When did journalists become such pathetic cowards? Although hacks have always pushed their personal biases, it wasn’t that long ago that they would often challenge those biases when faced with facts. In 1970, Rolling Stone magazine won a National Magazine Award for its unsparing coverage of the hippie apocalypse at Altamont; the citation credited the hippie journal for “challenging the shared assumptions of its readers.” Republican Bob Woodward smoked out Watergate. Jazz writer Nat Hentoff was pro-choice until 1984, when he discovered the euthanizing of a child with Down syndrome.
These days, reporters don’t have to struggle with their conscience—they simply ignore facts that don’t fit their ideology. On Jan. 24, the Washington Post’s Robert McCartney wrote a column about the annual March for Life in Washington. McCartney actually attended the march, where he had his assumptions challenged. “Isn’t it quaint, I thought, that these abortion protesters show up each year on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, even though the decision stands after 37 years… How wrong I was.” It seems that McCartney was confronted with armies of young people who have energized the pro-life movement. Then comes this: “Young people in the March for Life said they thought they were more opposed to abortion than people in their parents’ generation because they had more information about the issue, in part because of their education.”
What might that information be? If we read McCartney, we’ll never know. The facts about the advances in sonograms and the lasting psychological and emotional damage caused by abortion are available to anyone with access to Google, but McCartney doesn’t site a single fact. If he did, then—God forbid—someone might read it and decide not to abort their child.
This liberal censorship has consequences, and not only for the honor and honesty of the reporters. It can affect their very jobs, making them miss scoops. I know this from personal experience. On April 26, 2006, the Washington Post published a story about sexual abuse by a Catholic priest. The abuse had taken place at Georgetown Preparatory School, one of the oldest Catholic high schools in America.
However, in the article, reporter Michelle Boorstein had left out a particularly striking fact. Georgetown Prep had not only employed Fr. Gary Orr, the accused priest—who promptly left the priesthood even if he avoided jail—but Bernie Ward. Ward is a former socialist radio talk show host who is now serving a prison term for trafficking in child pornography. Ward had taught sex education at Georgetown Prep in the early 1980s, then went to San Francisco where he became a socialist version of Rush Limbaugh (without the ratings, of course). As early as 1978, Ward had been accused of sexual misconduct around students, and in 2007 he was convicted of distributing child pornography. He is now serving a sentence of seven-plus years.
I was the person who had informed Michelle Boorstein that Georgetown Prep, my alma mater, had employed Bernie Ward. Boorstein had called me in mid-April 2006 to ask about the abuse charges against Fr. Gary Orr. I wrote a book, God and Man at Georgetown Prep (2005), that details how liberalism had corrupted some—though not all—of the school’s faculty. A prime offender was Mr. Ward, whose sex-ed class was heavy on Betty Friedan, Freud and orgasms, and light on Augustine, Aquinas, Teresa of Avila or John Paul II.
My argument, both in the book and to the Washington Post, was simple: If exposure to radical ideas could cause problems on the right, producing a Timothy McVeigh, then exposure to radical ideas on the left could produce a Bernie Ward—and a Fr. Orr. However, for me the distinction was one of degree: while the radical-right fringe accounts for a minuscule percentage of the conservative movement, the radical left controls the media, schools, courts—and now the White House. Indeed, what the left dismisses as insane rhetoric—no socialized medicine, laws protecting the unborn, the right to protect yourself with a gun—to me is just plain common sense.
Boorstein said she would call me back. A couple days later, she did.
“Listen,” she said, “I talked to Georgetown Prep. They say Bernie Ward never taught there. So that won’t be part of the story.”
I stood there holding the phone in my hand. I tried to comprehend what I was hearing. I had just revealed to a reporter for the Washington Post—the Pentagon Papers, Woodward and Bernstein, Walter Reed decrepitude, Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post—that a man, a former priest, who had been indicted for child pornography had once taught sex education at one of Washington’s oldest and most storied institutions. This, before another man at that same institution had been caught making “inappropriate contact” with a student. And the reporter was not going to investigate it. She was taking the school’s word for it.
I tried to argue. Of course he was a teacher there. Dear God, he taught me and hundreds of other boys. It would not be that hard to fact-check.
“Nope,” Boorstein said. “They said he was never a teacher. So we’ll just not use that.”
And that was it. Yes, this is a personal anecdote, but it points to a larger hypocrisy. To the media, orthodox religious views or conservative political views or, God forbid, both together, are a tinderbox waiting to explode.
Post reporter Michelle Boorstein herself proves my point. In 2005 she profiled Eugene Caner, a former Muslim turned evangelical Christian. Caner teaches at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, and his harsh truths about Islam’s often-violent history, wrote Boorstein, have caused concern. Some quotes from her piece: “Caner said he believes that his popularity among Christians is largely attributable to his Islamic heritage, a faith he said is linked inextricably with violence and sexism. Most of his books have focused on Islam’s ‘trail of blood,’ as he calls Islamic history, and when prominent Southern Baptist leaders call Muhammad a ‘demon-possessed pedophile’—angering Muslims worldwide—they have cited Caner as their source… But at a time when Christian-Muslim relations are fragile, Caner’s appointment, and that of his brother, is worrisome to some Muslims and more moderate evangelical leaders. They question why Caner uses isolated quotes out of historical context to sum up an entire faith and whether Liberty would have selected someone with no administrative background if it weren’t for his power to attract controversy.”
According to the Post, then, the danger is clear. In our post-Sept. 11 world, Caner is a playing with a Zippo near a gas tank. And to be fair, there’s nothing wrong with pointing to some unflattering facts: some evangelicals are anti-intellectual (not to mention money-grubbing) and do go overboard trying to evangelize. There is concern about safety when it comes to Islam. It’s fair to raise those questions.
So why not the same scrutiny with Georgetown Prep and Fr. Orr, a story that was reported completely straight? Boorstein’s take was who-what-when-where Journalism 101, no garnish. Yet had Michelle dug into the context the way she did with Caner, the story might have gone like this:
“For 40 years the Jesuits have grown increasingly liberal and rebellious against official teaching of the Catholic Church. Studies, magazines, witnesses, and books like Michael Rose’s Goodbye Good Men have revealed the leftward drift of the order. Did this drift result in lax morals? Some say yes. In 1984, a Jesuit left Georgetown Prep and the Jesuit order to move in with a student, a fact revealed by former student and author Mark Judge. Textbooks that celebrate Marxism and contradict the official Catholic catechism are used. And parents, many whom are conservative, seem to see the school more as a launching pad for the Ivy League than the introduction to a life of faith, prayer, and service. It was into this milieu that Fr. Orr, now found guilty of abuse, arrived fourteen years ago.”
The point is, if right-wing politics and religious zeal can lead to abuse and paranoia at Liberty University (and let’s be honest, they can), then certainly left-wing politics, religious liberalism, and sexual libertinism can lead to paranoia, fear, and abuse at Georgetown Prep. It seems that when writing about conservatives, context is everything; when taking about liberals, it doesn’t exist.
Of course, the larger point remains: the Post and other lefty papers are blowing stories because of their bias. Indeed, if Michelle Boorstein had interviewed me about my book when it came out in 2005, she would have scooped the Washington Times on the Fr. Orr story, instead of the other way around. She may have even dug into the sexual problems of Bernie Ward and prevented some suffering and harm to children.
Mark Judge is the author of A Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism and Rock and Roll, forthcoming from Doubleday. His YouTube page can be found here –http://www.youtube.com/user/MarkGauvreau.