Unhappy with Your Press? Give the "out of Context" Talisman a Try.
By Grant Gallicho
June 11, 2014
Yesterday social media lit up with news accounts claiming Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis had told victims attorney Jeff Anderson that when he was an auxiliary bishop in St. Paul and Minneapolis, he didn't know that it was illegal for an adult to have sexual contact with a child. Here's how one of those stories began:
Archbishop Robert J. Carlson claimed to be uncertain that he knew sexual abuse of a child by a priest constituted a crime when he was auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, according to a deposition released Monday (June 9).
During the deposition taken last month, attorney Jeff Anderson asked Carlson whether he knew it was a crime for an adult to engage in sex with a child.
“I’m not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not,” Carlson replied. “I understand today it’s a crime.”
Today the Archdiocese of St. Louis defended Carlson with a long press release accusing Anderson, and by extension news accounts that cited him, of "strategically" taking Carlson’s testimony "out of context." According to the archdiocese, "in the full transcript of Archbishop Carlson’s deposition, the actual exchange between Archbishop Carlson and Plaintiff’s counsel is quite different from what is being widely reported in the media." The statement continues: "What Plaintiff’s counsel has failed to point out to the media is that Mr. Goldberg himself noted at this point in the deposition 'you’re talking about mandatory reporting?' When the Archbishop said 'I’m not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not,' he was simply referring to the fact that he did not know the year that clergy became mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse (pgs. 108-109)." In other words, Carlson was talking about mandatory-reporting laws, not laws against adults having sex with minors.
This prompted the alternative magisterium at the National Catholic Reporter to quickly publish a story that essentially repeats the archdiocese's press release. The editors even added an update at the top of the Religion News Service piece they published about this--which also parrots the archdiocese's claims. The St. Louis CBS affiliate published a similar article. So did Deacon Greg Kandra at Patheos. And the Winona Daily News.
So how did so many members of the media get this wrong? How could they so badly misread the testimony of Archbishop Carlson, and in the process besmirch his good name? Probably because they can read. Let's have a look at that "full transcript."