Tuesday, August 15, 2006

How does sloppiness help?

This post will be deliberately oblique -- I'm adding some thoughts to a discussion, now grown rather old, at another web site. Those who were part of it will know the particulars; those who weren't, need not.

An organization issues a news release that includes some sensational charges of wrongdoing against several members of the clergy, including the bishop. This against a background of wrongdoing, generally acknowledged. The organization issuing the news release has been pressing the case about such wrongdoing for some time.

I read the release, as quoted in a column. It included a horrendous accusation, and it pointed to a report, online, as including this accusation. I wanted to see the cited source for myself.

Sad to say, I feared it would be confirmed. To my surprise, the source cited did not substantiate the charge. Something was wrong.

So, I went back to the website where I read this, and said as much. After all, if the accusation is partly wrong, everyone is entitled to know that.

Well, that wasn't well received. Along the way, one of the posters came to the defense of the originator of the press release: well, the wording was ambiguous, not deliberate misinformation. OK, fair enough.

But here's the thing. If I make charges, then I accept the burden of proving it. You are absolutely right to examine my accusations with a critical glance -- indeed, you are duty-bound to do so.

Most of us don't have time to fact-check everything that comes up in these situations. We learn, over time, who we think is credible, and who we don't. And one of the ways we learn that is when, upon doing some checking, we either find the information is sound . . . or not!

I checked; and in one case, I found a serious flaw, at best explained by sloppy writing. This is serious business, reputations are at stake.

What amazes me -- and why I post this -- is that somehow, my insisting on accuracy somehow represents a harm to this man's cause. I don't get that. I'm told that the fellow means well, and cares deeply. Assume that's true. It's also beside the point. Good intentions plus sloppy work don't equal credibility. Finally, I've been accused of being in cahoots with those covering up the crimes:

Do yourself a favor. Don’t be too quick to answer for the bishops out of some misplaced notion of loyalty to secrecy or something like that. You don’t know the half of it.

I'm still trying to figure out the larger dynamic here. I am not naming the individual who authored the release, or his group, because I'm not interested in causing him any difficulties, nor in picking a fight with him. The issue is the sloppiness -- which I think hurts his cause -- and what appears to be a lack of concern about that. If you're going to go after anyone, accusing them of terrible crimes, this is serious business, and you have to get it right.

In any case, someone explain to me how sloppy press materials about very damaging accusations helps the cause?

I don't know if anyone will even post, but if you do, please leave out names, in light of what I said above.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Father,
I have found that as my Lord draws me closer to Himself, I am more aware of my words and how they affect people.
Jesus spoke too uplift, encourage and love. He spoke to correct, as was His authority.
When we as Catholics write or speak we need to be accountable for our expressions.
When we err, Christ calls us to acknowledge our error.
Father, You pointed out an error. Unfortunately this individual's response was negative.
Lift them up in prayer and ask for a forgiving heart.
Leave the rest up to our Lord.

God bless you for all you do for His people.
Karen : )

Terry said...

Father,
Conceivably couldn't the individual about whom you're speaking be guilty of calumny by using such sloppy materials, which is typically grave matter?

It's disturbing how frequently I see detraction and calumny creep into blog discussions, especially Catholic blogs.

Father Martin Fox said...

Terry:

Calumny if its not true; rash judgment if its not well established.

In the actual case I was referring to, the accuser seems to have done his homework otherwise -- so I have been told -- but I am tripped up by the simple fact that the one time I checked his work, I found it at minimum, sloppily written, such that it seemed to make a false claim. (Saying it was sloppy is the charitable explanation; the alternate is that he didn't know the underlying material didn't support his accusation, or he didn't care.)

So, how do I know his other work is not equally sloppy? The argument made by those involved has been a variant of "trust me."

Jay said...

Fr. Fox,

This is the first time I have check your web site, and I find this post to be rather bizarre.

I have known the person and the organization you are criticizing for more than a decade. I trust him completely and find your hostility to him both juvenile and pedantic. You are flogging a dead horse and making yourself look like an idiot.

Since your note here involves credibility and honesty, why are you not listing the name of the blog site and the person you are criticizing? I’d think if you are confident that you have a worthy argument, you would let people read the comments themselves, then can judge who is right and wrong in this little dispute.

Your account on this site is rather one-sided and ignores the simple fact that several commentators on the other site admitted you were correct, that the one sentence in the press release could probably have been better written. But they also made the point that is more important: Who gives a damn? Your complaint makes a distinction that is nearly stupid, in the context of what was being reported. The bishop in question, we now know beyond a doubt, was absolutely guilty of everything the organization accused him of 13 years ago (and which was publicly denied by the diocese, the bishop, and at least one cardinal), and you may be the only person on the planet who actually thought the words describing the misdeeds of the bishop were actually included in the official transcript of the diocesan report.

Fr. Fox, your assertion that you are “not naming the individual who authored the release, or his group, because I'm not interested in causing him any difficulties, nor in picking a fight with him,” is rather cowardly. You are clearly picking a fight with him, or at least with his defenders, because you noted on the other blog site you were taking your complaint to your own site, where you presumably can screen out those who disagree with you.

You are right one point, Father Fox, “The issue is the sloppiness. … If you're going to go after anyone, accusing them of terrible crimes, this is serious business, and you have to get it right.”

I’ve been watching and working with the organization involved for more than a decade, and there is no instance I am aware of in which the person you are questioning has ever got it wrong. His research is rather good and he has always gone public AFTER the local bishop involved has refused to take disciplinary action.

It says a whole lot that you persist in attacking and questioning the credibility of the organization in question – based on one sentence in one press release -- rather than pointing to the decade-long track record of the gross sexual deviancy in the chancery of the diocese in question.

You’re doing yourself a huge disservice by flogging this dead horse, Fr. Fox. History is already showing that the guy you are accusing of “sloppiness” is a great hero in the Catholic Church, who has uncovered extraordinary corruption at all levels of the Catholic Church.

Having said all of this, I do appreciate and respect everything else I’ve seen you post on the other site.

Jane M said...

The trouble here, it seems to me, is that people are expecting you to reject your experience based on theirs. That is, they have reason to think that someone is trustworthy so they excuse what they are saying is a single mistake. But if that one mistake is all you know of a person, you will judge based on that, at least to start with, and you aren't wrong. In order to change your opinion you will have to expend extra energy.

That said, it is sometimes worth expending the energy (and this is not a comment on this particular situation because I'm fairly agnostic about it). The whole question of abuse provokes such a longing to think that what's being said isn't true that it distorts people's perceptions both ways.

Father Martin Fox said...

Jay --

Is a series of ad hominems the best you can do?

Father Martin Fox said...

"I trust him completely and find your hostility to him both juvenile and pedantic."

I am not hostile to the man. The only hostility that has been expressed is toward me, for complaining about about his sloppy press materials:

Examples of hostility:
"bizarre" "juvenile" "pedantic"
"stupid" "idiotic" "cowardly."

"The bishop in question, we now know beyond a doubt, was absolutely guilty of everything the organization accused him of 13 years ago"...

You may know -- but I don't. I am sorry I don't have time to read all the dossiers on these things, but there isn't enough time in the day for me to research all the accusations made. And I am not willing to take your word for it.

I have to rely on trustworthy sources. And I have a responsibility -- don't you agree? -- to make sure sources really are trustworthy.

But what I will not do is take your word for it. Sorry, that's unreasonable.

"...there is no instance I am aware of in which the person you are questioning has ever got it wrong."

Except this one -- and that's the problem. The one time I did check, I found the work sloppy. You tell me that's the only time. So I guess I'm back to taking your word for it.

duchessSoF said...

Non seq Father but I see you cashed my check for your worthy cause.

Can you please say the word "Zwingli" in your blog? It would cause less disrpution among all the Catholics here less than the words..."sloppy writing".

I am feeling rather evil today and needed to take it out on my favorite online priest guy. ;)

Ok, I will now go and flog myself....
excuse me.

Your sistah in da LORD,

dutch +

Jay said...

Father Fox,

I am not quite sure what your point is. You acknowledge in your long post on this site that "one of the posters came to the defense of the originator of the press release: well, the wording was ambiguous, not deliberate misinformation. OK, fair enough."

That admission Father Fox, frankly is as far as I am willing to admit in your blanket suggestion that somehow the organization is "sloppy" or that this one sentence undermines his full decade of exhaustive work. Which is exactly what you are doing.

You write: "But here's the thing. If I make charges, then I accept the burden of proving it. You are absolutely right to examine my accusations with a critical glance -- indeed, you are duty-bound to do so."

Yet, you suggest that the accusations were not proven, which is flatly false. The guy in question has testimony -- taken from several teen-aged victims of the bishop's buggery -- and he has affadavits from priests who were also coerced into misdeeds by the bishop. Yet, you are claiming that this one sentence in the press release means the allegations have not been proven (which is a very false claim by you).

You are completely correct when you write that "most of us don't have time to fact-check everything that comes up in these situations. We learn, over time, who we think is credible, and who we don't. And one of the ways we learn that is when, upon doing some checking, we either find the information is sound . . . or not!"

And this is my point, Father Fox. You are acting, as I said, like a pedantic idiot, by suggesting that the wording of one sentence calls into question the guilt of the bishop and the integrity of the accuser.

You say you "found a serious flaw" in the work of the accuser, and I am saying you are completely wrong. You did NOT find a serious flaw. The Diocese itself admitted -- finally -- that the bishop was involved in misdeeds, there are dozens of documents affirming that the bishop is a rapacious sex addict, and so on.

At best, all you found was an awkward sentence that has no bearing whatsoever on the guilt of the bishop or the fact involved in the case.

As yous say, "this is indeed serious business, and reputations are at stake."

And that's why I am taking the time and energy to say you are completely off base in your pedantic argument. You are going out of your way to undermine one of the great giants of the Catholic laity in the United States with a meaningless argument, that leads to speculation that maybe the organization in question has been "sloppy" all along.

You are wrong, wrong, wrong.

Having said all of this, I do want to say that while I don't hesitate to defend the guy you are attacking, I don't want to wage anything that looks like a hostile argument against you personally.

I've read a bit more of your blog site and it looks to me like you are no doubt a very fine priest and one I probably agree with on just about everything.

Somewhwere along the line I should have said this is intended as a friendly rejoinder, not a mean-spirited attack against you.

Nevertheless, ... I'm going to defend the guy you are questioning and do think your accusation is, as I said, pedantic hair-splitting.

Jay

Anonymous said...

I wish I knew what you all are talking about! If I did I could make up my own mind. If this is a private conversation it should be conducted via email.

Father Martin Fox said...

Jay:

I am tired of repeating it.

I never sought, nor actually did, "undermine his full decade of exhaustive work."

"Which is exactly what you are doing."

No, I'm not. That you feel so overwrought, and think I am doing that, speaks volumes – and you are not the only one, even more extreme emotion was expressed on that thread, and that reaction is a significant part of why I posted this in the first place (go re-read what I said if you don’t believe me).

It seems not to be comprehensible to you that the rest of the world is not intimately familiar with the "full decade of exhaustive work" by someone you revere as a "great giant." I am not disputing his greatness – I say again, I don’t know the man, and I daresay 99% of Catholics don’t, either. May I gently suggest you need to broaden your perspective?

And not knowing all that, then I judge merely that which he provided.

"Yet, you suggest that the accusations were not proven"...

No, sir; I said that they are not proven TO ME. (Please stop and slowly re-read the last sentence, with emphasis on the latter two words. Thank you.)

That emphasis seems to have escaped your attention throughout.

"The guy in question has testimony -- taken from several teen-aged victims of the bishop's buggery -- and he has affadavits from priests who were also coerced into misdeeds by the bishop. Yet, you are claiming that this one sentence in the press release means the allegations have not been proven (which is a very false claim by you)."

I'm glad he has that evidence. Alas, none of that was mentioned in the release I read. Instead, chose to assert that the "buggering teenage boys" allegation was – quote – "mentioned" in a published, diocesan report.

That claim is false. I have said I will concede he didn't intend to make that false claim; I give him the benefit of the doubt on that score, and accept the explanation (not from him; he didn't say) he wrote a sloppy sentence. But that exculpates his intention, it doesn't change the actual fact of what he actually wrote! -- and what he wrote was wrong on a substantive matter: his release pointed to a document, as proof of a specific, horrendous allegation, and that document did not support his allegation.

The reason this is a problem is precisely because the release was built around this diocesan report!

You ridiculously expect everyone reading that release to be familiar with the entire case, and thus already know all the evidence! Either that, or you actually expect someone not thusly familiar -- and who actually discovers the error in the release -- to go ahead and believe the allegation is true despite the significant error of fact in the accusation!

That is the part of your tirade that is so bizarre.

"You are acting, as I said, like a pedantic idiot, by suggesting that the wording of one sentence calls into question the guilt of the bishop and the integrity of the accuser."

OK, I’ll make my point differently: when I read a press release, and actually check the source the release points me to, and discover a substantive factual assertion in the release is flat wrong, then I write off that erroneous release, and the person who issued it, whom I know not from Adam.

Feel better now?

"The Diocese itself admitted -- finally -- that the bishop was involved in misdeeds, there are dozens of documents affirming that the bishop is a rapacious sex addict, and so on."

Yes and I didn’t question that. The diocese, however, specifically omitted mention of the bishop buggering teenage boys -- and that was the specific charge that was erroneously attributed to the diocesan report.

Your inability to discern a significant difference between an allegation of "misdeeds ... rapacious sex addict" (which are terrible) and "buggering teenage boys" (which is even more terrible, and also definitively a crime) is revealing...

Consistent with you invincible failure to make the distinction between the bishop's actual, objective guilt (which, as of now, is unknown to me and most of the world), vs. what conclusion, if any, I draw, based on what is provided to me by someone supposedly an expert, interested party.

You can continue to rant at me, in your oh-so-friendly way ("bizarre" "juvenile" "pedantic"
"stupid" "idiotic" "cowardly."), but I rather suspect I have said all I can imagine saying.

And I have decided that while I will still not give credence to accusations I discover, when I investigate, have errors in them . . .

I won't say that anymore, because refusing to give credence to flawed accusations is:
"bizarre" "juvenile" "pedantic"
"stupid" "idiotic" "cowardly."

Father Martin Fox said...

anonymous:

I chose not to name names because that way, the individuals in question need not come here and defend themselves -- indeed, they need not give a fig about what I'm saying.

As to whether I should use my blog this way ... well, ahem -- it is my blog.

Tim Lang said...

Jay,

I have also been a longtime supporter of the organization discussed at the other site. I have read everything he has sent me over the years, news letters, cd set, the book they published by Likoudis etc.

I have contributed a small amount of money and even some info to help the cause and have enjoyed a couple of phone conversations with the the founder.

When I read the press realease from the organization I thoght the diocese was finally coming completely clean. After I read the diocesean report I saw that they were still omitting much and even denying some important info about the ages of the bishop's victims.

Jay, If I was not aware of the organization and the main individual behind it I WOULD HAVE BEEN JUST AS SUSPICIOUS as Fr. Fox was, and if I was not as familiar as I have stated, I would have said the press realease was "lying" about the contents of the report and not merely being "sloppy".

I would have made a rash judgement unlike the good priest you have been trashing.

Robin said...

Simply put, Father is saying check and recheck all facts and make sure you are presenting all the facts in the right light. Anything written on blogs can effect many. Becareful!