By Benjamin Mann
Kansas City Star staff members are offering no explanation of the paper’s refusal to publish an ad from the Catholic League, a decision the group attributes to a bias against the Church.
“Almost two weeks ago, we contacted the Kansas City Star about running a full-page ad on Sunday, October 30,” said Catholic League President Bill Donohue. The ad criticized the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) – the subject of a recent Star profile – and defended Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn against what Donohue calls “politically motivated attacks.”
“On October 25, we submitted the ad exactly the way they wanted it, and indeed gave them our credit card information to pay the $25,000 fee,” Donohue recalled in an Oct. 31 statement. “On October 26, we received an e-mail which said that ‘The Publisher has respectfully declined and did not share the details as to why.’”
Donohue claims the Star, which called for Bishop Finn’s resignation in a June 4 editorial, has formed an “alliance” against the bishop with the abuse survivor’s network. That relationship, he says, caused the paper to turn down his ad accusing SNAP of “taking aim at Bishop Finn.”
“The Kansas City Star has long been in bed with SNAP,” stated Donohue, who said both were “decidedly anti-Catholic.”
So far, staff members responsible for advertising at the Star have refused to respond to the charge.
CNA made several unsuccessful attempts to discuss the matter with Star Publisher Mi-Ai Parrish, during the week of Oct. 31.
Derek Donovan, readers’ representative at the paper, referred questions to Parrish. He said decisions to accept or reject ads were “part and parcel of what the publisher does,” and recommended asking Parrish about the Catholic League’s rejected spot.
An assistant to Parrish confirmed that she was in the office, but unavailable, when contacted. As of Nov. 4, CNA had received no response to messages left with the Kansas City Star publisher.
Director of Advertising Jennifer Kisser said on Oct. 31 that she was “not familiar” with the ad in question, and had “not heard a thing about it.” Kisser said she was “not at all aware of anything pertaining to the Catholic League” but directed inquiries to Retail and National Advertising Director Julie Terry, who did not respond to requests for an interview.
The only direct comment on the rejection of the Catholic League ad came from Donovan, the readers’ representative, who said it was “a business decision that has to do with the advertising division.”
Donovan said the paper’s call for Bishop Finn’s resignation in a June editorial, had not compromised its later reporting on the bishop, who is in a legal battle over his treatment of a priest charged with possessing child pornography.
The reader’s representative said he found the Star’s coverage of the case “pretty darn fair.”
He also said there was a “big difference between the editorial board,” with responsibility for the piece urging Bishop Finn to step down, and “what the news side is saying” in its coverage of the same topic.
The Catholic League, however, has continued to question the Star’s treatment of the Church.
On Nov. 2, Donohue reminded league supporters of a 1999 survey by the Star, asking Catholic priests nationwide about their sexuality.
“They were asked such things as: identify your sexual orientation; discuss whether you have HIV or AIDS; assess how the Church is handling this issue; and explain whether the Church should change its teachings on celibacy and homosexuality,” the Catholic League president noted. “No other religious or secular institution was surveyed.”
“Expecting that most would disagree with celibacy and the Church’s teachings on homosexuality, the end game would then be realized: this is how the Star expected to manipulate public opinion, putting pressure on the Church to change its teachings.”
Donohue said the majority of respondents had not expressed such views. “Yet virtually all the remarks printed in the Star came from priests who were critical of the Church!”
After that poll, he said, “the Star showed even more contempt for privacy rights by combing the death certificates of deceased priests looking for dirt.”
“By any measure, the Star showed its bias, as well as its necromania,” said Donohue.
The Catholic League president has also pointed to the Star’s shaky finances, as evidence that it would not turn down his ad merely as a business decision.
“Ten years ago, there were 1,869 employees at the Star; today there are 840,” he said. “Given these data, turning down $25,000 – in today’s economy – must mean the Star is more concerned about getting Bishop Finn than it is the welfare of its own workers.”