Thursday, May 10, 2018

Spinnin' Wheel Spinnin' True? Did Cardinal Dolan loan Rihanna a Miter?

Most of us experience news and events second hand. We read about it, we hear about it. Often ideas, impressions and opinions will be formed by what we read about something through what is shared on social media as well as news articles, opinion pieces and blog posts. The fact is most people will form their impressions and opinions because they heard it through the grapevine. They will view it through the lens of someone else's spin.

Spin gives a particular bias, interpretation or point of view to a story. It is intended to give a favorable or unfavorable impression when presented to the public. The way we experience news is not always a matter of "just the facts, ma'am." Many of us follow certain news sources precisely because of their spin. We tend to follow them because their point of view or interpretation agrees with ours. Birds of a feather tend to flock together. Sometimes spin is merely the by-product of the fact that people tend to have opinions, points of view and differing perspectives and we like to gather with the like minded. 

Sometimes, however, spin does more than reflect a point of view or perspective. Sometimes spin attempts to manipulate the reality of a story. Sometimes our bias causes us to accept a story and continue to report a story without checking out it's validity because it fits our narrative. Sometimes a story becomes fake news because we have taken something that may have happened and through insinuation, speculation, inflammatory language or misreporting we twist it until becomes a misrepresentation.

he question then becomes, who's spinnin' wheel is spinnin' true?

So what has brought me to my keyboard to pound out a blog on how spin is spun? What else? The most recent story du jour, the Met Gala, of course. Particularly a specific story about Cardinal Dolan, the Met Gala and an accusation of spin that came up in a discussion.

You have to admit that the Met Gala has given people something to talk about. You can catch a lot of pretty ponies on that particular spinning wheel ride. There has been no shortage of opinions and points of view being shared with both favorable and unfavorable spins. People are particularly critical of Cardinal Timothy Dolan's choice to attend the Gala as well as the Catholic cosplay of its attendees. The biggest splash being Rihanna in a bishop inspired ensemble with a miter headpiece.

The day after the Gala I read many of the stories. I checked out pictures of many of the fashions. Then I come across Cardinal Dolan interviewing about the Gala on Conversations with Cardinal Dolan. I think "Well, let's see what the Cardinal's spin on this is going to be". During the interview, while talking about Rihanna and her miter the Cardinal quips "And she gave it back to me this morning" along with a joke about Rihanna volunteering to perform some confirmations. Everyone laughs and I thought it was pretty clear that he was joking. Later, however, I come across an article by The Wrap reporting that Rihanna had borrowed the miter that she wore from Cardinal Dolan. "Oh please, he was joking about that". Even so the story spreads like a real rumor weed with many other online publications repeating what the Wrap had reported. I've noticed that there often isn't much fact checking anymore, just one publication parroting what another has reported. I guess they just assume that the first report did their due diligence and just go with it. Even so they are secular publications. You can't expect them to know what an outrageous claim that is. You can't expect them to know that the miter is a symbol of the bishops office, that he wears if for liturgical reasons, and that he wouldn't be letting just anybody borrow it. I was hoping that Catholics would know better and would check out the story before believing it outright. 

It seems, however, that some are so used to reacting with outrage when it comes to our prelates and automatically assume the worst not matter what. A Catholic publication on facebook repeats the story. Some of the commenters assume that it is fake news. The publication insists that they "do NOT report fake news." Well, yeah, you sort of did due to that fact that it is inaccurate. Someone posts a fact check article but they are unfazed. Since I have been following and researching that particular story I post a couple of comments and there is some back and forth. Finally the publication takes the position that they are not buying the Cardinals explanation.

"Actually, all we have to go on is that the Cardinal claims to have been 'joking' when at the event nobody thought that he was. We call 'fake' on the Cardinal -- and 'PR spin' on his office"

Well, there you go. They opened the door by insisting that "they do NOT report fake news" and laying down a gauntlet by accusing someone else of "fake" and "spin". I hate that... especially when a bias causes one to not care about the accuracy. It disturbs my sense of fair play. So let's let the spinnin' wheel fly shall we? Let's see whose spin is spinning true?

Is it true that all we have to go on is the Cardinals claims? Or can we find a directing sign on the straight and narrow highway? Can we find a reflecting sign and let it shine within our minds to show us what is real? (Lyric paraphrase, you know I can't help myself)

If you google this story you will find lots of headlines saying that Cardinal Dolan let Rihanna borrow a miter for the Met Gala. I suppose you could take all of those articles and put them in your arsenal as proof. But there is something in following the progression of a story that allows a bigger picture to emerge. There is, indeed, more to go on than the Cardinal's claims.

-- First of all the Cardinal's comments were not made at the event itself. They were made the next day during a podcast of Conversation With Cardinal Dolan. Judging by the laughter they did indeed think it was a joke. So the very fact that you did not even know where the comments were made indicates a lack of accuracy in fact checking.

-- Have we ever seen Cardinal Dolan wearing a jewel encrusted miter like that? Or maybe we think he gave RiRi a plain miter and when asked if he would mind if they bejeweled it he said "sure, go right ahead"?  Also, the bishop's miter usually has the two tails hanging down the back and Rihanna's headpiece did not. 

-- Most of the reporting describe Rihanna's headpiece as being custom made.

-- The Instagram of the design house responsible for the outfit wrote this on their Instagram Maison Margiela is proud to announce that honorary co-chair @badgalriri wore a custom made ‘Artisanal’ outfit inspired by Heavenly Bodies created by @jgalliano, for this year’s @voguemagazine Met Gala.The outfit is a three coordinated piece, comprising of a sculptural jacket and a skirt worn over a bustier dress and a custom made hat. In total, the outfit took 250 hours to sew and 500 hours to hand embroider by Maison Margiela’s Paris Atelier. No mention of borrowing the hat from Cardinal Dolan

-- Vogue reports that the hat was made by Stephen Jones Millinary

-- The Daily Mail reports on a related piece of fashion history. "Rihanna's headpiece was designed by John Galliano, first for Dior in 2000 and then updated last night for Margiela, where he is now the creative director".  As a matter of fact the Dior piece is on display at the Met.

-- The Wrap, who I believe originated the story, is now reporting that the Cardinal was joking.

I am not making an attempt here to defend everything the Cardinal did. I am not defending his choice to go to the Gala. You might even be able to say that the Cardinal might want to be a little more careful about how others will perceive it when making a joke. I wouldn't give you an argument. There seems to be plenty of fodder for criticism where you might actually have a point. We don't need to resort to inaccuracies. Cardinal Dolan often places himself in the public eye. He should be aware of not only the intentions of his words and actions put also how others may reasonably perceive them. 

When there are controversial stories in the Church it is really easy to hop those painted ponies on the spinning wheel ride and let those spinning wheels turn. There is nothing wrong with having an opinion or a point of view that may be unfavorable. The problem is when we allow our bias to cause us to interpret a situation inaccurately and unfairly. The problem is when we knee jerk a reaction because it fits our narrative without investigating its validity. We are Catholic, we listen to the words of our Lord Jesus Christ. We follow a golden rule. We seek the good, the true and the beautiful. We repay evil with blessing. We have to be careful that we do not allow our bias to lead us into behavior that is equal to or worse than the ones we seek to correct.

For what it's worth

LYRICS REFERENCE: Spinning Wheel - Blood, Sweat and Tears - 1969

1 comment:

  1. My dad, talking about a particular religious mindset, quoted someone or something as a summary of the attitude: 'none are saved but me and thee, and I am not so sure of thee.'

    We were talking about Protestant 'just us' folks at the time, but I've found that Catholics act like humans too.

    It's not, I think, so much a reflection on Protestantism, Catholicism, or Christianity: more like another outcome of that really bad decision the first of us made. Oh, well. We keep trying, anyway. That, I think, is a good thing.

    Thanks for suggesting that we *think* about what we assume. It seems like a good idea.