Reno Off Limits to Newt?; Nothing Sacred Confronts Abortion
1) The Thursday testimony before the Senate committee by former DNC Finance Chairman Richard Sullivan and his deputy, Mark Thomann, generated some conflicting headlines. Compare the Washington Times and USA Today to the New York Times and Washington Post.
While on the fundraising scandal, here's what struck me as the oddest question of the weekend. On Sunday's Meet the Press moderator Tim Russert noted how Newt Gingrich had said that because of all the White House shenanigans Attorney General Janet Reno "looks like a fool." He then asked his guest, Reno:
2) Conspiracy anyone? Despite all the examples of how the networks have failed to pick up on negative disclosures about President Clinton and his administration, he really thinks there's a media conspiracy afoot to get him. On Friday, Washington Times "Inside Politics" columnist Greg Pierce picked up comments White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry made in the White House Weekly newsletter. McCurry claimed:
Let's see how much the networks or other print outlets have been "pounding" two revelations unveiled in the Los Angeles Times last week.
An October 7 headline over a story by Alan Miller announced, "Democrats Sought Funds on Asia Trip, Memos Show: Venture in 1991 appears to contradict DNC claim foreign-linked financial abuses were aberration." Miller began:
An October 10 headline declared, "Democrats Wooed, but Never Won, Wealthy Iraqi: Potential contributor Nemir Kirdar got access to Clinton, but fund-raisers failed to collect a dime." LA Times reporter Glenn Bunting revealed:
Coverage: Alan Miller appeared on Monday's CNN Inside Politics to discuss his story, six days after it ran. But zilch on the broadcast networks about either LA Times story.
3) Nothing Sacred not so pro-abortion after all. Writing an October 10 CyberAlert transition into an item on a pro-life episode of Touched by an Angel, I asserted that the CBS show offered a stark contrast to ABC's Nothing Sacred which had just "delivered an episode in which the priest gives a young woman money so she can have an abortion." I based my conclusion on what I had heard the show would do and then seeing the final scene in which a girl tells the priest that she had the abortion and then hands him an envelope with money, explaining that her boyfriend paid. In fact, as an attentive CyberAlert reader pointed out, the girl had stolen the money from the church's petty cash box.
But, the larger point is that after reviewing the show analysis from MRC entertainment researcher Melissa Caldwell and watching a tape of it myself, I learned that the show did not deliver the expected one-sided polemic for the "pro-choice" view.
First, some background. Nothing Sacred is an 8pm ET ABC drama which portrays "Father Ray," a priest at an urban Catholic church. The Catholic League has condemned it for its focus on a liberal priest who questions his faith and strays from Catholic teachings, including some pro-choice rhetoric in the premiere. So far, it has tanked in the ratings, finishing third in its time slot which is owned by NBC's Friends sit-com. CBS's spiritually-centered and not so political Promised Land captures about twice the audience as Nothing Sacred.
Now to the October 9 episode. While the star, "Father Ray," clearly supports a woman's right to choose an abortion, an older Father in the parish, "Father Leo," got several opportunities to express a pro-life viewpoint and admonish Father Ray. When Father Ray condemns a landlord who mistreats his tenants, Father Leo points out Ray's hypocrisy, showing righteous indignation at the businessman while telling the pregnant high schooler to follow her own conscience. Here's a brief review of the show's dialogue, most transcribed by Melissa Caldwell.
"Rachel" is the pregnant high school student. Near the top of the show a friend tells her why she should ignore Catholic teaching: "I mean if the church is so in favor of life, I mean, why don't they stop wars. I mean the Pope gets up there and like blesses the army." She later asserts: "I mean no soldier ever had to go into confession for killing someone did he?...And they care so much about fetuses? I don't think so. I think it's just propaganda to keep women in their place."
Rachel asks Father Ray what to do. He tells her: "I told you what he church teaches in the confessional, right? But what you do, that depends on your own conscience, and that's also what the church teaches."
Father Leo, and older priest, learns of this advice and goes to Rachel. He apprises her: "I think you have a life growing inside you. You're frightened. You're lost. You've got choices to make. We're going to support you Rachel. We're going to help you. We're going to help you whichever choice you make." Rachel and the viewer assume he's saying abortion is okay. But he continues: "Whatever you choose, whether you want to place the baby with a good family or keep the baby yourself."
Another story line on the show involved a rich landlord who abused his tenants. After he removed a staircase, his tenants camp out on the church steps to demand that Father Ray take action. One offers this description of the landlord: "Scum of the Earth, greedy, heartless, bloodsucker. Respected parishioner, major contributor of St. Thomas."
Father Ray calls "Mr. Quinn" on the phone. Ray tells him [CAPS for yelling]: "I want to point out that unless the conditions in your building at 18th Street or corrected, not only will I denounce you as a public sinner from the pulpit at the eleven o'clock mass on Sunday. Not only will I make sure that the press is there to get your name on the evening news, BUT I WILL EXCOMMUNICATE YOU MR. QUINN. I will consign your sorry soul to the deepest depths of Hell. Are you getting my point? No, I want that staircase back up, I want that building repaired, I want the daily lives of your legal tenants restored, or there you will be Mr. Quinn, weeping and gnashing your teeth for all eternity, and there's no way out of there Mr. Quinn, BECAUSE JUST LIKE YOUR APARTMENT BUILDING THERE ARE NO STAIRCASES IN HELL."
This outburts prompts Father Leo to observe: "You have no trouble being clear and righteous about the tenants. You didn't tell Joseph Quinn to follow his conscience, you told him to do what's right. It's interesting, isn't it?"
(Maybe the Chamber of Commerce should be more upset by this series than the Catholic League.)
Rachel asks Father Ray for $150 and a ride to the abortion clinic, but Ray says he can't provide either. He again refuses to ask her to not to have the abortion: "I know you're scared. I know that. You're facing your conscience. You've been stripped bare of everything else, it's just you and God now. There's nothing I can do to change that." To which Rachel retorts, "That is so cold."
After they discover $150 missing from petty cash, Father Leo admonishes Ray: "You're an open book. 'Now go in there, have an abortion.' Well that's what you've been communicating to her. Without even saying it, you're giving her permission." Leo insists that "What she needs is somebody to stop her, to tell her what to do. She's begging for it. Why do you think she came to us?" Ray counters: "This isn't 1957 Leo. We don't have to live with those consequences. We don't. She does."
Since Ray won't do his job, Leo sits down with Rachel and explains that he sees "a girl who's about to hurt herself because how will you get up every morning knowing that you've killed your own child?" Minutes later Ray sees Rachel praying and decides to follow Leo's advice. Ray reluctantly counsels her: "I think the world can only be a better place with a child of yours in it."
Rachel goes home to her bedroom where talks to her unborn baby about why she's going to have an abortion: "I don't know if you're anything. I don't know if you're a baby. You're just a bunch of cells waiting to find out what you're going to be."
THe next day Father Ray realizes that she had the abortion and drives to the clinic. He offers to give her a ride. She sighs: "Like straight to Hell." Ray disagrees: "No, no." After she returns the money she took, she concludes: "So I guess that's it for me and God?" In the last words of the abortion story line, Ray counters "No, to the contrary."
No matter how balanced or unbalanced the politics and doctrine of the series, a TV-14 rated show dealing with such controversial and adult issues really doesn't belong in the family hour.
-- Brent Baker