Out Of Control

American Journalism Review

From AJR, October 1998

Second half of article

By Alicia C. Shepard
Alicia C. Shepard is a former AJR senior writer and NPR ombudsman.

WHAT FINALLY RAN IN THE INQUIRER on April 14, 1997, after about eight months of reporting, was a relatively short story (167 lines) by Cipriano on the bottom of the Metro section front. The headline and deck: “Archdiocese’s Center Gets Little Use. More Than $500,000 Went into `Multimedia’ Project. Its Envisioned Function Wasn’t Fully Realized.”

The article zeroed in on the actual cost of the $500,000 “multimedia conference center” built in 1991 and 1992 on the 12th floor. But there was no mention of parish closings. It also reported that the cardinal had bypassed established review processes for large spending and some work had been carried out without required permits. Rossi says failure to get the permits was due to “honest mistakes.”

The story infuriated the archdiocese. Bevilacqua denounced it as “fallacious” in a church bulletin mailed to every member, and an official wrote a letter to the editor, saying the story contained “numerous inaccuracies and distortions.” The letter was sent, according to Neumann’s memo, with the proviso that it be printed in its entirety or not at all.

Neumann wrote a strong rebuttal to then-Editor King, suggesting the archdiocese was trying to “once again bully the Inquirer” and that the paper shouldn’t print the entire letter. “The primary point of the letter is false,” Neumann wrote. “The letter says the archdiocese did not spend $500,000 on the multimedia center. In fact…Brother Joseph [of the archdiocese] confirmed that in a meeting with Ralph Cipriano and two Inquirer editors…. In addition, the former archdiocese building supervisor, Bill Scarborough, said on the record that the actual cost, with overruns, was $575,000.”

The Inquirer printed the church’s letter as written, along with an editor’s note rebutting each point of criticism. “Ralph Cipriano,” King wrote, “has been objective and ethical in his reporting.”

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