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In the latest issue of the Weekly Standard , I argued that, to account for the press frenzy of recent weeks, it isn’t necessary to seek anti-Catholic motives in the media:

Several Catholic commentators have charged that the European and American press is out to destroy the Church. “The New York Times is conducting a vendetta against this traditionalist pope in news stories, editorials and columns,” Pat Buchanan announced in a column on April 6. But this, too, only adds to the hysteria. For all the journalistic sins that have been committed in recent weeks, what the media primarily want is a story to sell—and since the narrative of hypocrisy remains nearly the only moral shape a modern newspaper story can have, a tale of immoral clergy is ready-made for reporters.

And then the news begins to feed on itself. Each story about Catholicism makes the next story bigger, more worth pursuing. The reported cases are mostly decades old, but that doesn’t matter, once the frenzy catches hold. Anti-Catholic motives in the media are beside the point. The utter conventionality of reporters, together with the cycles of the news business, explains more than enough. Catholicism in general, and the pope in particular, are news right now, and news sells.

But comes now a solid overview by Kenneth L. Woodward , which suggests to me that I may have been wrong—at least to the extent in which it is pertinent to inquire about motivation:

The New York Times isn’t fair. In its all-hands-on-deck drive to implicate the pope in diocesan cover-ups of abusive priests, the Times has relied on a steady stream of documents unearthed or supplied by Jeff Anderson, the nation’s most aggressive litigator on behalf of clergy-abuse victims. Fairness dictates that the Times give Anderson at least a co-byline.

After all, it was really Anderson who “broke” the story on March 25 about Fr. Lawrence Murphy and his abuse of two hundred deaf children a half-century ago in Wisconsin. Reporter Laurie Goodstein says her article emerged from her own “inquiries,” but the piece was based on Anderson documents. Indeed, in its ongoing exercise in J’accuse journalism, the Times has adopted as its own Anderson’s construal of what took place. Anderson is a persuasive fellow: back in 2002 he claimed that he had already won more than $60 million in settlements from the church. But the really big money is in Rome, which is why Anderson is trying to haul the Vatican into U.S. federal court. The Times did not mention this in its story, of course, but if the paper can show malfeasance on the part of the pope, Anderson may get his biggest payday yet.

It’s hard for a newspaper to climb in bed with a man like Anderson without making his cause its own.

There’s much more to Woodward’s analysis, and it demands reading in its entirety. He ends on the upbeat note: “I remain a dissenter in the pews of the Church of the New York Times .” I fear that I left that congregation for others, long ago.

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