Friday, February 7, 2014

On Twitter, Tribulations and Talkers

Editor's Note:  This open letter is in response to a segment on the Jay Severin program, in which he railed about a BBC World Service Report about more sexual exploitation of children.  The Blaze Radio host then took responses from the audience, starting with Twitter replies. 

While  it is preferable  to praise in public and chastise in private, this is impossible in this instance. But this open letter is more than a comeuppance to a cheeky commentator.    What should be of interest to religious readers is insisting on context and combating slander.  Media mavens might meditate on whether the medium is the message and how to appreciate Web 2.0 social media colloquies.

Jay Severin in Sede Vacante Contretemp, the Sweet Sistine Edition

To Jay Severin:

I have been a loyal listener for a year. I appreciate that you are open to diffuse means to engage in talk radio dialogue, including Twitter.  However, my experience shows that your Twitter treatment could use some tweaking.  In addition, your knowledge of things Catholic could use some catechesis.

You started the 2/6 show  in a lugubrious monologue keying off of a BBC World News report about rampant sex abuse in the Catholic Church.  Your laborious lead up to the break lamented yet the “umpteen” report about systematic child abuse among Catholics.
I immediately responded on Twitter wondering: 

 You chose to read my Tweet on the air, characterizing my opinion as irrational and then went on to also excoriate my grammar.

I read the report which the BBC piece was based.  It came from a UN Conference on Children.  The UN report also recommended that the Catholic Church change its views on homosexuality, contraception and abortion.  Those subjects were not in the UN Conference’s purview and expose its bias as an ideological cudgel for progressive politics, which I succinctly characterized as a “kangaroo court”. 

Your radio retort mocked my grammar.  It is worth nothing that Twitter only allows 140 characters to respond.  In that short span, I included your handle, three hashtags (letting others interested in subjects know of the exchange) and a shortened hyperlink which gave the source to my views.   The tweet in question was rewritten several times to include all elements under those limitations and was posted within minutes. Apologies for the kangaroo typo in the tweet.

 It would be  would be wise for you to  revise your analyses of Twitter communications.  Remember, it’s only 140 characters.  Sometimes terms are used in hashtags to draw wider attention.  The writer may use phraseology intended to be brief for that form of communication.  Had I not had a length restriction, I probably would have written:

 “Why are you leading with a story based upon a UN Child Conference which went beyond its scope in order  to tell the Holy See to change to the Catholic Church’s beliefs on contraception, abortion and homosexuality? This report failed to consider  changes in Catholic child safety practices or to critically analyze the  UN’s own woeful record with Congolese troops rapes of children.”  

Granted the message is a little long, but it succinctly packs in the argument.

As a graduate of Vassar, one of the Seven Sister colleges of the Ivy League, you seem to preen on proper communication skills.  But I suggest that it is a mistake to hold the same standards on different communication media.  For example, how would you diagram some of your laborious on the air utterances? Your parenthetical rhetorical style and lexicon shows an educated individual, but a literary editor would have a field day correcting those strung along sentences.  So cut some slack for real time  internet contributions.

I dispute your accusation that my viewpoint was irrational. My tweet noted the originator of the report (the UN), gave a link for a detailed point by point refutation by Catholic Voices and allowed for the possibility that the  radio raconteur may put  a different spin on the news item  (hence the “where are you going w/”).  That would seem to be both charitable and rationally argued.

But understanding the Talk Radio business, it was better radio to mock me and pigeon- hole the rapid response as irrational.  My follow up Twitter responses probably did not catch your eye due to volume and a presumed sense that you were done with me.

This  not the first time which you quibbled with a Twitter contributor’s message form. However, other radio hosts do better at incorporating Twitter into their shtick. Salem’s Hugh Hewitt may tease his “Tribbles”, but they are often paying customers for his “Hughniverse”, plus he incorporates educational material from listeners.  The Blaze Radio’s Chris Salcedo (who is also an excellent substitute host in the afternoon), also engages and respects his Twitter contributors.  The Blaze Radio’s morning show “Waking Up with Doc Thompson” ends its radio show with the “#WhatILearnedToday" from Twitter contributors .   So Twitter treatments  may be a question of temperament and intellectual onanism for some.

Since you admit that you are not religious in nature, you are naturally ignorant about most Church matters.  You quibbled about Catholic and the Vatican being the same.  Well, there are 23  churches which comprise the Catholic Church.  You rightly identified Roman rite as being one of them (and by far the largest).  Vatican is often a synonym of Catholic but it refers to the Bishop of Rome.  There are over 2,000 bishops in the world, each rules his diocese.  Juridically, the Holy See can not simply issue an edict and immediately overrule the local bishop—there is Canon Law which regulates the Church.

Fr. Tom Reese, S.J.
Last year, when Pope Benedict XVI abdicated, you rounded up Fr. Tom Reese, S.J. to opine about the then  upcoming Conclave.  While I enjoyed Fr. Reese’s pieces,  you ought to know that you interviewed a more liberal priest who was removed from his position at America (US Jesuit Magazine) after pressure from Rome for wavering fidelity to the Magisterium (Church teachings).  Fr. Reese did give a balanced assessment which reflected his scholarship stemming from his book Inside the Vatican (1998).  Yet you relied on him as a Catholic expert without seeming to know about this.  Your faithful Catholic listeners would not have uncritically accepted Reese’s perspectives.

Last December, Severin lambasted Pope Francis' supposed critique of trickle down capitalism.  Presumably, he did not read all 263 pages of the Apostolic Exhortation.  Yet the radio host did not discern that there was something lost in translation.  Had Severin delved a little deeper, he would have learned of a controversy in the English translation of Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel).  The passage (paragraph 54) that Severin was so concerned about with trickle down economics did not translate the "por lo mismo" from the orginal Spanish correctly.  Fr. John Zulhsdorf put the phrase into better context.

In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories ["trickle down economics"] which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will by itself succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.
As Fr. Zulhsdorf notes: "There is a big difference between 'inevitably' and 'by itself'!".  Of course, such a correction requires some knowledge, a thirst for the truth, persistence and humility. I do not recall Severin following up on his "trickle down" condemnation or seeking to put it in context.

Regarding the sexual molestation of minors—only 4% of Catholic clergy have been accused of sexual impropriety with minors (with 1.7% being proven guilty).  This rate is lower than the general US population. Research from Richard Blackman at the Fuller Theological Seminary (an evangelical  Protestant seminary in Pasadena, California) indicates that 10% of Protestant clergy suffer the stain of pedophilia.  While the figure from Blackman’s dissertation may be inflated, it certainly indicates that it is not just a Catholic thing.

 Yet the charges of Catholic pedophila  draw an incredible amount of ire because of the Roman Catholic discipline of celibacy for the clergy, an influx of “lavender ordinations” (misson minded persons who took vows as a vocational beard for their sexual orientation), and hazy pop psychological practices in the ‘70s.  Following liberal psychology practices of the times, those who slipped up were given second chances by being quietly transferred to another parish without serious discipline or other precautions.

The lax treatment of these child molesters in priestly garb was wrong.  Some diocese in the US have paid a heavy legal price for their wanton discipline on the matter  .  Steps have been taken to correct them.  Consider that Pope emeritus Benedict XVI laicized (canned for the church challenged)  400 priests during his reign (2006-2013) on the Petrine Throne.  The USCCB (The U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishops enacted the Dallas Charter in June 2002 which has a zero tolerance policy and a stringent background check for any church members having contact with children.   

It might have been interesting for a conservatively oriented show hosted by a news junkie to do critical analysis.  Although the BBC can do fine and seminal reporting, it is a state owned news enterprise.  It is also true that Britain nominally has a state religion (the Anglican Church) and has a history of Catholic bigotry (does the Bloody Mary and  Remember the 5th of November ring any bells?).  The BBC has reputation for a pan-Arabist sensibility and follows a progressive internationist intellectual path.  Ironically, the BBC had reported Benedict XVI's defrocking 400 priests weeks before, but made no mention of them in context of the UN Conference on Children's damning report. Instead the reportage just pointed to what seemed like vacuous Vatican rhetoric soft pedaling the charges.  Might there have been some agenda journalism slandering the faith and bolstering a progressively lead public perception?

Did the  BBC World News report or the underlying UN Child Conference report consider these abatements by the Catholic Church and the Holy See?  The short answer is no.  Did you? I have no personal knowledge after being rhetorically round-housed and hearing the first couple of callers just Catholic  bashing since I need not listen to no nothings on the issue.  Thus, my pithy Twitter characterization of “besmirching" seems accurate.

While I’m sure with an audience growing 134% per annum, it seems dubious that you will lose sleep over worrying if you lost one listener as you listen to the BBC World Service during your nights of insomnia.   So when you stray beyond your wheelhouse of political punditry, I know that there are other amenable and engaging alternative programs from which to choose. Nevertheless, for a person who prides himself on building a show with his audience,  you ought to revise your communication strategy concerning social media exchanges with listeners and seek the truth rather than pontificate without adequate context. 

h/t: Sede Vacante Contretemps, the Sweet Sistine Edition

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