(REAL TIMES MEDIA)—It always fascinates me what stories the mainstream press decides to focus on in a given week. We are a nation at war, there is a huge mid-term election pending, the economy continues to remain in a rut and yet, the biggest story in the news last week was about a nasty preacher and his predilection for young boys.
It’s bad enough that this story is more social and sexual voyeurism than anything substantive, but an even more serious story dealing with the Catholic Church, with much larger implications for average Americans, barely cracked the front pages.
Last week four young men filed suit against Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, one of the largest most powerful and well attended churches in America.
New Birth isn’t your typical mega church in a large metro area, the church has its hand in schools, the local economy and social policy, and the flamboyant Bishop Eddie Long has a laundry list of influential friends from former presidents to celebrities that attend his church on a regular basis.
The graphic and extensive nature of the charges against Long would make Ted Haggard and Jimmy Swaggart blush. Four men in their early 20s accuse Bishop Long of manipulating and eventually sexually molesting them over the course of several years, using lavish gifts and coercion to keep them from straying from his control or reporting his behavior to authorities.
Three of the victims—Jamal Paris, Anthony Flagg and Maurice Robinson—all represented by prominent attorney B.J. Bernstein, tell stories that are not only similar to each other, but similar to tales told by most victims of sexual molestation across America.
Bishop Long showered these young men with gifts and attention starting around age 14. As they got older he bought them cars, flew them around the world with him and allegedly performed “commitment” ceremonies with them before finally initiating sexual relations when they came to the age of legal consent around 17 years old.
Bishop Long in a 20-minute scripture- laden commentary last Sunday claimed that the accusations were false, that he was going to fight and that he felt like “David going up against Goliath…But I have five rocks and I haven’t thrown one yet!”
While this story may be sexy it isn’t really news and certainly isn’t news that has a real impact on your average American. Another prominent religious figure who at one point marched against legalizing gay marriage has been caught as a closeted homosexual.
This is news? As Bill Maher said, it’s safe to assume now that if a politician or clergymen has any opinion on gay marriage any stronger than “I don’t care” they’re probably closeted homosexuals. I won’t pretend I think Long is innocent, he’s not DAVID in this situation, he’s Goliath. When he eventually settles this case out of court he’ll still have his church and these four men will still be scarred.
While cable news is breathlessly covering a dirty old man, the Vatican, which has much more influence over Americans than Long, has been caught in another scandal and this barely gets covered. Italian authorities have seized $30 million and placed officials of the Catholic Church under investigation for transferring millions of funds to JP Morgan in Germany without detailing to whom or from where the money came.
The Catholic Church has had money laundering scandals in the past, at one point funding terror and mafia groups in the ’80s, but this case is worse. Dioceses across America have been closing during this recession yet the church is laundering cash for corporate raiders.
We may never know if Bishop Eddie Long is guilty, as is often the case with high profile men accused of debauchery, he’ll do an out of court settlement and a gag order on these young men before a trial is set just to cover his reputation.
Ultimately the lives most affected by his actions will be his parishioners and the four young men who have accused him of abusing them. But in the case of the Vatican, to find out that one of the most influential churches in America is washing blood money with donations from nuns, after years of scandal for covering up the very types of actions that Long is accused of doing, the press should be doing a better job of focusing on the story that has the biggest impact on the most people.
The bishop may be the better story, but the better journalist should be looking at the Pope.
(Dr. Jason Johnson is an associate professor at Hiram College in Ohio.)