So this happened:
The Wild Hunt: How I Was Suckered by a Tabloid and Leading Horses to Water in reference to the New York Post’s article on Dan Halloran. To summarize, Jason Pitzl-Waters decided, based on a very polite approach by the reporter M.L. Nestal, to overlook the Post’s reputation as reliable birdcage liner and actually help the guy out on writing about Halloran’s religion. So he referred him to longtime media professional and PNC Managing editor Cara Schulz. The uptake of the situation is that rather than focus on how and whether Halloran himself is corrupt, the article looks at his “super weird religion.” Not only did he betray the trust of two acknowledged leaders in the Pagan community, he did everything he could to maliciously misrepresent a faith.
I feel like I need to say something here even though I wasn’t involved with this incident. I don’t talk much here about my role with the PNC because I don’t do as much as I would like for them and what I do contribute is consciously in baby steps. Because I have a portfolio career ((I do more than one thing and I have to keep doing more than one thing to keep from getting stuck doing only one thing)) so I often work in my role as Executive Editor once a month rather than the once a week minimum that’s ideal. I took the gig because it makes me feel like my degree in mass communications and journalism isn’t a total waste. Right now I’m focusing on finding more writers that can establish local bureaus – and trying very slowly and carefully to get up a platform that allows for international writers and global distribution of handpicked stories. But only after everything else I’m doing – like that book I’ve spent eight years writing. I’m a sounding board for local bureaus, but not an authority: it’s a collective so there isn’t an authoritative system at hand.
Pitzl-Waters and Schulz do amazing work every single day, most of it going unseen by the public. As editor-in-chief and managing editor respectively, I do attribute to them much of the slow societal shift in consciousness that labels the Pagan multi-religious umbrella as “real religions” and not “collection of kooks.” My own work, aside from volunteer finding at the moment, is more on using my old-school journalism and research skills to explain difference to our community between libel, slander, and saying something somebody doesn’t like that is true and that genuinely needs to be said. It’s not always pleasant but for the most part it is a very rewarding volunteer gig. What I do is internal – I don’t have my sanity or legitimacy publicly questioned to the degree that both of these people do.
To my mind, the Western Pagan community has potential to model multi-religious co-existence for the rest of the world and Pitzl-Water and Schulz are significant in making that happen.
When it comes to what happened with the Halloran story, I don’t think Pitzl-Waters or Schulz failed the Pagan community in any way. They did their jobs. Alas, you can’t ethically control another human being and mind-reading/future-predicting is not a universal talent among Pagans. So unless it’s fair for Pitzl-Waters to blame himself for not seeing the future (it’s not) then the failure is on how the New York Post betrayed the trust of the PNC.
I have worked with guys like M.L. Nestal before. My very first Pagan Pride in Mankato, the local TV station ran an interview with me about Wiccan religious practices. The first showing had clips from the Craft, despite my making it very clear the Craft had very little relevance to actual practices. The next showing, later on, had the Craft clips thrown out after I made an angry call to the producer. They instead opted to show us running around in a circle looking a bit dorky, and mis-pronounced Wicca as “Wicker.”
It could very well have been worse. I happened to have a friend take a video of myself being interviewed. The reporter, knowing this, didn’t doctor or add any comment after the story because of it. When my university newspaper interviewed me, I also taped the interview – and there was no messing around. I did, however, reject the overture from the local Christian radio station that came after. Given their angle, education is NOT what they were after. That one was easy to see – all I had to do was listen to a few of their programs.
But the Post is harder to predict. Sometimes, for the fun of it, they offer a balanced approach. I see their vacillations and reversals all the time when they report on the plus size fashion industry – I can guess that if we monitored their reporting on minority religions the behavior is the same. The Post is a casino where you bet your trust. You might get smal payouts from time to time. But for the most part, the house always wins.
Even if Schulz had recorded the entire interactions with Nestal he probably would have written the exact same thing. The Post is turn of the 19th century old school in its journalistic approach, and Nestal stayed true to their concept that ethical behaviors only apply to those that they deem “the normal people.”
I do not believe that the PNC failed in its mission in any way. They were approached for assistance in story research. They gave that help. PNC is not responsible for how that information is used, although we can hope that reporters with an eye to long-term sourcing will think about the long-term: as I was told sharply in my press ethics class many years ago, “Don’t EVER burn a source.”