Grading Wisconsin State Journal Report on Bishop Morlino’s 10 Year Anniversary in Madison
Short answer: Yes, it was balanced. Doug Erickson, who has been criticized frequently by numerous Madison Catholics including this blogger for previous imbalanced reporting, gets an “A” on this one.
Longer answer: On the negative side, Doug spent much effort documenting controversies faced by Bishop Morlino during the last 10 years in the article, while spending much less effort documenting the Bishop’s accomplishments, supporters, and successes. But his excellent documentation of the Bishop’s phenomenal record in the area of attracting and ordaining young men to the priesthood (16 men ordained and 34 seminarians at present), and his accurate portrayal of the Bishop as the very nice person that he is, made up for the deficiency in cataloging the Bishop’s other accomplishments and support.
Here is a portion of the “live chat” that took place online with Doug Erickson on Monday:
Thank you for the effort you clearly invested in reporting on Bishop Morlino and for the many kind things you mentioned in the article.
I have a question stemming from the reputation the WSJ has had in these 10 years for very negative reporting on Bishop Morlino, a reputation which has inspired many faithful Madison Catholics to jump to the Bishop’s defense.
Is there a reason why you neglected to mention the Support Bishop Morlino efforts in the Diocese, including over 500 signatures of support for the Bishop in the WSJ (which grew to 1060 online after publication) when ~24 dissidents published an open letter opposing the Bishop, the approximately 800 members of a Google group in support of Bishop Morlino, which watches out for media misrepresentation of the Bishop, the 370 Members of the Rosary for the Bishop.com initiative who prayed about 40,000 rosaries for Bishop Morlino, and the growing number of Madison Catholic bloggers who regularly support the good Bishop and have a big following?
by Syte Reitz 12:13 PM
|Hi Syte: Absent any legitimate surveys, it has always been difficult for me to get a grasp of the exact level of support or opposition to Bishop Morlino. I admittedly must rely on anecdotal information, and that appears pretty evenly split from where I sit. I agree with you that I could have gone into the information which you present, which is all legitimate. For this article, I was trying to free up space to break new ground in the reporting on Bishop Morlino, so I did not focus on those particular numbers.
by Doug Erickson 12:16 PM
|Doug: I saw a lot of particular numbers in the article – especially the entirely separate, bullet-pointed list “reminding” people of all the controversies he’s come up against. Not only that, but the 50 priests you mentioned who oppose him officially.
by Wes 12:20 PM
|Wes: Every article is a balancing act of new and old information. The 50 priests who formed the association had never before spoken publicy for attribution, so that was new information that I gave the higher priority to. But you make a good point. There are a lot of numbers out there, on both sides, and I certainly could have included the ones Syte mentioned.
by Doug Erickson 12:23 PM
|From our perspective, Doug was extremely fair, while sharing the objective facts, figures, controversies and other points of view. A lot of people dislike Bishop Morlino. He knows that. Doug didn’t take an opinion on the bishop, rather he reported on him. That is much appreciated.
by Diocese of Madison 12:26 PM
|@Doug: What has impressed you the most with His Excellencies “tenure”?
by Wes 12:28 PM
|@Wes: I’m going to let that question slide, as I try not to give my opinions.
by Doug Erickson 12:30 PM
|@Diocese: I would definitely agree, while that list of controversies piece seemed unnecessary.
by Wes 12:30 PM
|@Doug: That’s a thin veil you wear then, sir
by Wes 12:33 PM
|@Fortes: I’d add that my editor and I made a decision to let Bishop Morlino’s voice come through as often as possible in the story, so that readers could hear directly from him. That necessitated some hard choices, such as downplaying or eliminating other topics that rightly could have been included.
by Doug Erickson 12:36 PM
|@Wes: We spent considerable time on the increase in seminarians. It’s an issue I’ve touched on only superficially in past articles, so I really felt it was time to give the bishop his due on that one. Plus, it consistently came up in interviews — people feel it will be a big part of his legacy. All told, I probably spent about two full hours over two sittings interviewing the bishop. I could have used another two, or four, or six.
by Doug Erickson 12:39 PM
|@Beth: As with every priest daily mass and the Liturgy of the Hours are a big part of his more-“private” practices. He also has a strong devotion to Mary and many other saints. He spends part of every morning in his small chapel. Thanks Doug for chiming in too…
by Diocese of Madison 12:44 PM
|I think you also did a good job of pointing out — through illustration and not commentary — that there is a real, live human being living within the bishop’s robes. Great job.
by Bill Wineke 12:48 PM
|Poll: Do you generally support the way Bishop Morlino has led the diocese?
A mix of both (7%)
Not sure (1%)
by Teryl Franklin 12:50 PM
|@Del: I can’t deny that some of our religion coverage is viewed as controversial and negative toward religion. That’s certainly not my intent. However, I agree with an argument first presented by Randy Cohen, the longtime ethicist for the New York Times: Merely calling something religious does not exempt it from ethical and societal scrutiny. My approach to covering religion is to do it respectfully but aggressively, just as I would approach police reporting or courts reporting or business reporting. To do otherwise would be to treat religion with kid gloves.
by Doug Erickson 12:54 PM
|@Del: I don’t think there’s any concerted effort to change up our religion coverage (at least I haven’t been told there is). From my perspective, I just try to get better with every story, and I do that by expanding my source list, taking classes on religion, attending religious events in the community, etc.
by Doug Erickson 12:57 PM
|Please feel free to email me directly at email@example.com with any further questions and comments.
by Doug Erickson 12:59 PM
|Peace and Love from the Diocese of Madison!
by Diocese of Madison 1:00 PM
How Do We Know the Report Was Balanced?
How do we know?
The radical “progressive contingent” in WSJ forum discussions went nuts with criticism. There were even a few comments so rude that were deleted by WSJ; likely reported as abusive.
In Madison, we have a handful of angry atheists who often devote their spare time on Sunday to vicious and baseless attacks on the beliefs of others in WSJ discussion forums.
What a sad way to exist, defining oneself by one’s hatred of others!
The vicious comments following this article on Bishop Morlino’s anniversary illustrate the pressure some Madisonians try to exert on WSJ to ridicule religion and Catholicism.
We congratulate Doug Erickson on publishing a fair article which has obviously enraged these hate-mongers.
Why Should the WSJ Report on Catholics Fairly?
25% of Madisonians are Catholics; Catholicism is the largest religious denomination in Madison, in Wisconsin, and in the United States.
Fair reporting on these good Catholic people and their wonderful devoted leaders is overdue for the WSJ, one of Wisconsin’s biggest newspapers. The militant angry fringe atheists, who only represent about 1 out of 1,000 atheists, and only 1 out of 30,000 Americans, must be ignored. There is no room in a democratic republic for minority or bully rule.
Angry intolerant atheists repeating their mantra, insisting that religious people are ignorant, is getting pretty old.
80% of Americans are religious, and there is virtually no correlation between education and religious faith.
Although university liberals sometimes do manage to propagandize some young people into abandoning faith, most of those young people return to faith very quickly upon experiencing a bit more of life after college. If this were not so, we could not have 80% of Americans identifying themselves as Christian and praying regularly, as we have.
Thanks for reporting on reality, Doug Erickson and WSJ. Hope to see more of the same in the future!
Addendum: Well it took just two days after writing the reasonable article described above, for WSJ to post a calumnious cartoon misrepresenting Bishop Morlino.
See Wisconsin State Journal Flunks Journalism Again.