I do not remember the editorship of Michael Kelly at the New Republic in the fondest terms. I did not like his biases and I was glad when he left the magazine even though I would be saddened a couple of years later when he was killed covering the war in Iraq. Kelly did one thing, however, in the late Clinton years that is one of the less enjoyable parts of being a journalist and one of the most admirable: He refused to go away or, more precisely, he refused to let the questions go away. He hounded the Clintons for information. He was relentless, even obnoxious, about raising the issues they hoped everyone would simply tire of questioning. It is the job of those of us who are journalists not only to inform, not only to check our facts, but to be relentless when there is a falsehood that has gone unexplained or an injustice that has not been apologized for.
One week ago, I blogged about a vicious attack by Jack Smith at the Catholic Key Blog, published by the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, on Sister Carol Keehan who is CEO and President of the Catholic Health Association. (Needless to say, the original attack has been picked up by a variety of other websites, so the damage is quite extensive.) Smith accused Sister Carol of being insufficiently aggressive in pushing for the health care reform proposals to exclude abortion coverage. This, despite the fact that in a letter to Chairman Henry Waxman, Sister Carol had written that concern for the sanctity of human life was "central" to her organization’s vision.
Smith said Sister Carol was "accused of being at odds with the USCCB" but he neglected to provide a citation. I called the Director of Communications, Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, who provided me with this statement: "Sister Carol and the USCCB share and promote the pro-life position as they work for quality health care. Both want quality health care that covers all in the United States from conception to natural death, no matter where born or at what stage of life. Sister Carol and the USCCB are working together to keep in place current restrictions on abortion, abortion mandates and funding for abortion and to maintain conscience protection for individuals and institutions." So, maybe Mr. Smith got some bad information but the responsibility is his to apologize to Sister Carol whose name he trashed with that bad information. Then he can go yell at is source in private.
Of course, my real gripe, and the primary reason I insisted on his apologizing to Sister Carol, was the insinuation that she was only concerned about the bottom-line of the health care companies she represented. He focused on Sister Carol’s salary – putting it in the headline, comparing it to people in different lines of work – but failed to demonstrate why that had anything to do with his charge except to further imply that Sister Carol is motivated not by her lifelong commitment to the poor but by greed. Again, Smith offered not a shred of evidence for his charges so he owes an apology to his readers for failing the most basic standards of journalism as well as to Sister Carol for his failed attempt at character assassination.
I sent a link to my blog to Mr. Smith. I also sent it to the office of Bishop Finn, who owns the Catholic Key. I repeat my demand that Mr. Smith apologize to Sister Carol in a manner as public as his initial attack. This demand has been seconded by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. We will not let this vicious, mean-spirited attack vanish into the ether Mr. Smith. We expect you to do the decent thing and apologize. You are entitled to your own opinions about health care reform, Mr. Smith. You are not entitled to besmirch the reputation of Sister Carol with no evidence for your charges, no balance in your "reporting," and no decency in your judgment.