Jan 30, 2019

From Spotlight to "Year of Hell" for Vatican

I'm not really sure why I binged Catholic abuse stories over the holidays. What sort of dark compulsion caused me to immerse myself in The Keepers and Spotlight, both of which had been languishing on my Netflix queue for over a year, I can't say. I hadn't been able to bring myself to watch them, knowing exactly the kind of emotional turmoil would be churned up. But on those cold, December days they called to me, then pulled me in like the undertow of an icy river. It was sickening but necessary viewing. Perhaps it was a need for catharsis at the end of a year that had seen one ugly eruption after another in the priestly abuse saga, events that have seriously tarnished a popular and likable pope. Both the movie and the true crime series are excellent, for what it's worth. The progress of the Catholic Church is not.

I really had hope that Pope Francis would be different than his predecessors. Yet, on this issue, he seems to have even less understanding of the seriousness than Benedict XVI. The past year has been marked by tone-deaf pronouncements, 180° reversals, high profile resignations, and troves of embarrassing documents. It's hard to believe that seventeen years after the Boston Globe's "Spotlight" team exposed the priestly abuse cover-ups and forever changed the world's perceptions of the Catholic Church, new waves of scandal could keep finding the Church so far behind the curve. How have they managed to learn so little from so much? Amazingly 2018 may have eclipsed 2002 as a year of horrible revelation.

A prominent cardinal resigned in disgrace. Grand jurors accused hundreds of Catholic clerics of secretly abusing children. A former Vatican ambassador urged the Pope himself to step down.

It was enough for New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan to call it the Catholic Church's "summer of hell."

The cardinal may have been overly optimistic.

In fact, the church's hellish year began in January, when Pope Francis forcefully defended a Chilean bishop he had promoted. He later had to apologize and accept the bishop's resignation.

But the clergy sex abuse scandal shows no signs of abating, with a federal investigation and probes in 12 states and the District of Columbia in the works.

Jan 23, 2019

Breakfast With Russell Baker

Russell Baker
August 14, 1925 – January 21, 2019

I was awake well before sunrise that Friday morning. A limousine was waiting for me in front of my building in Bloomfield, New Jersey, because commuter trains don't run that early. I had no time to brew coffee, so I had to make do with a chilled Pepsi offered by the driver. I am not a morning person, but it was part of my job as a publicist to escort my authors to their New York media appearances. I had booked Russell Baker on Good Morning America

I really didn't know what to expect from Mr. Baker, having only chatted with him briefly on the phone a few times. I had read The Good Times, for which I was doing publicity. It was a delightful memoir about his career in journalism. But I had not yet read Growing Up, his first memoir, for which he'd won a Pulitzer. Our department assistant had rustled up a copy for me only the day before.

I had learned a bit of the history, the unexpected success of Growing Up. The book had gone back for a second printing even before the publication date. The original publisher hadn't anticipated huge numbers on this sweet, understated memoir about coming of age in the shadow of the Great Depression and going on to become a New York Times columnist. The Times reviewed it, of course. It was a rave, and the book had started flying off the shelves, deservedly so.

In my youthful ignorance I hadn't really understood why it was so easy to book media for Russell Baker. It began to dawn when I saw how warmly he was welcomed at the GMA studio. They seemed thrilled to talk to Baker again, even for a mass market reprint of his second memoir. I began then to understand just how beloved he was. As the day wore on, I began to understand why.