February 27, 2013

The death of journalism at the Irish Times

By Fr. Marcel Guarnizo *

On Friday, Feb. 22, Mr. Paddy Agnew of the Irish Times, descended to what can only be described as new lows of journalism. Mr. Agnew’s article, title “Report into Vatican pushes Pope to resign” does not meet even the most fundamental requirements of serious journalism, corroboration, and fact-checking.

Sources who can testify to claims being made and are reliable witnesses are obligatory for any professional journalist. The serious nature of the completely unsubstantiated charges Mr. Agnew levels against the Holy See, without any compunction – for the fact is that his story is completely uncorroborated – makes one wonder if spreading propaganda that seeks to hurt the Church, and the faith of the Irish people in the public square, has become the new normal for Irish Times.  

Under the guise of reporting on Pope Benedict XVI resignation, Mr. Agnew incredibly levels the charge that the Pope is retiring because he “… was at least partly prompted by the ‘inappropriate influence’ of various lobbies, including a gay lobby, in the internal Holy See affairs.” Indeed the initial story comes from another newspaper, but it is still Mr. Agnew who is copying the story and spreading serious accusations against persons and institutions without any effort to document the story.

This report, is something he picked up virtually in its entirety from a report written by Mrs. Concita De Gregorio in the Italian journal La Repubblica. That story had hit the stands just hours ahead of Agnew’s piece being copied off of the Repubblica journal and sent to the Irish Times. Mr. Agnew’s “reporting,” was to take a story from a previous journalist, after reading a newspaper the same morning and propagating enormous accusations about persons and institutions, without any corroboration or any journalistic effort to inquire about the matter. Another journalist, Mr. Robert Moynihan, who after running with the story, has had the decency to admit that the initial story he ran with (the story which Agnew is still pedaling), from a journalistic point of view, is completely unfounded and uncorroborated.

He narrates how Agnew that morning at 10:51 a.m. was already typing way, and in front of him he had the morning edition of the La Repubblica, narrates Moynihan, “… the striking thing was that Paddy had marked almost every single paragraph of the story with colored markers...” Here we have the extent of the sourcing for Agnew’s story, page 17. of La Repubblica.

Mr. Agnew had not even spent a few hours with the story, since it was that morning’s edition. Now when Moynihan asked what it was that he was writing from, the answer from Agnew is telling. “It’s from this morning’s La Repubblica. Someone has leaked the results of the cardinals' commission investigation…” 

You can see perfectly the anatomy of investigative reporting that went on in the story that Agnew would not hesitate to send around the world. 

Notice his assertion that the report had been leaked, this a few hours (maybe less) after reading it in one newspaper. This is journalism? I can do that too, I read the paper every day.

Agnew adds the following fantastic assertion, supposedly based on the long-awaited and recently released report on the Vatileaks scandal to the pontiff from a trio of Roman Catholic cardinals. “…The Cardinals’ report claimed that various lobbies within the Holy See were consistently breaking the sixth and the seventh commandments, namely ‘thou shalt not steal’ and ‘thou shalt not commit adultery…’” Notice that Mr. Agnew quite on his own authority is stating what the secret report contains. As if he had seen it. All that Agnew did to make the extraordinary claim, was buy a newspaper and a cup of coffee. I guess some believe everything they read, but is this a journalistic standard these days?

Not satisfied with the completely uncorroborated statements he has penned thus far, he adds, “The ‘stealing’ was in particular related to the Vatican Bank, OIR…”

Agnew has leveled some serious charges, worth a defamation lawsuit. But, Agnew is crafty enough to refrain from mentioning names – no doubt because he does not have any.

Let us dispel this malicious fantasy of Mr. Agnew for the Irish public.

Trading on nasty innuendo does not make for serious journalism. First, from simple Journalism 101 basics: what is the source for the report? The main source for Mr. Agnew was the hard left La Repubblica journal published in Rome. This would prompt even the first year student of journalism to corroborate the sources and story before running wildly with it.

But there is more that Mr. Agnew chooses to ignore. The author of the article is Mrs. Concita De Gregorio, she was the editor of L’Unita from 2008-2011 (a paper founded by Antonio Gramsci, famous Italian communist). During her tenure as editor it was owned by the Democratic Party of the Left. All of this should urge some caution.

Any pause yet, Mr. Agnew? None at all. This man is supposed to be an experienced journalist?

Back to Mr. Agnew’s article in the Irish Times. “Furthermore, the Cardinal’s report claimed…” Really? The readers of the Irish Times can rest assured that the claim that Mr. Agnew has access to the contents of this Vatican report is completely impossible. The report of which Agnew speaks, was the result of an investigation the Vatican conducted regarding the leaks that took place at the Holy See. There were no copies made of the report, and the one final report was handed directly – and only – to the Pope himself.

Mr. Agnew knows he never saw the report. He further should know, if he has any serious experience in Rome, or has ever talked to anyone who does, that the three cardinals who were tasked with the investigation – Cardinal Julian Herranz, Joseph Tomko, and Salvatore De Giorgi – beyond reproach and would never speak to Paddy Agnew, about this. In fact, they did not speak to Mr. Agnew nor to anyone to whom Mr. Agnew spoke. It is also ludicrous to imagine that La Repubblica’s De Gregorio (Mr. Agnew’s only “source” for his story) read the private Vatican report or was given an audience by any of the cardinals who wrote it. So much for sources.

Now, the original source for the Repubblica story, was an article written by Ignazio Ingrao, in Panorama magazine. Had Mr. Agnew read this article, his role as a copyist would have been halted. For nowhere in the original source of the story does Ingrao, claim that a homosexual lobby, blackmailed the Pope and forced him to resign. In fact, he never levels the accusation of money being stolen from the Vatican bank, as Agnew so brazenly does.

To imply that the Pope left to cover up names of people mentioned in the dossier regarding the Vatican leaks is a pure invention and fantasy of Mr. Agnew.

The further claim that the shock was so violent and the Pope was under pressure to reign flatly contradicts what Ingrao reports, “The Pope knows well the misery and weakness of the curia.” The accusations which are nothing but innuendo, as Mr. Ingrao has also not seen the report. He clearly states, in his own writing that the report exists in one copy and was handed directly to the Pope. He further states that the three Cardinals in charge of the investigation are, “ … respected and feared because they are above any political games in the curia.”

In a Feb. 22 interview with Mr. Ingrao, the Repubblica article is characterized as an “instrumentalization (of Mr. Ingrao’s story) to attack the Pope.” It is further affirmed that the Repubblica article is not based on an “… original investigation (done by La Repubblica), as the article leads readers to believe…”

In it he affirms, “ Certainly it cannot be said that the Report on the situation of the Curia was the only motive for the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI… it was a decision that was maturing for some time…for a multiplicity of reason.” (My translation). Ingrao also states in the interview, that “he does not wish for people to think that all this has to do with the Vatican curia.”

Mr. Ingrao has also not seen the report, claims that it has leaked are blatantly false. Ingrao affirms, “What I did was to reconstruct the methodology followed by the three cardinals.”

Furthermore, to claim that the Pope decided to resign on the day that he received the cardinals’ report is the work of amateurs or ill will toward the Holy See.

And we now see the result. Agnew simply regurgitated salacious unfounded accusations and innuendo, having done no research into the matter and ignoring the plain and obvious fact that no one could have seen the Vatican report described by Mrs. De Gregorio. 

But there was more that should have given Mr. Agnew some pause – and that concerns the slurs regarding the Vatican Bank. Agnew writes that, “… the report claimed… the stealing was in particular related to the Vatican Bank…” Along with this text, La Repubblica publishes three pictures, two of young individuals working in different capacities with the Vatican and one of Mr. Rene Bruelhart, Director of the Authority of Financial Information for the Holy See. This placement of course suggests that these three individuals were somehow identified with the irregularities at the Vatican Bank or the so called gay lobby. But none of the three is mentioned in the article.

That would give me pause as well, if I were Mr. Agnew. The La Repubblica article does not even mention the reason for having the picture of these three important figures in the Vatican under a title that speaks of gay lobbies and stealing money.

Now, I say these attempts are ideologically driven and Mr. Agnew cannot be such a simpleton as to not realize this.

Mr. Rene Bruelhart, far from stealing money, is known in the international banking community as the “anti-money laundering guru.” He was the head of the Liechtenstein’s financial task force and was brought in by the Vatican to help the Holy See comply fully with international standards on financial transparency. Could Mr. Agnew not see that the innuendo on stealing money from the Vatican, with Bruelhart’s picture under such a title, is absurd? This is propaganda at its worst.

To his credit, the American journalist who was with Mr. Agnew that morning when Agnew was merely copying from La Repubblica the salacious details for his story, applied his critical thinking and journalistic ability to retell the story.

He narrates how Agnew had just bought La Repubblica that morning and had the whole story underlined in different colors and was frantically typing away, for the Irish Times. From newsstand to the typewriter. Laziness is becoming an unfortunate trait of many journalists. Agnew, did not go out to interview people, he did not seek to corroborate the story, no, why bother? It’s only the Catholic Church, after all, and the Irish people will never know the difference.

The analysis of American journalist Robert Moynihan, after considering the sourcing on the story, reveals the unfounded nature of the stories that are now circulating far and wide.

 Moynihan’s revisited his own initial coverage and states that it is clear the report was never leaked. He also states there is no evidence implicating in any way the people whose photographs appeared in La Repubblica. Moynihan writes that, the more he studied the two articles on the matter, the more it dawned on him that “…there were numerous un-sourced statements and conclusions.”

His judgment after initially running with the story, just behind Agnew, is devastating. Writes Moynihan about the initial report in La Repubblica, “…the evidence for a powerful ‘gay lobby’ (in the) Vatican…is sketchy to say the least.” He presses on, “Nowhere in the article – nowhere – is there any indication that the author has actually seen the cardinal’s report.” (Yes, Paddy, there is that little detail.) Additionally, “… there are only four quotations, that is, only four sourced sentences, in the entire article.”

Amazingly, all the quotations have nothing to do with the report; two are simply quotes of the Pope when speaking publicly at different occasions to the people.

Moynihan concludes after a detailed analysis of the sources for this story: “In other words, this article contains no sourced evidence whatsoever, except for the alleged statement of a ‘man close to the man who drafted the Report.’”

He writes, “That sentence is the only ‘semi-sourced’ sentence in the entire article.” Moynihan’s precise analysis of the one source of this story (La Repubblica), should put everyone in the media who may be recirculating Agnew’s fiction, on notice. This is from a journalist who initially ran with the story as soon as he read it.

In Rome all who understand this just smile at the absurdity of international media being duped, so blatantly fooled, by La Repubblica and the Irish Times.

Upon reading the La Repubblica article, anyone in Rome easily sees, that their final innuendo item, is perhaps most illuminating. La Repubblica claims that, on the last day of his pontificate (Feb. 28), the Pope will travel next to Cardinal Tomko, one of the three charged to produce the cardinals’ report, to Santa Maria Maggiore, to be with the Slovak bishops and the faithful from Slovakia. This is yet another effort to connect the Pope’s resignation, to the unseen report.

But as we all know in Rome, that story is just another invention, to foster intrigue. Moynihan sees that and point out in his second article, which corrects his initial version, “But it is simply not true that the Pope will meet with Slovakian Catholics…anywhere. This sentence is simply not true.”

As we are very aware, such a trip would require extensive planning on the part of the Vatican. None is going on. Writes Moynihan, “Frankly, anyone who knows anything about the Vatican, any Vatican journalist, from the newest to the oldest, would have and should have, known that this statement…is impossible and silly.”

For its part, the Vatican today characterized the many stories as “unfounded, not verified, and outright false…with grave damage of persons and institutions…” To characterize them as the Vatican did today, as serious defamation, is no overstatement of this matter.

The only honorable thing for the Irish Times to do, is to retract the accusations with immediacy and issue a public apology to the Holy See and the Catholic Church in Ireland. For this kind of “journalism” is unworthy of their pages. This holds true for others, taking the lead from the Irish Times and the sloppy editorial job that permitted these stories, to be printed. Otherwise indeed they will be confirming, “The Death of Journalism at the Irish Times and elsewhere.”

Fr. Marcel Guarnizo is a priest of the Archdiocese of Moscow, Russia who has done extensive pro-life work in Maryland.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


Follow us:

Check out Catholic News Agency Polls on LockerDome on LockerDome