Last Friday Archbishop Chaput told a gathering of the Religion Newswriters’ Association (RNA) he thinks many of them view religion as a backward social force. He observes a “seeming collusion – or at least an active sympathy – between some media organizations and journalists, and political and sexual agendas hostile to traditional Christian beliefs.”
He sure knew what he was talking about!
Major media focused on the dispute following the speech between the archbishop and N.Y. Times reporter Laurie Goodstein, who was angry the prelate did not return her calls. At GetReligon.org, we can read Archdiocese of Denver Chancellor Fran Maier say he was “intrigued” by “how little attention the attendees seemed to have paid to the actual text” of the archbishop’s speech.
The archbishop's full remarks are indeed newsworthy. And there is also news enough in a duel between authorities of the New York Times and of the Catholic Church.
But for Colorado observers, other big news is hiding in the lightweight commentary on the speech by John Tomasic of The Colorado Independent.
Writing as if it is odd that Catholics are obliged to be politically aware and active, Tomasic cites Archbishop Chaput’s words at Denver’s September Theology on Tap: “Politics is the embodiment of the Second Commandment: Love your neighbors as you love yourself.”
Constructing a frail straw man, Tomasic tries to make an issue out of the archbishop’s refusal to speak to the New York Times. In a desperate search for hypocrisy, he notes Chaput’s declared reading habits:
Chaput told the Theology on Tap crowd he stayed informed by reading the Denver-based Catholic News Agency website every day, four or five monthly magazines, that he listens to National Public Radio and to Fox News. He also reads two newspapers every day: The Denver Post and the Wall Street Journal. Unabashed right-wing Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, gets the lion’s share of the Archbishop’s attention. Because that’s how you find out what’s going on, kids!
Besides the obvious childishness of pretending that someone who listens to both NPR and Fox News is a Murdoch puppet, what’s so notable about this report?
The writer quotes Theology on Tap, but there is no written account of the event online.
The cited Theology on Tap session took place Sept. 10, while Chaput’s RNA address took place two weeks later. Tomasic links to the archdiocese’s recording of the event. The comments he quotes do not first begin until 46 minutes into the session, well into the “Q&A” section of the event. The final comments Tomasic cites take place at the 58:30 mark.
As a Theology on Tap attendee, this is astonishing to me. What kind of obsessive listens to the whole of an informal youth event like this to compile an information dossier?
A paid obsessive, perhaps. The Colorado Independent is part of the American Independent News Network, formerly known as the Center for Independent Media. Under the former name, 2009 records show, the organization reported $2.1 million in assets and $4.1 million in revenue across its donor base and its half-dozen plus publications.
It's possible that The Colorado Independent had a writer in attendance. It is more likely that a staffer, even State Editor Tomasic himself, is assigned to listen to recordings of Chaput's political comments and to summarize them for the purposes of intelligence gathering. These dossiers are then fodder for potential stories written in the style of a maiden aunt shocked that anyone could say such horrible things.
Now in a way it's good to know somebody is paying so close attention. Many a speaker wishes more people listened to his talks. The Archbishop of Denver is certainly a public figure so coverage of his public events can be legitimate.
But Theology on Tap is a young adult event where lips are supposed to be loose and candor is supposed to be prized. Only the most unflappable public figure will be unafraid to interact with the public when he knows his informal remarks are being monitored for "gotcha" quotes, while his real gems are thrown aside.
What kind of killjoy hears of an event like Theology on Tap and thinks “I can use this…”? Oh yes: a paid one.
The Independent’s Tomasic has written on Catholic topics in the past, reporting upon a men's conference in the Springs (with a non sequitur about the health care debate), repeating the attempted hatchet job on the Pope, and ranting about Chaput's recent comments on anti-Christian sentiment. Tomasic muddies the waters on the last piece by citing anti-Muslim activism. (Journalism 101: discuss what your subject said, not what you wish he said.)
In Tomasic’s latest piece, the writer examines the Colorado Catholic Conference through the lens of homosexual political causes. Considering that Colorado's richest gay activist Tim Gill’s Gill Foundation donated $150,000 to the Center for Independent Media in 2009, it’s clear why The Colorado Independent is watching Chaput.
Who else are they watching? And how many Catholics will side with the activist press when they decide to release their full fury against a Catholic archbishop?
(Comments follow these endnotes. ToT attendees, let me know if you noticed a reporter there. Photo taken from ArchDen.org)
 Adam Schrager and Rob Witwer’s book _The Blueprint_ suggest that the Center for Independent Media is likely linked to the Colorado Democracy Alliance, who often are the worst members of the present influential faction in the Democratic Party. As a young seminarian and then as a priest Chaput worked on the Bobby Kennedy and Jimmy Carter campaigns and is still friends with former Democratic state legislator Polly Baca. Present Democrat-leaning activists ran Chaput’s kind out of power -- and want to keep them out.
One worrisome possibility is that The Colorado Independent is monitoring all the Archbishop's homilies, but I doubt it has that many people on staff. Its writing fellow Joseph Boven is a former researcher for Colorado Media Matters, an affiliate of an organization whose M.O. is listening to long recordings in hopes of finding something to type about with feigned outrage.
See also: other highlights of the Theology on Tap event