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Journalism Ethics Questioned: Did the AP Do Its Job?

“Sentence first — verdict afterward,” says the Queen in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” That may have been the logic this time.

The Associated Press reported on Nov. 12 that attorney Mitchell Garabedian plans to file a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Newark (N.J.) on behalf of a man who is accusing Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio and the late Father Albert Mark of abusing him in the 1970s at St. Nicholas Parish in Jersey City, where both of the priests were assigned.

Why would the Associated Press report on a lawsuit that is at least a month away from being filed? The timing seems suspicious. When you are accused in a court of law, you have the chance to defend yourself. But when a big news organization publishes an article like the one the Associated Press did, it is difficult to defend your reputation in the court of public opinion, where no judge or jury has to prove that you should be liable for damages.

Let’s review the background. It was publicly known that the apostolic visitation Bishop DiMarzio was conducting in the troubled Diocese of Buffalo had concluded — because he has kept the public informed about his visits and investigations in Buffalo every step of the way. It was also known that Bishop DiMarzio was going to be in Rome last week for the ad limina visit of the New York state bishops to the Vatican.

What was the Associated Press’s priority in this situation — to inform the public objectively or to help Garabedian promote his case and besmirch the name of Bishop DiMarzio in public and in the process call into question the validity of Bishop DiMarzio’s investigation into the Diocese of Buffalo?

According to the New York Times, Garabedian said that “the investigation of the Diocese of Buffalo by Bishop DiMarzio is tainted because of these allegations.” Garabedian, of course, doesn’t know what the result of Bishop DiMarzio’s investigation in Buffalo will be. Bishop DiMarzio concluded his investigation before Garabedian’s intentions to file a lawsuit became known.

The New York Times gives the reader Garabedian’s statement without context or counterbalance. Garabedian told the Times: “It is time for the police to investigate the investigator […] The investigation should include questioning Pope Francis about his appointment of the bishop as investigator.” 

How could Garabedian ask for the police to question Pope Francis about the appointment of Bishop DiMarzio? The appointment — and the investigation — were made before any accusations against Bishop DiMarzio were made.

And how can the New York Times publish such statements about Bishop DiMarzio and the pope without asking obvious questions to Garabedian? Both the Associated Press and New York Times seem to have taken Garabedian at his word without questioning why he would go to the press before he files his lawsuit.

As readers of The Tablet and this column know, the suffering of the victims of sexual abuse has been at the center of our coverage of the abuse crisis. We have dedicated a great deal of effort and space to inform our readers about sexual abuse in the church and about the efforts to eradicate this scourge and find justice for victims and survivors. And that coverage will continue.

Neither the victims of sexual abuse nor justice are served by journalism that seems to have presumed guilt. And we need to call that out — it is our duty as journalists.

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