Wednesday, May 1, 2013

NCR's Choice to Censor My Comments about Cardinal Dolan's Appointment of a Media Spokesperson: Rest of Story

Here's a follow-up to my posting yesterday about two comments National Catholic Reporter chose to remove from a thread discussing the appointment of Kim Daniels as the new media voice for the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Timothy Dolan. I did receive a response from Pam Cohen at NCR to the email I sent her yesterday, which was published in the posting to which the first link points. And since I published my email to Pam Cohen and complained later that it had not been acknowledged, I want to do her the courtesy of acknowledging publicly that she contacted me in response to my email.

As I noted yesterday, Ms. Cohen is the web editor for NCR, and she has the unenviable job of monitoring the often free-wheeling and sometimes refractory and even caustic exchanges in comboxes at the NCR site. One tool NCR uses to assist with the monitoring is a flagging system. Any contributor can click a button to flag a particular comment as problematic, and Ms. Cohen then reviews the flags and makes decisions about whether to keep or remove particular comments.

She explains that my comments had been flagged by a number of readers, and after looking at them, she decided that "there some unfair things that were said about the GOP," and she removed my comments. Since I have no copy of what I wrote, I can't replicate my comments verbatim. To the best of my knowledge, I stated simply that with the appointment of Kim Daniels (who previously worked for Sarah Palin and the right-wing Catholic group Thomas More Law Center, which is in the thick of the political attack on the Obama administration's healthcare policies), any of us in doubt that the top pastoral leaders of the U.S. Catholic church are owned by the GOP and its super-rich handlers might as well cease doubting.

And, since I see comments far more caustic about both the Republican and the Democratic parties in threads at NCR on a daily basis, I'm not convinced, of course, that I was in any way unfair to the GOP or that this is the real reason my comments were deleted. I suspect the sticking point with my comments was that they directly criticized the USCCB, and, in particular, the USCCB president Timothy Dolan, who made the decision to hire Ms. Daniels. And, coming on the heels of my commentary about His Eminence's "Dirty Freddie" story regarding his gay brothers and sisters (which has now had over 400 reads here), I said too much--for some folks monitoring the NCR site and flagging comments, certainly, for some NCR staff as well, perhaps.

Here's something that I'd advise Ms. Cohen and other NCR editors to think about, vis-a-vis the flagging system: since almost all commenters at the NCR site have usernames, it's not possible, as far as I know, for NCR to know precisely who is choosing to flag particular comments, or whether a group working in tandem is flagging a particular comment or sets of comments by a particular contributor, to let him/her know that he/she is persona non grata at the site.

That groups of contributors do collude with precisely that message as their goal, I know, because a contributor to NCR's discussions has posted a statement to me there in the past, stating that "we" do not "like you," and "we" use the dislike button to let you know this.

As I mentioned in my posting yesterday, one contributor calling himself Manolo Lefkowitz, Jr., created a Disqus profile after I posted my comments, with the sole purpose of stating that NCR is a mouthpiece for the "gay lobby"--in direct response to my comments. His reply is a reply directly to me, though my comment said nothing at all about gay anything. "Mr. Lefkowitz" then closed his Disqus account after having made that single comment--and that's how I know he created it solely to troll my comments about Cardinal Dolan's choice of a new mouthpiece.

I notified NCR of what "Mr. Lefkowitz" had done through my own comments in the same thread. As you also know from the email to Pam Cohen I shared here yesterday, I told both her and Tom Fox at NCR about what "Mr. Lefkowitz" had done, and suggested that it was grossly unfair for NCR to censor my comments while maintaining the comments of someone clearly engaging in trolling behavior with a nasty anti-gay edge to it: "Lefkowitz" obviously mentioned the "gay lobby" solely to discredit me as someone speaking about the connection of His Eminence Cardinal Dolan to the GOP and its super-rich handlers.

Pam Cohen tells me in her email reply to me that "Lefkowitz's" comments didn't appear to her to be directed to me. It's hard for me to understand how Ms. Cohen reaches that conclusion, when the arrow pointing from "Lefkowitz's" comment to the person to whom he is replying names me. He wrote the comment as a direct reply to my now-censored first comment about the USCCB and the GOP, which started a thread of comments responding to me, in which a second of my comments was also censored.

And his comment still stands as I write this posting. His gay-baiting comment replicated in a whole series of "gay lobby" slurs right now responding to an article by Michael Sean Winters this morning about immigration and gay rights still stands, while my comments (which said nothing at all about gay anything) have been removed. And, to repeat: a whole series of posters today is now responding to a discussion of immigration and gay rights, all using precisely the "gay lobby" term "Mr. Lefkowitz" used to slur me, resulting in NCR's decision to censor me but not the "Mr. Lefkowitz" using this slur term.

Something's stinky here. NCR has strong reason to know, since I've pointed this out to them, that at least one of the probable characters flagging my comment about the USCCB and the GOP was the fictional "Mr. Lefkowitz," who opened a Disqus account solely to post an anti-gay slur to discredit me that appears not to perturb NCR in the least. Wouldn't you think that, knowing this, NCR's editors might also suspect that the other anonymous contributors flagging my comments and seeking to let me know I'm unwelcome at the NCR site are others of the "Lefkowitz" ilk, possibly others colluding with him?

As the system is now set up, it permits people to be ganged up on and driven from the NCR threads by gangs of virtual bullies, colluding with each other to shut the conversation down. It would seem to me that NCR has a rather strong obligation to counter such bullying behavior, not to facilitate it.

Unless, of course, NCR actually does know the identity of some of those who want to see certain comments censored, and unless those particular individuals demanding censorship in particular cases are important people or groups who have strong clout with NCR . . . .

As a result of this experience, I've decided I'm going to accept the message the NCR editors have just given me, and am going to absent myself from discussions there. The long and short of their message--and it has been a persistent one for me over many years from many of my fellow Catholics--is that the Catholic church belongs in some privileged way to others. It belongs to the movers and shakers of Commonweal, America, and NCR. It belongs to my colleagues in the Catholic academy who talk about human rights and Catholic values but have never lifted a finger to stand in solidarity with Steve and me  as we've been driven from their Catholic academy.

It certainly does not belong to me.

I don't count, and those privileged others intend to let me know that I don't count.

My Catholic church belongs in a privileged way to those who are permitted to trample through Catholic blog sites slinging around slurs about the "gay lobby." It does not belong to those who are openly gay and speak in our own gay voices--who are the object of the bullying intended by the group using the "gay lobby" slur who occupy the center of the Catholic conversation.

And in some ways, that's fine. I have my own garden to tend to, after all, and in that garden, I find delights I certainly don't find in the rank, weedy garden of much contemporary Catholic discourse, which is eminently unwelcoming to me and my kind, even as it trumpets its "welcome" and its "love."

I find Cardinal Dolan and all he stands for frankly filthy, in moral terms, and I've had it for now with him and the kind of Catholicism he represents. I need some detox time to recover my own moral and spiritual balance, since I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the church to which I belong is not fostering moral insight or spiritual depth in my life right now.

Precisely the opposite.

And because morality and spirituality count for me--they need to count for me--I have no choice except to accept the real message those who own my church want to keep giving me, that I am entirely unwelcome, that I am beneath contempt and don't deserve to be treated with even minimal human decency. I need some time now to stop caring about the ability of the lies re: "love" and "welcome" mouthed by these owners of the Catholic brand to carry the day in a world that is all too centered on glib images that mean absolutely nothing substantial at all.

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