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Worst Story of the Month Award: an early nomination

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jun 01, 2011

It’s awfully early to be making nominations for the Worst Reporting of the Month, but still…

Frankly, I had never heard of the International Business Times until today. A quick sampling of its contents leaves me wondering whether it can be considered a serious publication—and indeed, whether the editors are entirely familiar with the English language. (Read on; you’ll see what I mean.) Still, because of the wonders of internet search engines, a reader looking for news about the Catholic Church today is likely to encounter the International Business Times and its provocative story headline: 

Why Church would rather let you die than use a condom.

The subject, ostensibly, is the past week’s Vatican conference on AIDS. The IBT story opens with a grudging acknowledgement that the Catholic Church “might be one of the largest providers of HIV/AIDS care facilities in the world.” The words “might be” and “one of” are misplaced in that sentence. The Church is by far the world’s foremost sponsor of AIDS-treatment facilities. No one familiar with the facts about AIDS would bother to deny that reality. But is the IBT reporter familiar with the facts? The next paragraph raises doubts:

Statements issued by Pope Benedict XVI during the past years had ignited the hopes of condom promoters, mainly due to its [sic]ambiguity. One such statement published in Vatican newspaper[sic] in November 2010 had the Pope saying that condoms can be justified in certain cases, "in the intention of reducing the risk of infection". The statement was in the context of protecting male prostitutes from Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD). As it turns out, even now, at the eve of 30th year since HIV/AIDS was first detected, Church is not willing to let believers go easy with their lives.

Where does that paragraph go wrong? Let me count the ways:

  1. Pope Benedict made exactly one statement that raised the hopes of the condom-distribution advocates. The use of the plural is misplaced. That’s sloppy reporting.
  2. The statement in question was published in a book; the Vatican newspaper reprinted it. That’s sloppier reporting.
  3. The Pope’s statement was not speaking about protecting male prostitutes from AIDS; he was speaking about a hypothetical male prostitute who might be inspired to protect his clients from AIDS. That’s the sloppiest reporting of all, because it entirely misses the point of the Pope’s remark.

Still, give the reporter credit for one accurate sentence in that paragraph: The Church “is not willing to let believers go easy with their lives.” If your greatest goal in life is to take it easy, Catholicism might pose a measure of inconvenience. Yet there are worse things that could be said about the Church, as the IBT report demonstrates:

Turning away from something as ubiquitous as condom in the 21st century might even render the Church completely out-dated, according to condom advocates.

Nobody wants to be considered “outdated.” But suppose I were to write:

Turning away from something as useful as Catholic World News in the 21st century might even render the Church completely out-dated, according to CWN editor Phil Lawler.

What would that sentence convey? Absolutely nothing, apart from the unsurprising information that the salesman commends his own product. So too with the condom advocates. Their only support for the argument that the Church is “outdated” is the fact that the Church doesn’t do what they do.

The International Business Times story contains some new and factual reporting. Unfortunately there’s no overlap. What’s new is not factual, and what’s factual is not news.

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Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: msorensen71798 - Jun. 03, 2011 11:04 PM ET USA

    Maybe reporting that bad shouldn't be reported on. (Wouldn't want to be spiking their numbers.)

  • Posted by: Chestertonian - Jun. 03, 2011 8:54 PM ET USA

    A quick investigation of their website leads me to say no, I would not consider IBTimes a serious publication. The CEO has one job listed on LinkedIn, followed by his university credentials. The "About Us" page lists the officers by name and title, but give absolutely no biographical info. And, in just a brief scan of the website, I found several more typos. ONe might call IBT a legend in their own minds--but certainly not mine.

  • Posted by: sparch - Jun. 02, 2011 10:19 AM ET USA

    sounds like their site should be reviewed, in the very least.

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