The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


On television, story on Law grows, but pulls back by day's end

By Mark Jurkowitz, Globe Staff, 12/13/2002

Mix together a dash of speculation, a smidgeon of confusion, and a heaping teaspoon of competitive pressure, and you've got the recipe for the confusing story about Cardinal Bernard F. Law's possible resignation that played out on television news yesterday.

Based largely on a story by the Fox News Channel, the three major Boston network affiliates led their noon newscasts with reports that Law had offered to resign or submitted his resignation during his trip to Rome, even ahead of his meeting with the pope.

Yet, by the time the sun set and the 5 p.m. newscasts rolled around, the tone and time frame of the story had changed perceptibly. WBZ-TV (Channel 4) stated that Law was ''expected to offer his resignation'' while WCVB-TV (Channel 5) cited reports that ''Law is ready to submit his resignation.'' WHDH-TV (Channel 7) also indicated that Law is ''expected to offer to resign tomorrow.''

In a mid-afternoon interview, Channel 4 news director Peter Brown acknowledged the strategic retreat from the earlier, more definitive reports. ''Everyone's kind of pulling back right now,'' he said. ''It was that initial splash and kind of slowly pulling back.''

The initial splash was generated by an 11:30 ''News Alert'' that aired on the Fox News Channel. In an interview from Rome, correspondent Greg Burke gave viewers the dramatic news that ''it looks the beginning of the end for Cardinal Law,'' who ''has already offered his resignation in meetings here.''

A half-hour later, Channel 5 cited the Burke account indicating that he had offered to resign, according to station news director Coleen Marren. Channel 4's newscast stated that ''Sky News, a respected European news agency, is reporting that Bernard Cardinal Law has submitted his resignation to Pope John Paul II.''

Channel 7 opened its newscast with the Fox scoop about Law already submitting his resignation. But its reporter in Rome, Victoria Block, then quickly stressed that there were conflicting reports and no confirmation that he had resigned.

That kind of confusion was routine yesterday. A spokeswoman for MSNBC said the cable news outlet was playing the story cautiously, relying on a Reuters report that Law was waiting to meet with the pope. But by late afternoon, MSNBC was telling viewers that Law ''reportedly offered to resign.''

Reflecting on the ebb and flow of the day's coverage, Channel 7 public relations director Ro Dooley Webster said, ''it's a dynamic process, and our viewers are aware of the flow of information.'' Charles Kravetz, vice president of news at local cable network NECN, said his outlet reported on ''the conflicting reports,'' while being careful to cast doubt on the value of the speculation.

''Everyone was reporting there are reports. No one had it firsthand in Boston,'' he said. ''Is this an example of rumor run amok? Your guess is as good as mine.''

This story ran on page A60 of the Boston Globe on 12/13/2002.
© Copyright 2002 New York Times Co.

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