As promised, a few (waaay to many, really) observations and musings about the recent flare-up of the Harper and the Holy Host brouhaha, which most thought we’d heard the last of but which hit the news again this week with a front-page apology to the PM from the paper that broke the story, the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal, the departure of an editor and publisher, and an apology to the reporters that wrote the story.
Apparently, the editor/publisher inserted something into the story that wasn’t substantiated, without the knowledge of the reporters. It’s unclear to me what specifically, but it seems to be the statement of fact that he was indeed witnessed pocketing the host, and the potentially un-sourced claim that a senior NB RC priest was looking to the PMO for an explanation. The apology, though, seems to being taken by many as a complete repudiation of the entire story.
That doesn’t really make sense to me.
*How could the whole story be repudiated? The apology is supposedly for inserting unsubstantiated facts. But a story was still written in the first place which, in theory, the reporters stood by. So what was that original story, and what was inserted?
Remember, this story was written some five days after the state funeral. This is a daily newspaper, so they'd covered the funeral story already. So clearly the original, untainted story the two reporters wrote was more than just “there was a state funeral a week ago.” That’s not a story. The story they wrote had to centre around Harper accepting communion, was that right or not, and when did he consume it? Then some things were inserted to beef that up that were apparently troublesome.
The video shows he did not consume it right away. He appears to bring it down to his pocket, but it’s hard to definitively say if he pocketed it or not. It looks to me like it was pocketed by Harper. Harper eventually said through a spokesperson he didn’t pocket it. I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, despite the inconclusive video. When he ate it, that’s another question.
But the Telegraph Journal’s apology doesn't really change the original story, whether you think it’s a dumb or newsworthy story or not: Harper accepted communion when he shouldn’t have, and took his sweet time consuming it, when he should have consumed it right away. All they're retracting is "senior priest wants answers" and "he pocketed it."
*Looking at the original story and the apology, the TJ appears to retract this part:
A senior New Brunswick Roman Catholic priest is demanding the Prime Minister's Office explain what happened to the sacramental communion wafer Stephen Harper was given at Roméo LeBlanc's funeral mass.Here’s the part of the retraction dealing with that:
The story stated that a senior Roman Catholic priest in New Brunswick had demanded that the Prime Minister's Office explain what happened to the communion wafer which was handed to Prime Minister Harper during the celebration of communion at the funeral mass…There was no credible support for these statements of fact at the time this article was published, nor is the Telegraph-Journal aware of any credible support for these statements now.But the original story goes on to quote, on the record, and at length, someone who fits that description:
Monsignor Brian Henneberry, vicar general and chancellor in the Diocese of Saint John, wants to know whether the prime minister consumed the host and, if not, what happened to it.It’s unclear to me whether or not Henneberry is the senior priest being referred to in the lede of the original story, which is being retracted by the TJ, or whether these are two separate clergy members being referred to here.
If Harper accepted the host but did not consume it, "it's worse than a faux pas, it's a scandal from the Catholic point of view," he said.
Henneberry said a statement from the Prime Minister's Office is in order.
"If I were the prime minister, I would at least offer an explanation to say no offence was meant, and then (clarifying) what happened to the consecrated host is in order," he said. "I would hope the Prime Minister's Office would have enough respect for the Catholic Church and for faith in general to make clear whatever happened."
If it’s two separate people that means Henneberry’s comments are not retracted and would seem to support the thesis of the story, and would back-up the un-sourced comment they’re retracting.
If they are retracting Henneberry’s comments, then why didn’t they name him in the apology, and apologize to him as well? Has anyone called Henneberry on this?
And if it’s Henneberry they’re retracting, are they saying the editor/publisher fabricated quotes at length and attributed them to a real, actual person? That seems unlikely beyond the realm of reason to the point of absurdity. Or did they invent a fictitious clergy member named Henneberry, and write these quotes for their fake priest? Also unlikely. It's too easy to fact-check.
And if Henneberry actually did say these things, why would they retract him? He’s entitled to his opinion, which is quoted as wanting to know if Harper consumed the host or not, and being somewhat perturbed. That’s perfectly legitimate.
*The timing of this thing is also very peculiar, coming weeks after the initial stories. Clearly these reporters must have picked up the paper the next day, read their story, and been all “wtf dude, I didn’t write this stuff!” They must have gone to the editors and said "this stuff you added isn’t accurate, we need to do something here." So why the lag of weeks before the retraction/apology? And were there any phone calls, or legal sabre rattling, from the Harper camp?
The placement of the retraction, and the on the knees grovelling nature of it, is also out of line with standard newspaper corrections/apologies, which even under threat of legal action tend to be grudging, at best.
BigCityLib also raises an interesting connection: the TJ is controlled by the Irving family, whose shipyards rely heavily on federal contracts. And which very recently got a half-billion shipbuilding contract from the Conservative government. Things that make you go hmm.
*CTV’s Bob Fife thinks he has a big scoop, alleging some kind of Liberal involvement in the story. This has CPC poobah Doug Finley into a righteous later and the Con-bots all in a tizzy saying this makes a story they had dismissed as totally lame now the biggest thing since the pita pocket.
A few things, though. What exactly are they alleging? That a Liberal called the TJ and said Hey, there’s a story here you might want to check out? Hate to break it, but that’s what comms people and reporters do every day.
Who do you want to bet called Bob Fife with THIS story?
But it’s not about specific allegations of anything. It’s about whipping up a big lather of “Big Bad Liberal Media” that will no doubt feature prominently in the next CPC fundraising letter.
*Finally, on a lighter note, it looks like the script is coming together nicely for the sequel to Angels and Demons II: Harper and the Holy Host. The conspiracy widens!
If nothing else though, it’s another chance for you to watch the video the Conservatives didn’t want you to see, and some of the resulting media coverage. Oh, the kerfuffle of it all…
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