Monday, 9 June 2014

Hilary White is a Good Reporter

Hilary White of LifeSite News is a friend of mine. A good friend of mine, I'd say, since we have holidayed together and sat together waiting for cancer doctors to see her. She's a good writer, a dedicated reporter (not a columnist--a reporter), and in private and on her blog, a passionate defender of the Catholic faith, the Catholic faith as John XXIII would have recognized it, if not the "Catholic faith" as the lady at RCIA taught it to you.

As a reporter, Hilary gets the story and reports the story. Reporting is not the same thing as writing an opinion column. Reporting is a harder job than writing opinion/editorials. I know this very well because I write op/ed for the Toronto Catholic Register, and have for almost seven years. I don't have to bust my butt the way Hilary does and did even when she was diagnosed with cancer. Even in the aftermath of chemo, Hilary was on the phone to Irish pro-lifers, for example, getting the story, getting her two stories a working day. And to my knowledge, Hilary was only once the story before now--when she organized her "Rebel Blognic" in response to the official Vatican blognic. This, significantly, was during the pontificate of Benedict XVI. And Hilary organized her blognic to make sure that bloggers who were not "safe" bloggers handpicked from diocesan websites got to meet and talk. Meanwhile, the controversy ensured that the official Vatican blognic got TONS of publicity. So not only did Hilary's "rebellion" create a fun event for any Catholic blogger who wanted to go, it brought about much good for the official Vatican event, whose organizers promptly invited Hilary.

Unfortunately, Hilary is the story again, because she reported on Pope Francis' meeting with a priest who openly condones homosexual behaviour.

That was a big story. It was a story that made people uncomfortable. It made "The Anchoress", Elizabeth Scalia of Patheos (which pays its bloggers per click) so uncomfortable she denigrated it as “Oh-my-gawd-the-pope-concelebrated-mass-and-kissed-the-hand-of-a-93-year-old-dissenting-priest-who-defends-homosexual-love-and-homosexual-and-isn’t-this-horrible-about-the-dissenting-homosexual-and-awful-Francis-and-homosexualists-and-homosexual!” But that is not in fact what Hilary said. Hilary wrote the facts and got the quotes. She is a reporter. She reported.

Hilary also has a blog, and on that blog Hilary speaks her mind on everything that comes into it, including how much she can't stand the work of Thomas Kincaid. She posts videos and her drawings and waxes nostalgic for Victoria, B.C. She insults and chases away people whose comments she doesn't like. Her blog, her rules. Sadly, people have been mining Hilary's blog for evidence that she might dislike Pope Francis and thus must be a bad reporter.

You know what? You can dislike anybody and still be a good reporter, as long as you love the truth. And I know Hilary White. She loves the truth, and she does not lie. She certainly doesn't lie to be nice, believe me. She would happily tell anyone she can't stand my blog. She can't--too girly. She does feminine, but not GIRLY.

I think things are going to start getting bad for Catholic reporters and columnists--the ones who get paid, the ones whose livelihoods depend on Catholic newspapers and magazines, paper or online. I think our right to say what we think on our blogs is going to be curtailed by our fears of losing our jobs. And I think this is going to be because of a tendency my mother warned me against when I was a child, and that is the growing tendency to mistake the currently reigning pontiff for the Catholic Faith.

About Patheos, source of attacks on Hilary's integrity.* When you are paid for every click on your blog post, it must be very tempting to write controversial pieces or to sound off against well-known Catholic writers to get the hits. It might even feel good to defend the pontiff at the same time, if that is what one is doing by objecting that someone else has dared to report that the pontiff raised eyebrows by kissing the hands of an infamous dissenter from the Catholic Faith, accepting his dissenting book, wooden chalice and paten (chalice and paten being in violation of church norms concerning the Blessed Sacrament) and concelebrating Mass with him. However, there is something more important here at stake than the idea that Pope Francis is practically perfect in every way--the truth.

My faith as a Catholic has never depended on any pontiff, and I was born before the death of Paul VI. Growing up, no pope loomed largely in my life, though I remember the funeral of Paul VI or John Paul I (whoever it was who died in the summer, 'cause I saw the funeral over the TV in my American granny's house) and was troubled when John Paul II was shot. John Paul II came to visit my city in 1985, and I was shocked by how very badly he spoke English--how bizarrely he pronounced it. It never occurred to me that a pope could speak English so badly. (Duh. He improved over the years, though.) However, this didn't trouble my faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ and in His Church a whit. And although I was shocked and appalled when Benedict XVI, of whose writings I am rather fond, abdicated, I just reverted back to what I learned at my mother's knee: Jesus Christ is the Alpha and the Omega and by comparison the pope does not much matter.

The Roman Catholic faith in its entirety, passed from one generation to the next, matters. Telling the truth matters. And so does friendship. Hilary is a very clever woman, an excellent writer and an honest reporter who does not, in her private life, suffer fools gladly. And thus my husband and I are proud to be numbered among her friends, and look forward to her exoneration by Life Site News.

*The pay-for-click policy means, of course, that every time someone clicks on Patheos, either to defend or support the attack on Hilary's integrity, the bloggers who called it into question turn a profit. So naturally I do not click, and I humbly ask you not to, either. Update: It turns out Jam (see combox) was quite right. The Patheos bloggers' attacks on Hilary began on Facebook, so the "shooting the messenger" had absolutely most likely nothing to do with any temptation to create profitable controversy. I apologize for the suggestion.

Update 2: Sigh. My most recent qualification is because I just discovered that one of the instigators did indeed post about it on Patheos. And was very rude indeed.

Update 3: LifeSite defends Hilary. About darned time, too.


Jam said...

I've read a number of bloggers before and after their move to Patheos and haven't noticed any increase in inflammatory language, provocative post topics, or controversy-baiting among any of them. The only change I've seen is that most of the post is behind a cut to make you click for more. So FWIW, where I sit, it's a bit unfounded to say that being paid per click drives what anyone over there writes. Possibly not on the level of accusing someone of slanting their reporting based on hating the pope, but still: unfounded.

Kemen said...

Hi Auntie Seraphic,
A very intriguing post. I'm particularly struck by the wisdom in your words: "And I think this is going to be because of a tendency my mother taught me as a child, and that is the growing tendency to mistake the currently reigning pontiff for the Catholic Faith." To me, this seems to perfectly encapsulate the response of both mainstream media and the general, non-Catholic public to the recent actions of Pope Francis. The feeling seems to be, "Oh, good, he's going to fix that bad Church and get rid of all those silly rules now." It troubles me to no end -- not least because it's incorrect and because I fear that something along those lines actually could happen (I sure hope it doesn't).
Anyway, I did not click over to that pay-per-click blog. Money and honest, factual writing of integrity? Surely the two have never met!

Aquinas' Goose said...

My other favorite Catholic blogger is an undergraduate student who posts on Patheos because hey! he actually gets paid a little something for what he already does :) That said, having looked about the blog-o-sphere I do believer that there is certainly a temptation to hype things up, if not in the actual blog itself then (in the very least) the titles where one actually gets paid.
Anyhoo, while on the one hand I love Pope Francis on the other hand I cringe at how much of a media darling he is. I know that he has no desire to be a media darling, and I think he gives less of a fig about the media and what it does than his two predecessors, but it still makes me cringe--mostly because what I see happening in the media is bad reporting. My non-Catholic friends say something to me about the Pope doing something shocking! and controversial! and then I check the Vatican page or and discover he's just being a good disciple and not anything controversial from a Catholic standpoint.

Media = ugh.

I hope your friend is able to weather this storm without too much damage to her sails!

Seraphic said...

Jam, I didn't say that bloggers become more controversial when they move there, but I did note that it might be a tempting to write for clicks when you get paid per click.

I am really upset that Catholics whose writing I have enjoyed have insulted my friend and possibly done her--and her ability to make a living--very real harm just because she (A) did her job and (B) writes for LifeSiteNews. Life Site News tells the stories the MSM and, often, mainstream Catholic papers won't touch, and tells the REAL story once the MSM has told false or terribly misleading stories. I can see why the MSM hates it, but I can't understand why American Catholic bloggers would do so.

It can be entertaining to rip some professional's reputation to shreds on the internet, but it's not nice for the person or her friends. Hilary is a single woman; unlike me, she has no husband and no family to fall back on.

Leah said...

Good.I wouldn't expect them to do otherwise, I'm glad LifeSiteNews published that.

And I don't know, but the desire to rip someone else's reputation to shreds may not be motivated by a desire for more clicks, but I kinda doubt it. It certainly isn't motivated by Christian charity.

I cannot, cannot stand one of the writers in question, and cannot for the life of me understand why he's so popular. (I nearly choked when I read his blog post about how harshly he judges Catholics who only have one or two kids-or none-and prayed fervently that I was the only infertile woman to read that particular little gem.) Blech.

Poor Hilary. :(

Sheila said...

I have not been happy, this past year, with LifeSite's reportage on the Pope. I say this as someone who has several friends who have written or do write for them -- even my own husband did, in college. But they should make up their minds. Are they a pro-life paper? Then they should write about pro-life issues. Are they a pro-Catholic paper? Then they should write about good Catholic news. Are they the paper of a specific *faction* of Catholics? Then perhaps they should do what they're doing -- post everything they can possibly find which is negative about people in other factions, and give it the worst possible spin. I don't mean Hilary's article, which I haven't read, but many of their others. While it's pitched as "news," very often they leave out whatever might be positive toward someone they consider "too liberal," and beat the drum very loud with everything they find to be negative. It is not balanced reporting. It is driven by a very specific agenda, and that agenda isn't just "further the pro-life cause" as it used to be.

If they think something the Pope did is scandalous, what possible good could they do to the Church by spreading it around? I can see giving an explanation for why it isn't really scandalous (which is what Simcha Fisher did), and I can see just leaving it lie because you think it actually is a scandal, but I don't see spreading it. "Oh no, if people find out about this, they will think the Church is going to favor gays! Let's put it on the front page!"

Why would a good Catholic paper do this? I can't get my head around it. The reporters do their best -- I know they write about what they are told to write about, and try to do it in a balanced way -- but I would love to ask some pointed questions of the editors. If *you* can live a pleasant Catholic life without being obsessed with the person of the Pope, why can't they?

Julia said...

Wait...why do Simcha and Damian Fisher have such negative opinions about LifeSiteNews?

Julia said...

(I rarely read LSN or Simcha heself, so this is an honest question.)

Heather in Toronto said...

I read the article in question as well as some of the follow-up/fallout. I'm afraid that Elizabeth Scalia's summary does kind of capture the tone of the article.

There appear to be very few actual facts. There was a meeting that was "ostensibly" to do with the dissenting priest's charitable organization that is separate from his dissent group, but we don't know how long this meeting was or what was actually discussed because the Vatican did not get back to them in time. Some gifts were given.The priest was apparently touched that the Pope kissed his hand.

The rest of the article is about how notoriously dissenting the priest in question and how dreadful his gay lobby group is.

There is no context. The only sources mentioned appear to be the dissenting priest's own Facebook page and some left-leaning Italian media stories. And if I had a dollar for every time I saw a dissenting source try to put the Pope's words into a light flattering to their agenda, I would be a rich woman -- I question the prudence of taking these sources at face value without waiting for clarification from a non-dissenting source.

We don't know if the Pope accepted the non-canonically-usable vessels and dissenting book with a gush of grateful enthusiasm or merely the polite acceptance of a gracious host for any gift, no matter how tacky. I imagine these are not the only sketchy gifts he has ever been given.

We do know that he kisses pretty much everyone's hands lately, so why this counts as headline-worthy news is beyond me, except that it sounds especially scandalous.

The follow-up article acknowledges that many important questions were left unanswered in the original article, such as the context and purpose of the meeting. Yet instead of actually providing this clarification, all it does is speculate about the Pope's possible motives and how much he might or might not have known. That's not journalism, that's blogging.

I have nothing at all personally against your friend, but I'm afraid I treat anything from Lifesite with the same grain of salt and corroboration-and-context-from-outside-source-needed that I treat any news source I know is heavily biased and prone to scandal-mongering.

Christine M. Williams said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christine W. said...

An editor I have worked with got fired from the Catholic paper he worked for because he wrote an article in which he accurately reported what a prominent priest said. Seriously. Apparently, the priest made some off color comments during the interview. I just do not understand how a Catholic newspaper can justify firing a reporter who got the story right.

Heather in Toronto said...

The other thing that bugs me (sorry for double posting but can't edit previous comments) is that if you question the prudence of a particular thing that the Pope might have done or said, then you're a big bad dissenter out to get the Pope.

On the other hand, if you are inclined to give the Pope the benefit of the doubt and assume that he is, in fact, Catholic, and not about to sell us all out to the (insert boogeyman here), you're a big bad ultramontanist papolater who is probably a dissenter to boot.

Antigone in NYC said...

Two thoughts:


Some of those criticizing the Lifesite article seem to be using the defense, "Well, if you don't know why the pope did something, why make such a fuss about it and risk scandal?" When it comes to President Obama, some of these same writers trumpet their displeasure when they disagree with a political decision, call for investigations, and jump to the worst possible conclusion of the President's motives. So there's a bit of hypocrisy, I think, for them to be hushing Lifesite all of a sudden.

News is news and I'm a believer along with St. Augustine that the truth can defend itself. Whether you lean to left or to the right of the boat, this was definitely a news story!


I don't know Lifesite well, but I read the article and found it difficult to be open-minded as soon as I hit the word "homosexualist." Encountering that term in 2014 is like nails on a chalkboard: whether intentional or not, there is something mocking at best and sneering at worst in the word choice. And I can't help but think it intentional and--to me, anyway--offensive.

*** Caveat to both thoughts: I really don't know Lifesite well, so I have no context in which to place this article.

Cojuanco said...

Several points:

1. I highly doubt the Holy Father is that concerned about this whole kerflufle. I would not expect any person In his place to be.

2. In all honesty, I think Ms. White did a decent job reporting the event. Unfortunately, Ms. White's reportage is unfortunately not typical of LSN as of late. As Sheila said, it has come to represent a rather narrows cause - one that I might on occasion sympathize with, but it hardly makes for fair, balanced reporting of Catholic issues. So it is perhaps understandable that some are a little gunshy.

3. This brouhaha is part of a larger problem among some parts of the blogosphere. Particularly its American branch, which I have observed is, honestly, absolutely paranoid and at times psychotic in Its antipathy for opposing legitimate opinions. You have once-respectable Catholic bloggers seriously discussing whether the Holy Father is a heretic, or an apostate, or an antipope. Hence the gunshyness.

4. I do agree that the faith is not the same as the Supreme Pontiff, and I say this as someone who generally likes the Holy Father. Heck, I doubt the Holy Father, any pope, thinks this.

In short, Ms. White's reportage, while good, unfortunately has come up against the utter insanity that comes when you combine American culture, Catholic faith, and the Internet.

Though to be honest I generally find it is better for all concerned if we all did take your advice. Let the Pope do his job and let us do ours.

Cojuanco said...

Also, you have to contend with the fact that American Catholicism, more so than Scottish or Canadian Catholicism, is not only politicized, but partisanized if you will. Basically too many prominent Catholics seem to think that Catholic orthodoxy is identical to the platforms of either of the two major political parties. So the utter mudslinging that passes for political discussion in the secular world is brought into discussions of Catholic issues. In this context Ms. White has stepped into an utter minefield, because in modern America, even reporting a humdrum event is political, especially during an election year.

Like I said, though, I barely even knew of this affair, as I am too busy with a new job and generally trying to live according to my state in life. I find I am much saner for it even if life as a civil servant is a bit peculiar sometimes.

Seraphic said...

Thanks to everyone for saying what you think without arguing with each other. That means a lot to me. We will now go back to our regularly scheduled program!

Nzie said...

Late to this party because I wanted to do some thinking and see what others said.

Some thoughts, some of which echo earlier comments -

I heard the original comment without knowing what it connected to. As a general proposition, I agreed with it, and I still do. That is not because your friend is a bad journalist (she seems like an fine one, and the opinion of someone I trust to be a good judge of character weighs heavily in my calculus). It is because LSN is not a good news source in general.

LSN has some excellent articles, and I appreciate that they have a difficult job to do, and that they cover things no one else does. However, in general I find the main characteristics of articles on their site to be hyperbole, doomcasting, unwarranted conclusions, and accusations, the aforementioned often poorly supported. I stopped reading them regularly because of this, and I almost always look for an alternative news source when they report on an issue of pro-life concern. I do not wish to share their articles because I believe it will damage my credibility, something I have had to build with pro-choice friends whose stereotypes of pro-lifers LSN plays right into.

The lump sum of that is to say that an excellent journalist whose work is routinely surrounded by work that is more advocacy and playing to the base than journalism will suffer unjustly for it. I am sorry for your friend.

As far as Patheos, some is good, some is bad, but as most of my favorite bloggers moved to their Catholic channel, I tend to have a good opinion of its Catholic bloggers, including the one whose comment started this.

I also think this whole thing was unnecessary. Really, one person posts a comment on their own Facebook page and it turns into this? Maybe she needs to up her privacy settings, but it was Facebook, not the blog and not twitter, a press release, etc. I feel bad for her as well, and I know she also received a lot of criticism (and later clarified, backtracked, etc.), and a completely unanticipated firestorm. The stray comment on someone in such a setting should not be a source of internet wars. So now there are hurt feelings all around and one reporter's work getting lost in an argument about the merits of LSN, completely unnecessarily. The whole thing is a shame, and possibly a reminder to fervent people to take a chill pill on the internet.

Seraphic said...

The comment about privacy setting is a thought-provoking one because the lines between social media and public media get blurred. Is it still private when ANYONE can read it?

Authors are often encouraged to raise their profile through social media. I have been tempted to do that, but I dislike tweeting and I prefer to keep my Facebook account to people I have met in person.

VERY few of my Facebook friends are people I haven't met in person (I think there are two), and occasionally I get chippy comments from one of them, an "elder statesman" in Toronto journalism circles, whose grey hairs I respect, so what to do?

I think that if a Facebook account is just for friends, it is dirty pool to turn what someone says there into a big controversy. or to make the most uncharitable assumption about it. (The elder statesman took exception to the way I chose to voice my discomfort while passing former Auschwitz by bus, and I was livid.)

However, if the Facebook account is used an extension of one's writing career, open to all readers, then one really has to account for what one has written there. And, honestly, anyone who identifies as a Catholic blogger has no business using obscenities, especially in the cultural context of the United States. As reported speech in fiction, okay, but as commentary? No.

The attacks on Hilary's reputation were awful and very public, spilling over into Patheos posts, and I didn't know how bad the situation was until yesterday, which is why I commented so late.

As for LifeSite, it certainly has a mixed reputation, like the Daily Mail, for example, or the Toronto Star, or the Toronto Sun--or any other newspaper I can think of. My own Catholic weekly comes under some lurid attacks, although not many, for although the biggest print Catholic paper in Canada, we are rather small potatoes compared to LifeSite. Also, we don't write about such ghastly or controversial stuff.

To be frank, I don't know if I would dare to write about Pope Francis and the gay sex advocate, although this is out of love for my readership. I don't WANT my readership to feel afraid of Pope Francis. If anything, I would like them to think LESS about popes and other celebrities and MORE about ordinary daily Catholic life: how we pray, what we sing, what our cultural treasures are, why we should buy Catholic novels instead of mommy porn....

I don't read LifeSite often myself, but if everyone there wrote with Hilary's dry and factual tone, it would probably get less on people's nerves. As for headlines, don't get me started. In every paper, headlines are the car crash to get you to look--and that's all I'm going to say because otherwise I'll begin to seethe.

Cojuanco said...

A chill pill? During a General Election? Good luck trying to promote that, unfortunately.

Cojuanco said...

I think people expect something closer to the Catholic Herals when instead they get LSN's tabloid format.

Funnily enough, I do think the Holy Father would think of this brouhaha as a waste of time, when the faithful could be thinking more of how we pray, how we bring the Faith into our worklife, how we resist the snares of the Devil, and so forth.

The problem seems to be that American Catholics seem to be addicted to impotent outrage, as well as posessing a sense that the Pope and the Church at large should cater to their every whim (witness what happens every time a Pope every time in the past century opens his mouth on social teachings not involving ab*rt*n or g*y "m*rr**ge". Don't get me wrong, there are many admirable qualities in us Americans, but a lot that makes me cringe.

Seraphic said...

Well, the British secular media is infamously wicked, and the British "Tablet" heretical so I wouldn't consider media-generated hysteria a solely American thing.

LifeSite, for good and ill, is a both a Canadian and an American production.

Meanwhile, thanks for your thoughts, but I am uncomfortable with Americans bashing America or other Americans on my non-American blog. So let's drop that aspect of the conversation.

Sheila said...

I don't think it's so much the American media as the American Church. It is very divided, and we tend to forget the rest of the world exists from time to time. But the internet helps with that, and I'm beginning to see the Canadian and European churches have some of the same problems. The liberal and conservative split seems to get wider all the time. I think that's why we fight so much over the Pope: we label Benedict "conservative" and Francis "liberal" even though they say and do plenty that suggests they don't fit into the boxes we try to shove them in. They preach the Gospel the best they know how, and the ones politicizing that are us.

I read the Facebook threads the other day, and it seemed to me the worst offender was Damien Fisher, who isn't a Catholic blogger at all. I believe he works for a secular paper? I wish he had better manners; I'm afraid he discredits his wife with his harsh language. Though she's not responsible for what he says, it doesn't help her to keep a measured tone herself when her husband haunts all her comment threads and calls people names! I would ban someone who did that on my own blog or Facebook, but I suppose that's not the thing when you're married.

Mark Shea, meanwhile, was his usual overstated self, but I didn't notice any personal diatribes against Hilary, just opinions about LifeSite, which is a public organization which doesn't have feelings and should (in my opinion) be open to criticism. Does that tone of criticism convince anyone? Probably not. But there it is. I have tried measured, polite conversations with some of the editors, though, and it didn't help either. They have chosen to be the "prolife tabloid," and they aren't going to change. All we can do is choose not to read it, if we dislike it! (And my heavens, at LEAST never read the comments below their articles! Dregs of the Catholic internet!)

Now I am not friends with Hilary White and don't read her blog, but even I knew about her private opinions because she posts them on my friends' Facebook pages. It is fair to say that Facebook is public, because even if you know all your friends, any time your friends comment on your posts, all of *their* friends can see it in their news ticker. This is unfortunate and you can't turn it off, but it's something worth remembering. If you want to converse privately with your friends, I think you are stuck with email or a phone call.

Anonymous said...

I read Hilary's article and it seemed fine to me. I don't read LifeSiteNews much so wasn't familiar with whether it was controversial or not, but I couldn't see what was wrong with her article.

I have to say, I stopped reading Patheos with any regularity (and one writer in particular I stopped reading entirely) when one of Hilary's main attackers wrote an article that was highly insensitive to rape victims (of which I am one). It was the last straw for me - I had previously read his blog occasionally but I could no longer take the extremely uncharitable tone, the virulent attacks on people with different opinions, etc. I read through the Facebook comments about Hilary's article on the other attacker's page, and I have to say I'm adding that blog to my 'no-read-list' as well - that level of anger, rancor and lack of charity seems to me not to come from God. I find that reading some (not all) of the blogs on Patheos can be very disheartening as they don't even seem to try to reflect Catholic charity. Obviously, not all are like that, but that's the sense I get of Patheos as a website.

Anonymous for this comment, please

Seraphic said...

Mark's regrettably colourful comments about Hilary were on Patheos.

As for his awful rape analogy, I wrote in protest myself, and I remember that he apologized profusely in the end. I do believe he was sincerely contrite, both about posting it in the first place and about the delay in taking it down.

I've never met Mark, but he has spoken kindly of me and my blog, and I appreciate that.

Seraphic said...

Oh, and since we're on the subject of Patheos, The Crescat, Kat Fernandez--whom I HAVE met--is friendly with both Hilary and me.

Sheila said...

Patheos is a diverse place. The Anchoress moderates the Catholic channel, but she doesn't police what her writers post. (Her post on this topic was excellent and polite, I thought.) I also really enjoy Barefoot and Pregnant and Unequally Yoked. Sometimes The Deacon's Bench and Public Catholic have good stuff too.

Mark Shea ... I don't read regularly. Sometimes he has truly excellent stuff. Sometimes -- rather too often -- he seems to post before thinking. He does have the humility to apologize afterwards, usually, but I wish he'd just dial down the tone altogether. Every once in awhile I pop over there to see what he's saying. Occasionally he's truly brilliant.

It annoys me that people are taking this as "LifeSite vs. Patheos." Lifesite is an organization with an editorial policy. Patheos is just a blogging platform. You can't judge the whole thing by one or two people.