Reader: "The victim told police he was alone with (Monsignor Craig) Harrison when it happened. The victim, now an adult, was 16 or 17 years old at the time. A date when the incident happened was not given."
To me these sentences quoted from your April 27 front-page story ("Priest's accuser was an altar boy who said abuse happened more than once," April 27) state that reporter Stacey Shepard knows without doubt that Monsignor Harrison is guilty of what he is accused of allegedly doing.
Further down in the article Shepard says, "Harrison has retreated to the coast," as opposed to "the monsignor is presently on the coast" or some such. "Retreated" seems to me to be a bit harsh and makes me wonder if Shepard harbors some sort of animus towards the monsignor. The fact that you published her statements implies that The Californian agrees with everything Shepard says.
Although I am willing to concede that this was an inadvertent and unbelievably incompetent error, I think that at the very least, The Californian owed Monsignor Harrison an apology — on the next day's front page and not in Saturday's Sound Off. On second thought, maybe Shepard should author the apology.
— Byron R. Ayme
Price: Or perhaps Monsignor Craig's attorney, Kyle Humphrey, should author the apology, because Shepard was simply paraphrasing him. "Retreated to the coast" are his words. She didn't use quote marks because she modified the phrasing slightly, but she clearly states that the information is "according to Kyle Humphrey, his attorney, friend and parishioner."
Your complaint about Shepard's use of "retreated to the coast" is perhaps the best example yet of the hypersensitivity coming from both sides of this unfortunate case. Anything and everything becomes evidence of bias. In this case, I suppose Shepard was intimating that the monsignor was fleeing prosecution. Outside of this overheated environment, however, no reasonable person would infer that's what she implied.
No matter what you might think about his guilt or innocence, can we all agree that Harrison has the right to "retreat" to seek the undivided counsel of friends and associates? "Monsignor is presently on the coast" sounds like he is so completely unconcerned by these allegations that he decided to go surfing.
As for the age of the victim and the dates of the purported abuse, I think it's pretty clear that those statements were all part of the allegation that the accuser made to Firebaugh police. However, I would have liked to see one more "allegedly" in there.
Reader: Even though Robert Price is right that The Californian shouldn’t ignore the Monsignor Craig’s suspension ("Sound Off: Monsignor Craig Harrison coverage riled some readers," April 27), the fact remains that The Californian sensationalized it with a giant front-page picture and headline before any facts had come out.
So, let’s say a couple days later the authorities find out this now-adult is a mental case and made up the story. In my opinion The Californian is just another cheap tabloid (in a big hick town) trying to sell newspapers without any conscionability.
— Mike Francel
Price: You're criticizing us for the big photo and big headline that accompanied the biggest-by-far story of the year? One that has shaken not just a local parish, but an entire community? That's how it works, Mike: Big stories get big treatment.
Part of the issue here is that our weekday editions are published on a 13-inch-tall page, necessitating a different type of presentation than for weekend editions: One dominant image and one dominant headline, with much smaller "refer" headlines at the bottom or along the right border.
What does that have to do with anything, you ask? Only this: The full-size format that we publish on Saturdays and Sundays typically has many components, with between two and four articles on the front page and multiple points of entry for the reader. That allows many different treatments — and subtleties in presentation not available to us on tabloid-format days. So big stories tend to seem bigger on weekdays, when the focus is usually on a single news event.
I don't know what you mean by "before any facts had come out." The Diocese of Fresno suspended an unusually well-known and beloved monsignor pending an investigation into alleged years-ago sex abuse. Those are straightforward facts — shocking and incomplete, but indisputable facts. Will we need to see more facts before we can come to a conclusion and truly complete this story? Of course. But that's not the way things work — not with newspapers, not with anything.
Reader: Regarding the Monsignor Craig Harrison tragedy: Once upon a time there were private matters and public matters. Then one day it was discovered that making private matters public would sell a lot of newspapers.
— Wendall Kinney
Price: You're completely correct. Oftentimes, people buy newspapers for reasons that do not reflect well on any of us as human beings.
But one day it was also discovered that publishing stories about certain institutions, such as law enforcement agencies, county district attorneys, local Catholic parishes and the 1.3 billion-member Catholic Church, would not only sell a lot of newspapers, it would shine light and serve the greater good.
Reader: In last week's Sound Off, you ignored my point about your coverage of the Monsignor Craig story: that three puff pieces on how great and well-loved he is were published after the allegations were made public. One, granted, was an opinion piece, but the other two were Californian retrospectives on his long career. Publishing heartwarming pictures of him blessing pets directly undermines the victim and reeks of victim blaming — not our monsignor, he would never. The fact that he dismissed the timing only further convinces me that he, or The Californian at large, is more concerned with the monsignor's reputation than the truth.
I spent a full day dealing with victim-blamers on The Californian's comment sections. My position is painfully clear: I think The Californian's coverage of Monsignor Craig is inherently biased and focused on protecting his reputation rather than presenting only the facts.
The comment you made in last week's Sound Off — that there were puff pieces published -- is exactly my point. The victims live in Kern County. They're seeing our newspaper publish photos of Monsignor Craig blessing puppies and laughing and smiling. Your coverage of a man under investigation for sexual abuse of minors has included puff pieces on how well loved he is, which as I mentioned above, reeks of victim blaming.
The Californian should print a retraction of the puff pieces and an apology for lionizing a man who, again, I emphasize, is under investigation for sexual abuse and assault of minors.
— Elizabeth Lewis
Price: First of all, we're not going to retract anything that is not false — harmfully and irresponsibly false — and that's not remotely the case here. Secondly, we didn't and wouldn't publish a fawning profile of the man while the community is in the midst of this ordeal.
We need to agree on the definition of a "puff piece." The three Monsignor Craig profile articles I referenced were published years ago and years apart, not in the past two weeks, since the allegations against him have been made public. Nothing was puffy about them: They were all tied to a church event or specific undertaking of his.
Some of our coverage of the allegations against the monsignor have discussed in some detail his position in the community. The fact is, he is popular, admired and active. We bring this up not to diminish the potential validity of the accusations or dissuade any future possible accusers, but to underscore the level of shock within his parish and the resolve of his defenders across the city. Today's other Sound Off letters illustrate that pretty well, I think.
You're right: I misunderstood the point of your previous comment about the case, which I published here last week. I apologize for that.
Reader: Thank you for this (April 27 Sound Off). It’s a great defense/explanation of the media coverage. It’s challenging to fairly report on someone as loved as Craig Harrison, but I think your team is doing a great job.
— Jeff Lenk, news director, KBAK/KBFX-TV
Reader: Fun article on Oleander-Sunset ("Where We Live: Get a car alarm, but historic, walkable Oleander-Sunset inspires devotion," April 28). Hard to imagine you did not mention the azalea- and camellia-filled grounds of the elegant white Victorian that was, I believe, the longtime residence of one S.A. Camp, who literally brought the cotton industry to the San Joaquin Valley in the early part of the last century.
Another element you might have included is the portion of that stately and diverse neighborhood south of Brundage Lane that was severed from its northerly self in the 1970s with the below grade construction of Highway 58.
Your delving into the fascinating historical elements of Bakersfield and Kern County make a significant contribution to the community's future.
— John Grant, Hamilton, Mont.
Price: I left out a lot in my latest installment of the "Where We Live" series. There's simply not enough hours in the week or space in the newspaper to properly portray the rich history of that neighborhood. But you mention two pieces that would have been great additions.
Reader: Just wondering if you are going to cover the La Cresta/Alta Vista area in your "Where We Live" series. We live on the western edge of this area on Panorama Drive and Loma Linda and love it here since moving from a gated community in northwest Bakersfield. ... I enjoy reading this section as I think it broadens the minds of newcomers and/or people possibly looking to relocate. It gives them perspective on areas outside northwest and southwest Bakersfield.
— Tim Moreno
Price: Thanks, Tim. La Cresta/Alta Vista is most definitely on the list.
Reader: I was taken aback by a teaser headline on the front page of the April 19 issue of The Californian: “News Analysis: The Russia Probe: Mueller report paints a damning portrait of President Trump.” You had a similar headline inside, on Page 8.
Did the report contain the words “damning portrait”? If it didn’t, the “News Analysis" label and actual headlines were just opinion. The article by Associated Press reporter Julie Pace was almost all opinion as well. Aside from one brief quote from presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway, the piece was negative toward Mr. Trump.
Is the AP the only source of national and world news available to The Californian? The regularly printed anti-Trump columns written by syndicated “journalists” are seldom countered with editorials that are favorable to the president.
— Richard C. Nuckles
Price: The Mueller report does not use the words “damning portrait." The report details certain activity in the Trump campaign and the Trump White House, but does not characterize its own findings in broad terms like that. However, those AP articles aren't about the Trump campaign or the Trump White House, per se, so much as about the Mueller report, and so broad descriptive terms, as long as they're fitting, are appropriate.
You seem to be suggesting that those articles should have been labeled "opinion" instead "news analysis." Here's the thing: A "news analysis" is by definition an "opinion" article. It is a different creature, though, to be sure. A good news analysis gathers and presents evidence, and, while giving voice to dissenting views, reaches a conclusion. And conclusions are, by necessity, essentially opinions.
Pace's article, for example, describes several instances of "the president's disregard for governing norms and his willingness to challenge both legal and political limits." The AP's accompanying chronology lays out Mueller's (and Pace's) case more clearly, listing the charges and convictions of nine close presidential confidants, appointees or associates related to Russian interference in the 2016 election.
One can choose to believe that those facts do not represent "damning," or incriminating, evidence, but these journalists' analyses of the evidence conclude that they do.
The AP is not our only source of world and national news but it is comprehensive and reliable, and so we use it often. Although we publish syndicated columnists (not associated with the AP) who criticize Trump, including some conservatives, we also regularly publish at least two pro-Trump columnists.
Reader: In light of your Opinion-staff colleague's statement in the latest Sound Off column ("(I)f I don't receive any local content, how can I include it in the section?") I find it odd that the letter to the editor that I submitted nearly a week ago has yet to appear in the paper.
— Joel Torczon
Price: It shouldn't be odd at all, Joel. Your letter was full of false statements and assumptions, so we declined to publish it.
You wrote that Robert Mueller’s report concluded that no American colluded with Russia, but the report provides significant evidence that Trump campaign associates coordinated with, cooperated with, encouraged, or gave support to the Russia/WikiLeaks election interference activities. For example, campaign chairman Paul Manafort knowingly shared internal polling data with a Russian spy, which theoretically would allow the Russians to better target their attacks.
You wrote that the Russians sought to undermine our democracy without favoring either party, but one of the report's primary conclusions was that the Russian government interfered “in favor of presidential candidate Donald J. Trump while disparaging presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.” U.S. intelligence agencies and the U.S. attorney general also agreed with that conclusion.
You wrote that the "dirty" Steele dossier was "the genesis of the surveillance of Trump’s campaign," but the probable-cause finding by the FISA court that authorized the surveillance was based on much more than information from the dossier, according to Frank Figliuzzi, the former FBI counterintelligence chief, and others.
You conveyed other false statements or assumptions, but I think everyone gets the point.