In the Academy Award-nominated movie Doubt, there is a memorable scene in which the accused priest, Father Flynn, delivers a powerful homily to the congregation.
The priest, brilliantly played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, tells the story of a woman who “was gossiping with her friend about a man whom they hardly knew.”
Seized later with guilt, the woman went to a Catholic confessional and asked her parish priest if she had done anything wrong.
“Yes,” said the priest. “You have borne false witness against your neighbor. You’ve played fast and loose with his reputation, and you should be heartily ashamed.”
As her penance, the priest instructed the woman to go to her roof and gut a pillow with a knife, a scene classically depicted in the movie.
And what did she see, the priest asked?
“Feathers,” the woman answered. “Feathers everywhere.”
“Now I want you to go back and gather up every last feather that flew out into the wind,” the priest instructed.
The woman protested. “It can’t be done,” she said.
“I don’t know where they went. The wind took them all over.”
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“And that,” the movie’s Father Flynn said, abruptly ending the sermon, “is gossip!”
Forgive, I must implore you, my homily about a Hollywood homily. But its message seems acutely pertinent this week.
Seven days after Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington suddenly resigned without explanation, the sky is raining feathers.
An entry from a blogger that no one in the Rangers’ clubhouse seems to know spilled into the night air Wednesday, pointedly attributing Washington’s resignation to something she said she heard “through a source with knowledge of the situation.”
The accusation is both damaging and staggering. The blogger did not name the alleged victim, but included her race.
In journalism school, we were instructed that a single factual error in a story merited a grade of F. Facts require substantiation. “Scoops” require trusted sources, not random hearsay.
There has been plenty of speculation, as one might expect, about Washington’s departure. The most successful manager in franchise history was a 40-year baseball lifer. Guys who have finally reached the pinnacle of their profession after 40 years in the game do not casually turn their backs on the job.
Washington didn’t even quit when Hurricane Katrina submerged his New Orleans home under 8 feet of water. He rebuilt his home, most of it by himself, and soldiered on.
When he chose not to elaborate on the reasons behind his resignation, minds raced. We tried to read between every line of a bewilderingly guarded press conference.
We have reason to believe that Washington had lawyers with him when he told the team last Friday that he was resigning. For the very, very few in the organization who do seem to know why Washington quit, there appears to be a confidentiality agreement in place.
What would prompt such extreme measures?
They are everywhere at the ballpark these nights. In the newspaper business, we have to deal in facts. If there are actual charges, there must be paperwork. But as far as I know, no one in the media has seen any paperwork.
Meanwhile, because of the blog accusation, the search for the alleged victim has led to phone calls to female journalists who deserve not to have been painted with the blogger’s imprudent brush. The ones we contacted denied being involved.
Washington has maintained his silence about his reasons for resigning. But he should have known that silence breeds gossip, and the gossip has no bounds.
He deserves his privacy. But it’s time he considers the feathers.