It’s verging on gratuitous indulgence at this point, but here goes. The New York Times yesterday distinguished itself with not one, but two, op-eds on the Vatican-LCWR issue, penned by Maureen Dowd and Nicholas Kristof. Rod Dreher engages in some level-headed deconstruction on his blog:
In her column today, she recycles every tired cliche about the Mean Old Men of the Vatican picking on the Poor, Defenseless Church Ladies. Even though the Vatican report is publicly available information, Dowd never once mentions the main reasons for the Vatican investigation into the nun group — read all about that here — nor does she bring up the fact that the Vatican did not investigate all American nuns, only those who had substituted radical feminism and related ideologies for Catholic doctrine [ed. note: it's even narrower than that. Individual nuns were not "investigated," only the organization and its institutional culture]. There is no indication in this column that she ever read the Vatican report. She’s not thinking here, she’s emoting. One doesn’t expect The New York Times to be First Things, but one expects the nation’s leading newspaper to have enough respect for itself and the seriousness of the issues at hand to require its columnist to write with a modicum of thoughtfulness. Then again, if that were the editorial page’s standard, Maureen Dowd wouldn’t have a column.
Nick Kristof’s take on the issue is by no means idiotic, perfectly or not, but it is vapid. He talks about the good work nuns around the world do, but confuses this with the fact that the Vatican was going after American nuns — and not all American nuns, only those who belong to the LCRW, a group of radicals. Kristof doesn’t even trouble himself to look into what the LCRW nuns were accused of; he simply takes their side.
What’s really astonishing about these columns is not, as he notes, the position they take (no surprise there) but the fact that these editorials are so poorly researched and written qua editorials. They employ every mental shortcut imaginable and offer nothing that actually engages the substance of the debate. Dowd and Kristof throw every cliche out the nearest window in hopes of striking a passing popemobile. Kristof at least seems to be sincere about it.
But really, at this point, frustration has long given way to exasperation, and perhaps a tinge of mild jealousy (they’re considered some of the most respected commentators in American culture for churning out this level of prose? What lottery did they win?) At the end of the day, in Dreher’s words: “This isn’t column writing; these are typed tantrums.”