cash,” David described one recent example of how lucrative the Globe’s moral panic became for some of Boston’s lawyers:
“On April 11, 2012, Mitchell Garabedian, probably the most high profile contingency lawyer in New England, called a press conference to announce that he had reached five and six-figure settlements. The Archdiocese of Boston paid out sizable settlements related to [two priests]… Rev. James H. Lane and Rev. Richard O’Donavan. The strident Garabedian sat before the media and claimed that his work was proof that he was ‘exposing these priests so children can be made safer and victims can heal.’”
The lawyers, the Globe, and the seemingly endless parade of “John Does” all seemed to be on the same page in this, and it was always the front page. None of them revealed that the two priests mentioned above had never before been accused by anyone, or that the claims were alleged to have occurred forty years earlier, or that both priests were dead and unable to speak for themselves when the accusations were made.
In a barely visible footnote of the Globe’s version of the story about the two deceased priests above, the paper added, “The Archdiocese was unable to substantiate the accusations against Lane and O’Brien.” Boston civil liberties lawyer Harvey Silverglate translated this for us in his Boston Phoenix article, “Fleecing the Shepherds” available here on These Stone Walls:
“There is considerable doubt about the veracity of the new claims, many of which were brought only when it became clear the Church would settle claims for big bucks.”
SPOTLIGHTS AND FLOODLIGHTS
The Globe’s “spotlight” left in darkness everything on the periphery of its moral panic. By omission and commission, the Globe suppressed rights of the accused to due process and a presumption of innocence, minimized evidence of financial motives in bringing many claims decades later when no evidence or corroboration could exist and masked the true nature of most of the claims by presenting claims of homosexual predation as “pedophilia” even when the facts said otherwise.
Things have not been boding well for many newspapers in the years since The Boston Globe’s Pulitzer-endorsed yellow journalism created this anti-clerical moral panic. Commenting on the burgeoning scandal in the Catholic Church in 2002, my late friend, Father Richard John Neuhaus wrote of his caution in believing the accounts of abuse as reported:
“There is an unseemly readiness on the part of many, including some Catholics, to believe the worst [of accused priests]. What we know is wretched enough. We would not know what we) know without the reporting of The Boston Globe. [However] it is pointed out that the Globe, like its owner The New York Times, is no friend of the Church. The suggestion is not that we kill the messenger, but that we should be keenly aware that the messenger, on issue after issue, has points to score against the teaching and claims of the Catholic Church. The messenger is not a neutral party.” (First Things, “Scandal Time,” 2002)
In 1983, The New York Times purchased The Boston Globe for $1.1 billion. By 2009, the Times, threatened to close the Globe unless its union agreed to $20 million in cuts. In 2013, The New York Times Company finally sold the Globe to Boston Red Sox owner John Henry for $70 million. Not even counting for inflation, John Henry’s purchase price for The Boston Globe represented less than six-and-a-half cents on the dollar from the Times’ original 1983 investment. It was worth every penny! Don’t get me wrong. I like John Henry, and I love the Boston Red Sox. I wish them well in this endeavor. I’m sure, at least, that the Sports Page has improved.
LOSING THE NEWS
According to a 2009 Pew Research Center survey, less than half of Americans said that losing their local newspaper would harm civic life. Less than one third responded that they would miss their local newspaper if it just disappeared. Ken Paulson, President of the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center and a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors published an interesting column for USA Today entitled “News Media Lose Trust, Gain Allies” (July 2, 2015). Mr. Paulson cited a “State of the First Amendment Survey” soon to be released with dismal results for those in the news media whose careers have been built upon reputable journalism. In the survey results, just 24% of respondents believe that the news media try to report the news without bias. That figure is down from 41% just a year earlier. However, 69% state that journalists in the news media should act in a watchdog role in reporting on government. That figure was down from 80% a year earlier. The first figure – the fact that only 24% of those surveyed believe the news media reports without bias – is alarming, and a record low for this decade-long poll. The second figure – indicating a decline in the sense that the media acts in a watchdog role – was surprising to Mr. Paulson who reported that “This nation’s founding generation insisted on a free press to act as a check on a strong central government …an enduring principle over centuries.” He added, however,
“Social media posts that call out unfairness and injustice don’t diminish this critical watchdog role. It just means a free press has many more allies.”
David F. Pierre, Jr. is one of those allies. His new book, Sins of the Press is a David v. Goliath account that takes needed aim at The Boston Globe’s bias, and that is a good thing. The release of “Spotlight,” Hollywood’s version of this sordid story, feels a lot more like the Globe’s epitaph than any celebration of its dubious public service.
I promised in a comment on Dave Pierre’s post, “Spotlight and Spin” that I would soon have something to say about the legacy and reputation of Cardinal Bernard Law, a principal character in this story who, as Archbishop of Boston, wore a bull’s eye painted by The Boston Globe. That post is coming, God willing, on November 4th which also happens to be Cardinal Law’s 84th birthday. I’m not letting contingency lawyers and The Boston Globe have the last word on Cardinal Law. Perhaps they’ll say nasty things about me, and maybe even have me thrown into prison. I’m freer than they are, and they will never tell me what I can write.
Meanwhile, I join Dave Pierre as an ally to reputable media which serves a most important purpose for truth and justice. That is what will challenge a civilized society in imminent danger of becoming ever less so. At The Boston Globe, truth and justice could really use a Spotlight Team.
Update for the Week