Cahiers Péguy

27Oct/101

Good for You, Father!

My father, who lived in Connecticut, was a subscriber to the New York Times, which he read faithfully with exasperation. He couldn't get through the editorial page without muttering about the liberal press. Sometimes he would throw the paper down in his lap, twist his head with a self-consciously dramatic gesture, and say out loud, "Gaaaah." Dad usually stopped himself short of taking the Lord's name in vain. . . .

I lost my father the year I became a Catholic, but now I have another paternal figure to look up to, at least where criticism of the New York Times is concerned. As has been widely reported in the American press, the Catholic press anyway (only one New York TV news station has covered the story), Archbishop Timothy Dolan has taken on the Times for lauding an "art" exhibit containing vividly anti-Catholic imagery. Dolan also found offensive a photograph from a musical revue showing a man dressed as a nun and squatting in what the archbishop termed "a gaudy, obnoxious, suggestive pose."

Is Dolan hyper-sensitive? No, because here's the main point he made in an on-camera interview: "[The Times] wouldn't get away with that with any other community! . . . You would never give publicity that did something like that to a revered Islamic figure or to [African American leader] Jesse Jackson. They just wouldn't think of doing that!"

This is worth thinking about. Why exactly is this true? Because clearly it is.

It would be heartening to hear that the Times has engaged in a dialog with New York's Catholic leader, through its editorial page at least, as it surely would do if a Jewish or Muslim leader were likewise offended. Instead, refusing on-camera interviews to reply to Dolan, the Times issued a statement: "While Dolan may not like the play or the art under consideration, The Times's job is to report on and review such cultural events, even if some may disagree with the content of the artwork."

This too is worth thinking about. As the American newspaper industry goes up in smoke, the Times is one of the few dailies likely to survive, because like the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, it is considered "a journal of record," an indispensable logbook of American politics and culture. These survivors in the newspaper industry will continue taking responsibility for defining what makes events "cultural" and reviewing them. Catholic organizations are holding "cultural events" all the time. Has the Times covered them too?

It is imperative that Catholic voices like Dolan's be heard, even at the risk of sounding over-sensitive. I will be listening the next time he speaks. He's a stand-up guy. I'm sure Dad, no Catholic, would have said, "Good for you, Timothy!" Then he probably would have corrected himself with a grimace and repeated, "Good for you, Archbishop!"

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About Webster Bull

Webster Bull is a writer and publisher living in Beverly, Massachusetts, north of Boston. His latest book is "Something in the Ether: A Bicentennial History of Massachusetts General Hospital, 1811-2011," to be published in April 2011. You can follow Webster on Facebook.
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