Jeff Anderson, a lawyer that has filed over 1,500 lawsuits against the Catholic Church, got a free 1,400-word advertisement in the Washington Post April 19. The supposedly non-opinion article was titled "Jeff Anderson, jousting with the Vatican from a small law office in St. Paul." The reporter, Peter Slevin, cast the Catholic Church as the big, bad wolf and Jeff Anderson - the "Vatican's chief American pursuer" - as the ordinary hero taking it down.
"[Anderson uses] manic energy to challenge one of the most powerful and secretive institutions in the world, a 2,000-year-old church with hundreds of millions of devoted followers," the article read. "He gets his balance from Zen Buddhism, his persistence from the reporters that felled Richard Nixon and his inspiration from the sexually abused clients who trust him to make the Roman Catholic Church pay for the sins of its fathers."
The glowing profile quoted Anderson nine times and his "longtime friend" Mike Finnegan twice. Opponents to Anderson's work were only given four sentences - three of which were nothing but one-word epithets strung together and the fourth a partial quote sandwiched between two quotes of Anderson defending himself.
Anderson said he was "cause-oriented" and compared his lawsuits against the Church to the investigative reporting done by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, saying he was "in the middle of a [expletive] cover-up." He called the Vatican "clueless" and said, "We're taking bites out of their ass." He even threw in a cracked emotional voice and a splatter of tears for good measure. Just in case readers didn't already understand how noble Anderson is, his "longtime friend and former public defender," Mike Finnegan, was called on to topple the article into biased oblivion.
"He was always committed to the less fortunate, the underdog kind of thing," Finnegan said of Anderson.
Anything in the article that could possibly be construed as negative about Anderson or his lawsuits against the Church was neatly padded with explanations and self-serving quotes.
First off, the clerical abuse ambulance chaser has gotten rich from these lawsuits - at least $60 million dollars rich. (He's refused to reveal his earnings since 2002.) To tuck away this unsightly fact, the article emphasized the days when Anderson struggled. The title claimed he worked in a "small law office in St. Paul," and the article's opening sentence said that he once "sold shoes for a living," which was later stressed again when the article said that he struggled to pay his $50 rent.
But scattered throughout the article were clues that Anderson was far beyond those days. He now "drives a Lexus," works in an "ornate office ... with Tiffany reproductions," and flies in a "chartered jet" (something he said was "so Republican" and a "morally ambiguous" decision). The article offset his wealth by again quoting his friend Finnegan (this time described as a "lifelong Catholic").
"Back when Jeff started in the '80s, he was footing the bill. People were saying, 'The Catholic Church, you're not going to get anything from them.' If it wasn't for him, the victims wouldn't be where they are," he said.
The article added that "[Anderson] says his riches give him the freedom and power to pursue the cases he cares about."
The article also sidestepped its duty to question Anderson's lawsuits, or at least give the other side of the story. Instead, it recounted with sympathetic detail Anderson's attacks against the Catholic Church, beginning with his first sex abuse case that the Church settled with $1 million dollars - money that the article said was "in return for silence."
"That was a tipping point in my personal journey," Anderson said ("his voice breaking and tears flowing"). "All of a sudden, the world changed and I began hot pursuit. I filed lawsuit after lawsuit and I haven't slowed down."
"Anderson considers his pursuit spiritual," the article continued.
"I'm not sure I want to say this, but it's the answer: It's the pursuit of virtue," Anderson said.
The article ended by saying that Anderson would like to "question Benedict under oath." "He's just a man who is occupying an office. He's responsible for his own actions," he said.
The article included a single, perfunctory four-sentence paragraph conceding that the church has taken steps to address abuse problems. Then it was right back to the big bad church.