ABC Regurgitates Criticism of Christian University: ‘A Catholic Jonestown’

On Tuesday’s edition of "Nightline," anchor Martin Bashir interviewed businessman Tom Monaghan, founder of a new Catholic university in Florida and also a community called Ave Maria that will be based around Catholic values. Bashir parroted criticism that the town has "been described as a Catholic Jonestown, a kind of Catholic Iran, where individual rights and liberties are curtailed."

Earlier in the segment, Bashir asserted that the community, which will encourage traditional values but be open to all, has "been called a Disney World for Catholics, a country club Christianity."

The "Nightline co-host began the segment, which aired at 11:35pm, by wondering if Ave Maria would be as "welcoming to unbelievers" as it is to Christians. (Would it ever occur to ABC to ask, for instance, if San Francisco would be welcoming to conservatives?) He then proceeded to regurgitate criticism from a nearly two-year-old Wall Street Journal column that featured a quote maligning the proposed community as a "Catholic Jonestown":

Martin Bashir: "But not everyone is delighted at the prospect of a town so avowedly Catholic, especially those concerned with civil liberties. You know that’s it’s been described as a Catholic Jonestown, a kind of Catholic Iran, where individual rights and liberties are curtailed."

Tom Monaghan: "That was a statement made in the Wall Street Journal for which I got an apology in writing from the publisher of the Wall Street Journal for. That was a very nasty statement, because it's nowhere near what were about."

Monaghan, the founder of Dominos Pizza, went on to challenge the media generated concept that opposing abortion and promoting traditional values makes one strange. "Maybe you're odd," he shot back at the ABC journalist.

The pizza magnate certainly has endured difficult interviews with hostile reporters. In March of 2006, Katie Couric, then with NBC’s "Today" show, grilled him over how intolerant Ave Maria would be:

Katie Couric: "At the same time, you can understand how people would hear some of these things and be like, wow, this is really infringing on civil liberties and freedom of speech and right to privacy and all sorts of basic tenets this country was founded on? Right?"

She even closed the piece by announcing, in a threatening tone, "Well, we’ll probably be following this story because I know the ACLU is too."

Monaghan, however, seemed to be philosophical about media coverage. During Tuesday’s interview, he told Bashir, "...I'm very happy. And when the media gets on me, I just say a Hail Mary for whoever wrote the article and it goes away just like that."

A partial transcript of the August 7 segment can be found below:

Martin Bashir: "But not everyone is delighted at the prospect of a town so avowedly Catholic, especially those concerned with civil liberties. You know that’s it’s been described as a Catholic Jonestown, a kind of Catholic Iran, where individual rights and liberties are curtailed."

Tom Monaghan: "That was a statement made in the Wall Street Journal for which I got an apology in writing from the publisher of the Wall Street Journal for. That was a very nasty statement, because it's nowhere near what were about."

Bashir: "You were quoted as saying, ‘Our plan is that no adult material will appear on the town's cable system. And the pharmacy will not sell contraceptives.’"

Monaghan: "I don't remember the one about the cable system. I don't think I ever probably had control over that."

Bashir: "But the truth is, you do believe that abortion should be outlawed?"

Monaghan: "Yes."

Bashir: "You do believe that contraception should not be available. You do believe that pornography should not be easily accessible. These are the things you believe fundamentally."

Monaghan: "Well, so does the Pope. So does the hierarchy and most of the priests in the Catholic Church. So, what's so unique about that? What makes me so unique? You’re looking at me like I'm some kind of an odd person."

Bashir: "Not at all. But what makes you unique is–"

Monaghan: "Maybe you're odd."

Bashir: "But what makes you unique is that very few people have the resources and ability to build a university in the middle of a community and actually try and influence the social situation in that way."

Monaghan: "Ahh. That's where the rub comes. I'm dangerous."

Bashir: "What would the response be if a gay couple wanted to live here and buy a property?"

Blake Gable (Project manager): "Same as if a gay couple wanted to buy a house anywhere in America. I mean, this is America in 2007. We don't discriminate against anybody for any reason. That’s never, never part of what Ave Maria is all about."

Bashir: "Whether the town represents a single religious denomination or not, there was no shortage of interest, at a recent open day."

Unidentified man: "We want to be surrounded by people that think like us. We have deep religious values and deep moral values."

Bashir: "And as for Tom Monaghan, he seems genuinely at peace with himself. Attending mass every day and preparing to live in the community of his dreams. Are you happy?"

Monaghan: "I think I'm very happy. And when the media gets on me, I just say a Hail Mary for whoever wrote the article and it goes away just like that."

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org