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The MRC's Favorite (Dishonest) Catholic

The Media Research Center -- and in particular its "news" division, -- gives Bill Donohue of the right-wing Catholic League a free pass to rant, rave and lie.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 3/7/2018

Bill Donohue

Back in 2013, ConWebWatch documented the symbiotic relationship Bill Donohue of the right-wing Catholic League has with the Media Research Center -- Bozell, a Catholic, serves on the Catholic League's board of advisers, and gives Donohue pretty much free rein to rant about whatever at MRC's network of websites.

By 2017, Donohue had been given space to write his own column at the MRC's "news" division,, and his bugaboos of the day were effectively guaranteed what passes for news coverage, in the style usual for those who align with the MRC's political agenda: uncritical and devoid of fact-checking.

That lets Donohue get away -- repeatedly -- with pushing the falsehood that the Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals were caused by homosexuality. (Not a surprise, since for years the MRC's NewsBusters website has let a blogger named Dave Pierre repeatedly whitewash the sexual abuse scandals.) When he did so in a 2013 CNS article, we pointed out that researchers for the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who compiled an independent study of the abuse, stated that no connection was found between homosexual identity and an increased likelihood of sexual abuse and argued that the idea of sexual identity should be separated from the problem of sexual abuse, since one does not have to have a homosexual identity to commit homosexual acts.

These facts have not stopped Donohue from pushing this false claim -- and the MRC from letting him do it. In a June 6 CNS article, Gage Cohen repeated the statistics from the John Jay report that "nearly 8 in 10 victims of sexual abuse by clergy were male and 85 percent of these male victims were post-pubescent," then quoted Donohue complaining that these statistics were "not being emphasized by U.S. bishops or the media" because “They’ve been intimidated by the dominant culture. ... They know there’s a serious problem there [with homosexual clergy] ... it’s not good politics.”

Cohen didn't disclose that Bozell is on the Catholic League board of advisers.

'Spotlight' and distraction

Donohue was unsurprisingly incensed about the 2015 film "Spotlight," which tells the story of how reporters at the Boston Globe blew the lid off the Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. And, unsurprisingly, the MRC gave him a platform to be incensed upon. Donohue complained November 2015 NewsBusters post:

The media are pushing Spotlight, the movie that opens on Friday about the Boston Globe team that exposed priestly sexual abuse in the Boston Archdiocese prior to 2002. But there is little interest in this issue when non-Catholics are implicated in such crimes. As recent cases show, many courts around the nation evince disparate treatment as well.

Donohue then selectively recounted random, isolated cases of abuse from across the country. For instance:

In May 2014, Michael Travis, an assistant softball coach at a Nebraska high school was arrested for sexually assaulting two softball players. Two more alleged victims came forward in December. This past August, he cut a deal with prosecutors. He pleaded guilty to simple assault, and was told he would not have to register as a sex offender or spend a day in jail. It received little media coverage.

Actually, the case in question happened in Iowa, not Nebraska. Donohue doesn't mention that the plea deal was approved by the alleged victims because it would force Travis to surrender his teaching and coaching licenses and agree to never teach or coach again, or that some of the charges against Travis had to be thrown out because they took place before a law specifically outlawing the alleged behavior was enacted.

Donohue went on to whine: "If any of these accused men had been a priest, both the media and the courts would have acted differently. This is not even debatable." But Donohue deliberately omits the reason why the Catholic abuse cases were especially newsworthy, not just in Boston but in other dioceses as well: they were widespread, and church officials spent decades covering them up. Donohue cannot say that about any of the isolated cases he cited as a distraction.

(On the other hand, kudos to the MRC for disclosing at the top of Donohue's post that Bozell is a member of the Catholic League's board of advisers.)

After "Spotlight" won an Oscar for best picture, Donohue was back in distraction mode. NewsBusters published a February 2016 post by him complaining that "Hollywood has no interest in turning its cameras on itself, which is why the public's eyes have been shut tight from seeing a movie that documents child rape in Tinseltown." Donohue doesn't even mention "Spotlight" after the second paragraph.

An updated version of Donohue's rant appeared at CNS, with a new introduction:

The politicization of "Spotlight" began even before it won the Oscar for Best Picture. Actor Mark Ruffalo held a rally outside the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels; 20 persons showed up. He said he stood by victims of priestly sexual abuse. On stage, screenwriter Josh Singer exclaimed, "Pope Francis, it's time to protect the children and restore the faith."

Apparently, these men are unaware of the fact that the homosexual scandal occurred mostly between 1965 and 1985, and that no institution in the United States has less of a problem with this issue today than the Catholic Church. That's because Pope Benedict XVI made it hard for practicing homosexuals to enter the priesthood. But no matter, the propaganda experts cannot resist trying to keep the scandal alive.

Donohue is using a lie to justify engaging in homophobia -- which, of course, suits the anti-gay MRC just fine.

(The NewsBusters version of Donohue's rant disclosed Bozell's link to the Catholic League, while the CNS version did not.)

On Dec. 18, CNS managing editor Michael W. Chapman was the servile stenographer for another Donohue rant, this time about the Boston Globe -- who in Chapman's words "has turned stories about child sexual abuse by Catholic priests into a cottage industry-- not publishing the names of staff members accused of sexual harassment. Donohue ultimately huffs, "We need Hollywood to do a 'Spotlight' film on the corruption within the Boston Globe," forgetting that a couple instances of sexual harassment at a newspaper have nothing whatsoever in common with the decades of systematically covering up sexual abuse of children in the Boston diocese that Globe reporters uncovered.

A couple days earlier, Chapman was the silent stenographer again for another post in which Donohue ranted about too many gays in the priesthood and blaming them for the sexual abuse crisis:

"Though it is not considered polite to say so, most people know that homosexuals are responsible for the lion's share of the problem in the Catholic Church," said Donohue. "This includes those who insist they are gay-friendly."

"We do know that in the U.S., 81 percent of the clergy victims were male, and 78 percent were post-pubescent, meaning that homosexuals committed most of the abuse," said Donohue, "less than 5 percent of the abusers were determined to be pedophiles (see the John Jay College of Criminal Justice reports on this subject)."

Chapman did not report that the John Jay researchers explicitly warned against doing exactly what Donohue is doing, nor did he disclose Bozell's link to the Catholic League.

More Catholic rants

When there's Catholic-related stuff of any kind to rant about, Donohue is the MRC's guy. In his Oct. 11 CNS column, Donohue railed at accused sexual harasser Harvey Weinstein for the purportedly anti-Catholic films his company released:

In 2013, they released "Philomena," a tale of malicious lies about Irish nuns and the Church (Harvey lobbied hard for an Oscar, but came up empty). In real life, Philomena Lee was a teenager who abandoned her out-of-wedlock son, and who, because of the good efforts of the nuns, was adopted by an American couple.

In fact, the real-life Philomena did not "abandon" her child; she was forced to sign away all rights to him to the nuns who then put him up for adoption. That, unfortunately, was a depressingly common fate at that time or women with out-of-wedlock children, who then were forced to work in the laundries operated by the nuns.

Donohue might be a more credible critic of Weinstein (or anything, really) if he could ever be bothered to get basic facts straight. Yet the MRC gives him an uncontested forum anyway -- and helps to promote his stunts.

Apropos of apparently nothing, the Media Research Center published a curiously worded Jan. 23 press release:

Media Research Center President Brent Bozell delivered remarks at the National Press Club on Tuesday calling on the National Endowment of the Arts to withdraw its funding of the "gleefully profane" Jerry Springer: The Opera in New York City. He issued the following statement at the conclusion of the press conference:
“The NEA must withdraw its funding of the wildly anti-Christian, especially anti-Catholic, hate-filled production entitled Jerry Springer: The Opera. As Bill Donohue of the Catholic League has pointed out, this so-called ‘opera’ receives the majority of its funding from public sources, including the NEA. This is an outrage which must end.


The play is ugly, unadulterated hate. The current tenure of the NEA chair ends in April and President Trump must appoint a new chairman who will once and for all put an end to taxpayer funding for anti-Christian ‘art’ such as this piece of garbage.”
You have to follow the embedded link to figure out what, exactly, Bozell is so worked up about. It's a production of "Jerry Springer: The Opera" put on by a theater company called The New Group.

Bozell's mention of Donohue means this whole kerfuffle is spearheaded by him and the Catholic League. Bozell, as usual, failed to disclose that he's a member of the Catholic League's board of advisers.

Beyond that, however, the whole thing starts to fall apart. Donohue is attacking the musical and its producers because, according to his own press release, "the New Group receives most of its funding from public sources, led by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)." But he didn't identify exactly how much funding its gets from the NEA, nor does he identify whether any of that NEA funding went toward this production.

Donohue has since been trying to milk this evidence-free story -- with the MRC's help, of course. Donohue sent a letter to President Trump about it, but again he offered no proof to back up his claim, vaguely stating only that "The New Group is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts."

A Jan. 25 blog post by Craig Bannister regurgitated another letter Donohue sent to a House committee claiming "potential guideline violations by the NEA." This is all Donohue has to offer:

The nexus between NEA and the New Group is more than disturbing: it is so incestuous that it is in violation of NEA’s own strictures. In 2009, the NEA gave the New Group $50,000, "To support the preservation of jobs that are threatened by declines in philanthropic and other support during the current economic downturn." Yet under NEA guidelines, "General operating or seasonal support" is explicitly prohibited.
That's apparently the only "evidence" Donohue has -- a small donation nearly a decade ago that has nothing whatsoever to do with the group's current production. That's the opposite of "incestuous."

In his Feb. 23 CNS column -- again, without proving that any federal money was directed to this production, let alone anywhere near the producers over the past decade -- Donohue huffed: "We are confident that we will get what we want out of this 'Springer Opera' mess. We trust that President Trump will soon nominate a morally responsible person to be the new head of the National Endowment for the Arts, someone who will make the cheerleaders of the 'Springer Opera' wince."

But the MRC will never admit that emperor Donohue has no clothes here -- he's just a hateful old man with some money to throw around to push his right-wing agenda and a few friends in the media (and on his board) who will help him spread his bogus claims.

Non-sexual-abuse stuff

As befits their relationship, the MRC will even give Donohue a chance to rant about things that aren't related to Catholicism. For instance, In a Dec. 14 post, Chapman transcribed Donohue's huffiness about a son succeeding his father as New York Times publisher, making the bizarre complaint that "no women were interviewed for the top spot." No women were interviewed either for the top spot in the Catholic Church the last time that job opened up, but we don't recall Donohue complaining about that.

In July 2017, Donohue ranted about the Southern Poverty Law Center accurately labeling the right-wing Alliance Defending Freedom a anti-gay hate group:

NBC, ABC, and CNN treat SPLC as if it were some kind of gospel source of information. Yet no serious observer would give credence to an organization that lumps ADF, and the Family Research Council (FRC), with the Westboro Baptist Church. ADF and FRC are prominent and well respected organizations that defend traditional moral values and religious liberty. Westboro Baptist Church is a bona-fide hate group: it unambiguously hates Catholics and gays.

Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, is a decent and courageous defender of Christianity. He is not a hateful man. NBC owes him an apology.

CNN should fire Laura Jarrett, the reporter who quoted an activist for contending that ADF believes gays have no right to exist. She should be fired not for smearing ADF, but for incompetence.

Donohue didn't disprove the SPLC's contention that ADF hates gays, and he didn't bother to look up the SPLC's page on ADF for its supporting evidence.

The lone deviation from the fawning coverage CNS published about Trump's speech before Congress in early 2017 was a column by Donohue complaining that Trump wasn't right-wing enough by not referencing "moral issues." Donohue didn't explain how he can be shocked that a thrice-married adulterer who lies pretty much all the time has little interest in discussing moral issues.

The MRC even called in Donohue to opine on the issue of football players kneeling for the National Anthem, even though football has even less to do with the Catholic League's mission than it does the MRC's.

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