Reporters and the church

REV. RICHARD JOHN NEUHAUS

As you might imagine, I spend a good deal of time talking with reporters. I usually donít mind it. It comes with the territory.

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus

With notable exceptions, reporters are people of good will working hard to write a story that will please their editors. It is true that they are not always the sharpest knives in the drawer. These days most of them have gone to journalism school, or j-school, as it is called. In intellectual rankings at universities, journalism is just a notch above education, which is, unfortunately, at the bottom.

An eager young thing with a national paper was interviewing me about yet another instance of political corruption. “Is this something new?” she asked. “No,” I said, “it’s been around ever since that unfortunate afternoon in the garden.” There was a long pause and then she asked, “What garden was that?” It was touching.

What prompts me to mention this today is that I’m just off the phone with a reporter from the same national paper. He’s doing a story on Pope Benedict’s new encyclical. In the course of discussing the pontificate, I referred to the pope as the bishop of Rome. “That raises an interesting point,” he said. “Is it unusual that this pope is also the bishop of Rome?” He obviously thought he was on to a new angle. Once again, I tried to be gentle. Toward the end of our talk, he said with manifest sincerity, “My job is not only to get the story right but to explain what it means.” Ah yes, he is just the fellow to explain what this pontificate and the encyclical really mean. It is poignant.

Wherever you go, you run into people who say they were disillusioned with the press when they saw how a story in which they were involved was reported. What they knew for sure had happened was grossly misrepresented. Frequently they say the reporter was biased or even malicious, and that is undoubtedly sometimes the case. But over the years of dealing with reporters — and, again, there are notable exceptions — I have been led to embrace something like an Occam’s razor with respect to journalistic distortions: Do not multiply explanations when ignorance will suffice.

ACNOWLEDGEMENT

Neuhaus, Richard John. “Reporters and the church.” On the Square: Observations & Contentions (January 26, 2006).

Reprinted with permission of First Things and Father Richard John Neuhaus.

THE AUTHOR

Father Richard John Neuhaus is Editor-in-Chief of First Things. He is the author of many books, including As I Lay Dying: Meditations Upon Returning, The End of Democracy?: The Celebrated First Things Debate with Arguments Pro and Con and "The Anatomy of a Controversy, Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross, The Second One Thousand Years: Ten People Who Defined a Millennium, Evangelicals and Catholics Together: Toward a Common Mission, The End of Democracy?: The Judical Usurpation of Politics, The Best of "The Public Square": Book One, The Best of "The Public Square": Book Two, The Chosen People in an Almost Chosen Nation: Jews and Judaism in America, and The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America.

Copyright © 2006 First Things


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