Saturday, April 3, 2010

Lies Vs. Wrong Interpretation

In the comment thread of another post, I stated my belief that while the media may certainly have an agenda, may certainly be spinning the facts in a certain way or using certain innuendo...they have not actually falsified any facts or evidence.

A poster replied, sardonically, "Like the accusation that Benedict was in any way responsible for the mismanagement and inefficacy of bishops in dealing with sexual abuse?"

But that's not a falsified fact.

That is (in some of your opinions, at least) a wrong interpretation of the facts. It's connecting the dots in (some people believe) a wrong way. But it hasn't substantially relied on any fake dots so far as I can tell.

There can (and should) be disagreement on issues like how responsible higher-ups should be held for the negligence of their underlings.

But we have the facts of the cases and can make our own judgments. Some people would say that, based on those facts, Benedict's actions (or, rather, inaction) constitute culpable negligence. Others not so. But those interpretations don't rely on falsehoods, just on different interpretations of the facts, of the objective events and statements we have.

For the most part, there is no falsification of evidence here (and what little there may have been, has been on both sides), just different interpretations of that evidence, like happens in a trial. Both spun narratives are necessarily oversimplifications.

But, as Peggy Noonan says, we have the media to thank for exposing the facts, even if you think they are then going on to interpret them incorrectly or insinuate things based on them that do not follow from the objective facts themselves. Though, I obviously think their interpretation is closer to the truth than some of you do, I also welcome opposing views to try to argue for the facts being interpreted in their way. Neither side's motives are neutral, but that's how democratic debate happens.

People are entitled to their opinions! Including wanting the Pope to resign. You can't get mad at someone's opinion. You can only believe it is wrong and argue for the opposite.

The way some Catholics are taking this all personally and getting all defensively angry simply at opinions they disagree with...shows the sort of twisted emotional investment they've placed in the institution of sinful men.

People who disagree (who "support" the Pope) have also been publishing editorials. Both sides are expressing their feelings reacting to these newly uncovered facts (and reacting to the reactions), which is everyone's right. There is nothing crooked here, it's just how democratic debate and civil discourse work (something the Vatican is obviously still not used to).

Just to clarify before I say the next part: I do not believe that calling the Pope a "former Nazi" follows from the facts. But even something like that is not "false" objectively; as it is a semantic question, an interpretation. He was a member of Hitler Youth, under coercion. This is the Fact that is objective and neither side disputes. The subjective interpretation up for semantic debate is whether that constitutes being a "former Nazi."

I (and all of you, probably) do not think that situation warrants the use of the terminology "former Nazi"...but it is a subjective question of usage, not of the objective facts. If someone consistently labeled all people in such a situation with that term, that's their semantic choice.

But, other people like us, also having the facts, could choose whether or not to accept such an interpretation, such a semantic usage. I do not accept such a usage and would argue against it, and most people in the world do not accept such an interpretation either. But no one claimed that he was in the gestapo or anything false factually; there is just debate over whether being a member of Hitler Youth constitutes being a "Nazi"...which is a purely semantic question, a question of the usage of words and labels. And so they're the ones who take the risk of people not accepting their usage, of people thinking their usage isn't warranted by the facts (and in this case, I don't think people do, and so they're left looking foolish).

But such mudslinging, such spin, is just part of politics in the modern world. If they were secular politicians, they'd never survive if they couldn't stand the mudslinging. They can't have it both ways. They say they want the Church to be a voice in the Public Square, part of the political discourse...but then seem to want special exemption from the rules of the game of political discourse (which in our day and age involves mudslinging).

In fact, the implication that seems to be emerging is that the Pope needs to be "defended" by his cronies because he is a delicate man who might get his feelings hurt. Boo-hoo. If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

If the Pope wants to concentrate on his personal holiness or theology...then he should go be a monk or a professor. But if he wants to be a leader, then he needs to lead. If you're going to be a political figure, then you need to be hardened like a politician and not phased by the mudslinging. It's just part of the territory. You don't cry "foul," you fight dirty in return. Special pleading makes you look like a wimp.

And so if you can't stomach the idea of getting into the fray like that (maybe even for valid moral reasons)...then maybe that world isn't for you (I've questioned before this notion of having personal holiness or theological skill as criteria for leadership in the Church, which often requires a very different set of skills. This attempted meritocracy of celibate scholar bureaucrats is part of the institutional problem.)

What is not acceptable is saying that the prosecutor's interpretation is "anti-defendant." That's as tautological as saying that the defense's position is "pro-defendant." Portraying it all as victimization or persecution is part of the problem.

The facts are simply the facts, and they've been true even if you disagree with some of the interpretations. There is nothing "unfair" about having different opinions about how much responsibility or action the Pope should take, about having differing interpretations about what exactly those facts constitute (or what actions they should lead to).

For example, my opinion is that I don't want him to resign, but that his reaction has nevertheless been gravely deficient and disappointing, that it shows how out-of-touch the Vatican and bishops are, how the institution seems dedicated to self-preservation, spending more energy on defending the Pope than on bringing justice to the real victims. All this taking the posture of the "victim" is to me the proof of the extreme cowardice.

Please don't by into those whiny conservative talking-points; like a Chinese finger-trap, that particular tact of defensiveness only is exacerbating the opprobrium that people are gaining for the Church.

If you want to civilly interpret the facts as not constituting any culpability on the Pope's part, please do so. But do it in a calm straightforward manner, without attaching it to all these emotionally charged accusations of bias and persecution and victimization. Address their arguments; attacking their motives is simply ad hominem. That's merely a distraction at best, and at worst suggestive of the very wagon-circling identity-politics attitudes that caused this problem in the first place.


Tony said...

"Address their arguments; attacking their motives is simply ad hominem. That's merely a distraction at best, and at worst suggestive of the very wagon-circling identity-politics attitudes that caused this problem in the first place."

Excellent. I agree.

I am presently angry that some articles that are taken as 'de fide' by the public (because really, what have people come to expect? The Pope involved in a cover-up? Big surprise! He's the Pope!) are trying to sell, not just an interpretation, but the conclusion that Pope Benedict is responsible for most if not all of this.

The diocese of Munich (where the Pope has been linked to) has supported the reputation of the Pontiff redundantly: he was both not overseeing that diocese when the shit was accumulating, nor was he aware of its hitting the fan.

The diocese is currently making available the details of clerical activity over these past few decades so that the facts might be clearly seen. But I'm skeptical that will work constructively towards saving what face even appropriate.

You've made your case here with generalizations and concepts. But you didn't share with us what facts haven't been falsified. So then, what allegations has the Church failed to falsify? No one is denying that abuse happened, but that it happened independently of the Pope's knowledge and authority as Bishop and Cardinal.


A Sinner said...

"are trying to sell, not just an interpretation, but the conclusion that Pope Benedict is responsible for most if not all of this."

And they're allowed to try. Expected to, even.

Just like the Prosecutor is expected to try to prove the defendant guilty.

Doesn't mean the Defense can't try to use the evidence to argue that he is NOT guilty.

And doesn't mean that the jury has to buy the prosecutor's conclusion.

But if the jury IS buying the prosecutor's conclusion, then it's the defense's own fault.

Rather than claiming bias or persecution or victimization (which is basically like playing the Race Card defense), maybe they should consider changing their defense tactics rather than simply getting more defiantly stubborn.

A Sinner said...

"But you didn't share with us what facts haven't been falsified."

You can't prove a negative!

Show me substantial things the media has portrayed as facts that are not. I don't think it has been done, not overtly.

For example, in the Munich case, the facts are that this priest came for therapy even though he was a known pedophile, and was returned to ministry.

Whether Ratzinger inconclusive. The Vatican says he didn't. The media will try to suggest he may have.

But no one has forged a document trying to prove conclusively that he knew or anything like that. THAT would be falsification and slander.

But they haven't been doing that. They've been merely suggestive, but always based on the facts. You are free to make other suggestions or interpretations.

And even were everyone to accept his lack of knowledge...there can still be debate about whether a higher-up is culpable for what goes on under his watch even if he is ignorant (ie, negligence).

Though I'll say that this claim that he knew nothing or did everything he could is getting harder and harder to maintain. It's clear that he knew; as Cardinal Schonbornn described, he was sad when the "other camp" won. So it means there was a debate about all this going on in the Curia, he knew about it, and when he lost...he just accepted it. It's clear that he went along with bureaucracy that allowed cases like the Arizona one to languish for years in the tribunals even while the bishop pled with him to put a stop to it.

Lestre said...

The incongruity between so much of the Catholic defense of the pope, and the prevailing opinion extra ecclesiam, is beginning to resemble the way the O.J. Simpson saga went down along racial lines in America.

I personally can't fathom what the perspective was like for many of the black people who were willing to defend O.J., and to blame the establishment and a racist police force in the face of what looked to me like a incontrovertible mountain of circumstantial evidence. I'm sure it made perfect internal sense to them, but it's beyond my ken. Ditto my incredulity for how so many Catholic apologists are plainly incapable of seeing this whole drama as anything other than either a media attack or a Satanic conspiracy. They have no earthly conception of how awful it looks to act as a cheerleading squad for both the pope and the credibility of the hierarchy right now.

Oh well. "Go, O.J., go!"

A Sinner said...

An interesting analogy, but definitely an apt one, I think.

There is a bizarre institutional myopia.

Pater, O.S.B. said...

"are trying to sell, not just an interpretation, but the conclusion that Pope Benedict is responsible for most if not all of this."

And they're allowed to try. Expected to, even.

Just like the Prosecutor is expected to try to prove the defendant guilty.

I don't believe that most people's expectations of what "unbiased" news reporting involves would support your prosecutor simile. The media's selling of the conclusion that the pope was guilty of whatever (IF that is what is going on) goes far beyond the expectation of "facts, and only the facts" and their mistaken interpretation. Whistle-blower, si, prosecutor, no.

A Sinner said...

Depends which type of journalism.

There are some articles out there (some of the shorter blips from the AP, for example) which are purely "the facts" presented in an objective manner.

But then there are Editorials, whose role IS to interpret the facts in favor of one conclusion or another.

And there have been Editorials supporting BOTH the conclusion that the Pope was culpably negligent to varying degrees, that his response has been weak and out of touch, well as Editorials (both from Catholics and non-Catholics) that the Pope is largely innocent, that the other side is emphasizing the wrong things, etc.

That is the job of Editorial journalism. Especially in the age of Cable News, of MSNBC vs Fox, etc...what can we expect? MSNBC did much worse to Bush in the last decade. Fox does much worse to Obama now. You don't see either of them crying "victim" or positing some vast conspiracy. The two networks accuse each other of bias and spin all the time, but that's just the way the game works.

That's the nature of politics today. And the Church doesn't get a special exemption from the rules of the game of politics, especially when it claims to want to be a part of that public discourse.

We have the facts. We have people arguing different conclusions from them. We are free to make our own interpretations. I see no "persecution" or victimization in any of that.

Pater, O.S.B. said...

All true. However, I think the problem Tony and myself have are with the NON editorial pieces. The presentation of the Murphy case was (mostly) factually correct yet highly selective in its presentation of the facts, and clearly aimed at 'selling a conclusion'.

"MSNBC did much worse to Bush in the last decade. Fox does much worse to Obama now. You don't see either of them crying "victim" or positing some vast conspiracy. The two networks accuse each other of bias and spin all the time, but that's just the way the game works."

What planet are you on?!

Obama and his staff have repeatedly cried foul over an alleged attack strategy plotted by Fox News. Sarah Palin, especially later on in the presidential race, never missed an opportunity to criticize the press for 'liberal media bias' and its persecution of her. HOWEVER, I do believe that such defensive lashing out (for good or for bad) is the LAST thing one should do. It made Obama look like a self-important control freak and Sarah Palin look like a pouty hayseed. I do not think that the Pope is served by this strategy. If anyone should be above it, he should. He is not (appearing to be)being more arrogant and defensive than other public figures who have had to take heat from the media. It is the fact that he is the POPE that makes this all so ugly. Such a course of behavior is the LAST one that should be taken by him of all people. I can only hope and pray that a REAL response to the present troubles will be made by him.

A Sinner said...

Good examples. Still, as you say, it made Obama and Palin look bad. And, generally, while they may have questioned the bias (which is fine, the other side should question it)...I didn't see them trying to plead a special exemption or "persecution". They pointed out the spin, but as part of the game. The hierarchy, on the other hand, is acting like a hissy cat backed into a corner and taking it like a personal attack.

Doesn't make them look good. Neither does the deafening silence from the Pope during Holy Week, the constant defenses by the hierarchy (as if this is all about THEM instead of the children and the structures that need to be changed), and the statement now that "the Irish Abuse letter should be taken as the final word applying to all the countries"