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Accountability | The media is not the church's enemy – National Catholic Reporter

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As the U.S. bishops gathered last month for their first-ever virtual meeting, there was one thing that wasn’t all that different: Several prelates pulled out the tired trope of blaming the media for all that’s wrong with the church and the world.

During the church leaders’ brief, public discussion about the McCarrick report — concerning the former cardinal’s rise in the hierarchy despite a history of sexual assault — there was plenty of talk about sins (McCarrick’s) and fasting and prayer as reparations (the bishops’).

But Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, got right to what he saw as the crux of the matter with a defense of the person upon whom the report places most of the blame: Pope John Paul II.

“What I think is unfortunate, though, is the media reports that have come out that have tried to paint St. John Paul II as somehow culpable for all this,” Paprocki said.

The Vatican report details how the late pope and now saint, despite warnings from advisers on both sides of the Atlantic, approved then-Archbishop Theodore McCarrick’s move to Washington D.C., and then later made him a cardinal.

But Paprocki cited footnotes in the report that, in his mind, absolved his hero of having turned a blind eye to the fact that McCarrick shared a bed with seminarians — noting that his evidence was “contrary to the allegations in the media.”

Paprocki suggested that the media “understandably perhaps” missed those footnotes because they read only the executive summary, rather than the full 400-plus-page report.

For the record: Although Vatican correspondent Joshua McElwee’s initial reporting for NCR drew only on the executive summary, provided to media an hour before the report’s wider release, McElwee’s second-day story, which detailed John Paul II’s complicity, was based on careful reading of the entire report.

Bishop Michael Pfeifer, emeritus of San Angelo, Texas, also expressed concern that “our lay people … pick up more from the secular media than from the church.” He urged fellow bishops to issue a statement from the meeting, “humbly admitting mistakes were made,” but the conference’s president, Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, did not take him up on that idea.

Also taking a swipe at the media was the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, who included the “press” as among those contributing to a “genuine crisis of authority” in his address to the conference.

“There is a lack of authority on the part of those who pretend to exercise power; a lack of trust and belief in those who are supposed to have authority, namely those in leadership; and manipulation by the press, which, at times, cares little for the truth but which erodes the confidence and trust of the people in the authority of the press,” Pierre said. “No one seems to be offering real values or solutions to bring about healing. These factors have created the crisis in both society and the church.”

It’s true that there are so-called media outlets masquerading as legitimate news organizations in the church (I’m talking to you, LifeSiteNews), but these general indictments of “the media” by bishops sadly echo a certain soon-to-be-ex-president, who specialized in yelling “Fake news!” whenever the news was bad.

The bishops, collectively at least, also have a history of blaming the media, most notably when journalists uncovered sexual abuse of children and the related coverup by bishops. At the time, the prelates hurled accusations of anti-Catholicism at reporters who were actually doing the church a favor by exposing its weaknesses.

Today, most bishops know to avoid such blatant deflection, and they publicly call for “accountability” and “transparency.” Some bishops at the November virtual meeting called for more sunshine, rather than less.

Bishop William Wack of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida, noted that he is “amazed at the autonomy we have … that we are really beholden to no one.”

While Wack called for fraternal correction among brother bishops, the media, too, can play a role in holding leadership accountable and providing transparency. It’s why the media is historically referred to as the “fourth estate” for its role in keeping government accountable. Catholic media, especially independent sources like NCR, have long played a similar role in keeping the church accountable.

For example, it was NCR and other secular media that first alerted everyday church-goers to sexual predators in the priesthood — when the leadership was more interested in quashing that information. Media stories have uncovered the coverup of sexual abuse, shed light on financial improprieties and exposed hidden money in church organizations.

But too often church leaders think the media — perhaps especially Catholic media — should be acting as public relations promoters for the church. Several bishops at the November meeting expressed a desire to “make sure people know about” the positive moves by church leadership to address sex abuse, as Newark, New Jersey, Cardinal Joseph Tobin put it. Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich also hoped that “word will get out there that we are on the side of the victims.”

Yes, media outlets need to tell the whole truth, the good news as well as the bad. But as professional journalists, we also have to respect news values in our coverage, and often that involves some sort of conflict. As I used to tell my journalism students that everyone getting along is nice, but it’s not news.

In his comments calling for transparency, Bishop Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, Missouri, may have inadvertently promoted the work of journalists.

“We as a church need to use all the resources that are available to us, and in many instances that will be found in lay people, who are skilled and qualified in investigating these kinds of accusations and helping us evaluate the facts,” he said.

Exactly. The media are not the enemy. We are professionals, trying to do our jobs, in the service of the truth.

[Heidi Schlumpf is NCR executive editor. Her email address is hschlumpf@ncronline.org. Follow her on Twitter: @HeidiSchlumpf.]

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Britney Spears calls recent documentaries about her ‘hypocritical’

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Pop singer Britney Spears spoke out on Tuesday about recent documentaries about her life and career, calling them “hypocritical” because they rehash her personal problems while criticizing the media for reporting them the first time.

Walt Disney Co’s FX network and The New York Times released “Framing Britney Spears” in February. The documentary examined the singer’s meteoric rise to fame as a teenager, the ensuing media scrutiny and her widely publicized breakdown.And this month, the BBC released “The Battle for Britney: Fans, Cash and a Conservatorship” in Britain. It will debut in the United States and Canada starting May 11 via the BBC Select streaming service.

In an Instagram post, Spears did not name either documentary but said “so many documentaries about me this year with other people’s takes on my life.”

“These documentaries are so hypocritical … they criticize the media and then do the same thing,” she added.

In March, Spears said she cried for two weeks after watching part of “Framing Britney Spears”.

The BBC said in a statement on Tuesday that its documentary “explores the complexities surrounding conservatorship with care and sensitivity.”

“It does not take sides and features a wide range of contributors,” the statement added.

A New York Times spokesperson declined to comment.

Spears, who shot to fame in 1998 with the hit “Baby One More Time,” is in a court battle seeking to replace her father as her conservator. He was appointed to the role in 2008 after she was hospitalized for psychiatric treatment.

Her fans have shown their support on social media under the hashtags #We’reSorryBritney and #FreeBritney. Spears is scheduled to speak to a Los Angeles court in June.

In her Instagram post, which included a video of herself dancing, Spears said that “although I’ve had some pretty tough times in my life … I’ve had waaaayyyy more amazing times in my life and unfortunately my friends … I think the world is more interested in the negative.”

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by David Gregorio)

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Grammy organizers change rules after allegations of corruption

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The organizers of music’s Grammy Awards on Friday announced an end to the so-called “secret” committees that have led to allegations that the highest honors in the industry are open to rigging.

The Recording Academy said that nominations for the next Grammy Awards in January 2022 will be selected by all of its more than 11,000 voting members, instead of by committees of 15-30 industry experts whose names were not revealed.

The Academy was slammed last year when Canadian artist The Weeknd got zero Grammy nominations, even though his critically acclaimed album “After Hours” was one of the biggest sellers of 2020.

The Weeknd, in a Twitter post last November, said “The Grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency.”

The Recording Academy said in a statement on Friday that the changes were significant and were made “to ensure that the Grammy Awards rules and guidelines are transparent and equitable.”

Allegations that the Grammy nominations process is tainted were made in a legal complaint filed in early 2019 by the former chief executive of the Recording Academy, Deborah Dugan.

At the time, the Academy dismissed as “categorically false, misleading and wrong” Dugan’s claims that its members pushed artists they have relationships with. Dugan was later fired.

American pop star Halsey, also shut out of the 2021 Grammys, last year called the nominations process “elusive” and said she was “hoping for more transparency or reform.”

Former One Direction singer Zayn Malik called in March for an end to “secret committees.”

“I’m keeping the pressure on & fighting for transparency & inclusion. We need to make sure we are honoring and celebrating ‘creative excellence’ of ALL,” Malik tweeted hours ahead of the 2021 Grammy Awards ceremony.

The Recording Academy on Friday also said it was adding two new Grammy categories – for best global music performance, and best Latin urban music album – bringing to 86 the total number of Grammy Awards each year.

 

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by David Gregorio)

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Movie theaters face uncertain future

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By Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Maryo Mogannam snuck into the Empire theater in San Francisco with his older cousins to watch “Animal House” when he was 14. He watched most of the James Bond movies at the historic art house and took his wife there on some of their first dates.

The cinema, which had been showing movies since the silent film era, served notice in February that it was permanently closing because of the impact of COVID-19. The marquee is now blank, and cardboard and paper cover the box office window.

“It’s kind of like losing a friend,” said Mogannam, now 57, who owns a retail shipping outlet near the theater, which had been renamed the CineArts at the Empire.

As vaccinated Americans emerge from their homes, they also may find their neighborhood theater is not there to greet them.

An eight-cinema chain in New England said it will not reopen. The same fate hit a Houston art house beloved by director Richard Linklater and, in a shock to Hollywood, more than 300 screens run by Los Angeles-based Pacific Theatres. That includes the Cinerama Dome, a landmark that hosted several red-carpet movie premieres.

Following a year of closures, theaters face deferred rent bills plus media companies’ focus on drawing customers to streaming services. Up to one-fourth of the roughly 40,000 screens in the United States could disappear in the next few years, Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter said.

The National Association of Theatre Owners rejects that estimate, spokesman Patrick Corcoran said, noting that similar dire warnings accompanying the advent of television and the switch to digital screens never came to pass.

Hollywood filmmakers want cinemas to thrive.

“It’s the only place where the art dominates,” said “Avatar” director James Cameron. “When you watch something on streaming, the other people in the room with you are welcome to interject, to pause to go to the bathroom, to text.”

At theaters, “we literally make a pact with ourselves to go and spend two to three hours in a focused enjoyment of the art.”

“For 300 people to laugh and cry at the same time, strangers, not just your family in your house, that’s a very powerful thing,” said Chloe Zhao, Oscar-nominated director of best picture nominee “Nomadland.”

At the Academy Awards on Sunday, the movie industry will “make a case for why cinema matters,” producer Stacey Sher said. While acknowledging the hardship of the pandemic, “we also have to fight for cinema and our love of it and the way it has gotten us through things,” she said.

About 58% of theaters have reopened in the United States and Canada, most restricted to 50% capacity or less. The biggest operators – AMC, Cinemark and Cineworld – make up roughly half the overall market.

Industry leaders project optimism, forecasting a big rebound after restrictions ease and studios unleash new blockbusters.

Coming attractions include a new Bond adventure, the ninth “Fast & Furious” film, a “Top Gun” sequel and several Marvel superhero movies.

“Avatar 2,” Cameron’s follow-up to the highest-grossing film of all time, is set to debut in December 2022. Some box office analysts predict 2022 ticket sales will hit a record.

Supporters point to late March release “Godzilla vs. Kong,” which brought in roughly $48.5 million at U.S. and Canadian box offices over its first five days, even though audiences could stream it on HBO Max.

“That was a big win for the entire industry,” said Rich Daughtridge, president and chief executive of Warehouse Cinemas in Frederick, Maryland.

But near- and long-term challenges loom, particularly for smaller cinemas.

Theaters are negotiating with landlords over back rent. A federal aid program was delayed due to technical problems.

Plus, media companies are bringing movies to homes sooner. Executives say streaming is their priority, pouring billions into programming made to watch in living rooms as they compete with Netflix Inc.

Most at risk are theaters with one or two screens, Wedbush Securities’ Pachter said. He said his best guess is between 5,000 and 10,000 screens could go permanently dark in coming years.

“I think we’ll see a gradual decline in the number of screens,” Pachter said, “just like we’ve seen a gradual decline in the number of mom-and-pop grocery stores and bookstores.”

 

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Additional reporting by Rollo Ross in Los Angeles, Alicia Powell in New York and Nathan Frandino in San Francisco; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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