Volume > Issue > Looking for Media Sin in the Wrong Places

Looking for Media Sin in the Wrong Places


By James O. Clifford Sr. | October 2005
James O. Clifford Sr., who retired in 2000 after 40 years as a reporter and editor for the United Press International (UPI) and the Associated Press (AP), writes from Redwood City, California. He was the recipient of the 1973 San Francisco Press Club award and the UPI Broadcast Excellence award in 1980. He is the father of seven and grandfather of ten.

Besieged by news stories about predatory priests, Boston’s Bernard Cardinal Law urged God to strike the media, “particularly the Globe.”

Someone has to point out that the emperor has no clothes, and by the emperor I don’t mean Law. I mean the mass media and its dropping the ball on national coverage of another sex scandal: sex cases and cover-ups involving public school teachers. There’s a scandal within a scandal here because the media appear to have engaged in their own cover-up.

I say this after 40 years in the news business. I retired as soon as it was financially feasible, coming away in 2000 with the conviction that if truth-in-labeling laws applied to newspapers, they would bear such names as Double Standard, Daily Conduit, or The Shill. Perhaps, with all the mergers, we could see a Daily Conduit, Double Standard and Shill.

This conviction started forming in 1985 when I switched from the moribund United Press International (UPI) to the Associated Press (AP), which just about had the news-distribution field to itself. I barely had the seat warm at AP’s San Francisco bureau when an incident occurred that showed me what to expect in the handling of the Church sex scandals. That year the San Jose Mercury News printed an extensive story about suits filed against the Church from coast to coast.

The Merc story didn’t bother me. The Church authorities, I felt, deserved what they were getting. Can’t blame the messenger, I told myself. The shock came not long after, when an educational organization held its convention in San Francisco. One of the topics on the group’s agenda was sex cases involving public school teachers and the possible legal ramifications. I thought this would be a good story in light of the Mercury‘s work, particularly because it was the group, not a newspaper, that was making the matter public. The AP didn’t cover it, my boss telling me, “Let’s see what the locals [meaning the local papers] do with it.” Well, the locals didn’t touch it, the AP didn’t use it, and the rest of the nation didn’t learn about it.

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