It isn’t often that someone featured in a This is True story writes to complain or argue about a story about them. The few that have written with comments are indeed generally not at all upset, but rather quite amused by the whole thing. So much so that I wish I got more such notes.
In any case, I realize that not everyone will be happy with what comes out in one of my stories. Fair enough: I certainly wouldn’t expect that. My column dated 15 November 1998 included this story:
Forgive and Forget:
The recent murder of New York gynecologist and obstetrician Dr. Barnett Slepian, who performed abortions, isn’t all bad, according to Canada’s B.C. Catholic, the official newspaper of the archbishop of Vancouver. The murder has been linked to several similar shootings in Canada. Editor Paul Schratz wondered in an editorial, “How can anyone help but be pleased that murders of abortionists just might have some positive side effects?” He added that the fear that zealots shooting them in the back may cause some doctors to go into other fields of medicine “goes to show that our all-powerful and all-loving God can bring good from any evil situation.” (UPI) …If we all went to church more often, perhaps we’d know about these loopholes and exceptions in the Ten Commandments.
The editor of B.C. Catholic wrote me a note about the story. Here’s what he writes — unedited (the added footnotes point to my responses, which are below):
To: Randy Cassingham
From: Paul Schratz
Subject: A misunderstanding
One of the best things about This is True is knowing that the ridiculous incidents and scenarios described actually happened! Unfortunately, in at least one instance, there has been a misunderstanding.
You reported on an editorial in the Catholic newspaper B.C. Catholic practically endorsing the murder of a Buffalo gynecologist.
(1) Unfortunately, the initial news report about the editorial got it completely wrong, by taking a couple of quotes out of context. The actual editorial was a strong condemnation of the use of any violence in the abortion debate. (2) Follow-up reports have made it clear that the editorial sharply opposed any use of violence. As a result, many major media outlets have run the editorial in its entirety so that their readers can see for themselves that its message was one of peace.
(3) I invite you to do the same, or to alert your readers that the full editorial is available at the official web site of the Archdiocese of Vancouver: http://www.rcav.bc.ca/ (4) [Note: the editorials in question are no longer on the paper’s site; it apparently lets its archive “expire” after a set time period. -rc]
Thank you for your assistance in clarifying this matter.
Editor, The B.C. Catholic
Archdiocese of Vancouver
150 Robson St.
[phone numbers redacted]
(1) Well, I certainly didn’t say you “practically endorsed” the murder, but if you want to use that term, that’s certainly your choice! (Whoops! Sorry! I didn’t mean to imply you are “pro-choice.”)
(2) I indeed quoted you saying the murder was an “evil situation” — which I believed at the time (and still do) accurately reflected your overall thoughts about the matter.
However, I also believe the other quotes — written by you, which you did not challenge — reveal your inner glee that the man was shot in the back in cold blood.
I certainly fully understand the Catholic beliefs about abortion; that some few Catholics — perhaps including you, perhaps not — seem to derive pleasure out of some deaths to demonstrate your ill feelings toward what you believe are other deaths is what I was trying to bring out with the story (and the “loopholes” tagline). That you don’t understand that rational outrage over your editorial is sad commentary indeed on the ideas you expressed, whether or not the opinions are shared by Church leaders.
(3) In fact, after I wrote the story, one of my readers (who hadn’t seen my story yet) sent me the full text of the editorial. Ironically, it was to point out how outrageous he thought it was.
He was not alone: I sincerely believe the many newspapers which editorialized against your apparent rationalization of murder indeed read your editorial before writing about it!
What you need to understand about True, however, is that it is not a news reporting column, it is a news commentary column. I accurately reflected the story run by United Press International, which also reported that your editorial “angered others in Vancouver’s Catholic Community.” I don’t do original reporting on stories; I comment on what other journalists report, and there was, as far as I saw, universal disgust expressed about your ideas.
With this in mind, then, your idea that True‘s treatment of the story represented a “misunderstanding” is not at all accurate. And it wasn’t just I and numerous newspapers that found your editorial abhorrent: the Canadian Catholic priest Father Jim Roberts said of your editorial: “I find his remarks revolting and quite unbelievable…. the idea of God kind of winking at murder, I find that blasphemous.” (This quote is also from UPI.) Which is to say, it’s not just because I’m not Catholic that I “misunderstood” your editorial; ordained Roman Catholic priests apparently have similar problems with it.
(4) One of the reasons I didn’t go to your web site to find the editorial (besides that someone had already sent it to me) is that you didn’t bother to send me its full URL. People online suffer from information overload: they don’t have the time or inclination to search all over your entire site for one particular file. I will not be surprised if your site referral logs show few hits from the link above despite the likely multi-thousand readers that read this page.
In summary, I don’t think there was a “misunderstanding” on my part, and I stand by my treatment of the story completely. You did, as I noted above, refer to the murder as an “evil situation.” You also, as I quoted, suggested — and I would even say promoted, from your authoritative position as the editor of the official newspaper of the archbishop of Vancouver — the murder of people who believe differently than you do.
Words such as “how can anyone help but be pleased” that murder “just might have some positive side effects,” and that such a murder brought “good” to the world, is, in my opinion, a detestable, loathsome idea for anyone to promote, let alone the official spokesman of a high official of the Catholic church.
Your contention that your editorial was so vocally against Dr. Slepian’s murder, when so very many people, Catholic and otherwise, understood your comments as approval, is a bit hard to accept. The rather clear words you used in your editorial speak louder than your protestations.
OK, the editor and I have had our say. But what do True‘s readers think of it? Let’s go to the comments!
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