NBC Coverage of Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal Puts CBS to Shame

The Catholic Church's clergy abuse scandal led all three major networks' news coverage on July 16, with the stunning announcement by the Los Angeles diocese that it will pay a landmark $660 million settlement to 508 people who said they were sexually abused by predatory priests and other church officials. 

NBC and CBS chose to ask the question “What is the church doing to prevent further abuse?”  Only one network gave the church credit for the steps it has taken.

NBC Nightly News presented a package by Jennifer London in which, after detailing the facts of the settlement and financial payouts by other dioceses, she said, “Along with the payouts the church has taken steps to prevent further abuse.”  NBC then cut to Judge Michael Merz, head of the National Review Board put in place by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who stated, “Background checks. Removal of any priest or deacon who has abused.” London went on to say that Merz reports the number of complaints about sexual abuse has decreased.

Compare this responsible coverage to what Katie Couric and CBS offered.

After a package reported by Sandra Hughes, Couric interviewed an attorney named Mitchell Garabedian who has represented, “hundreds of victims of clergy abuse, primarily in Boston, since 1994.” 

After getting the attorney's opinion on the settlement and what it meant for the victims, Couric asked, “And what has been done within the Catholic Church to prevent future cases of abuse and future coverups?”

The first words out of Garabedian's mouth are, “I don't know.”  But he didn't stop there, nor did Couric stop him.  He continued, “I don't know what they're doing. I'm not quite sure. They say they're taking steps. They say they're educating the priests but I don't know. Only time will tell, unfortunately. You have an entity that is purportedly the most moral institution in the world acting most immorally and they got caught.  And now they're being responsible for educating themselves? Something is wrong here. Something is not working here, and I'm looking at all of this with a skeptical eye.”

And that is where the story ended. 

You would think that on a question as important as what an institution is doing to prevent the continuation of the horrendous abuse for which it has now paid over $2 billion in settlements, that CBS or Couric or someone with some journalistic integrity might have included a comment from someone within the church who would know the answer.  But no.  CBS preferred to ask a lawyer who has been in litigation with the church for 12 years.  And he didn't know.  Sadly, due to poor reporting, neither do the viewers of The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the MediaResearchCenter.