Media’s choice coverage

I’ve quoted Walter Lippmann for years on the ability to shape public opinion by feeding the public information chosen from a field of topics and presented in a calculated light with crafted language framed within fixed parameters. He’s getting more relevant all the time.

Here are two circumstances that call this to mind.

At the start of last week, a well-coordinated and darned near unprecedented legal challenge was launched by 43 Catholic institutions against the president and his administration over a federal mandate to purchase or provide something that violated their First Amendment right to religious liberty and fundamental right to human conscience.

In what had to be more willful and calculated than inept, the media largely ignored the story.

For the third night in a row the broadcast networks have refused to cover this correctly. This momentum is fueled by CBS Evening News’ outrageous decision not only to spike the Catholic lawsuits but instead to lead the news with yet another story about the Catholic sex abuse scandal. The broadcast devoted two minutes and 31 seconds to the accused abusers and allegations that occurred decades ago. That’s roughly eight times more coverage than CBS Evening News gave the historic lawsuit on Monday.

With all due respect to Brent Bozell and the Media Research Council, I have to say this is not surprising and deserves the jabs but only constitutes ‘more of same’ in the realm of news reporting these days. We know big media manipulate the news and don’t cover things like the massive March for Life rally each January filling the Mall of Washington with peaceful, young, cheerful and staunchly pro-life activists on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. They just don’t. Too bad. But what does it matter? The media have rendered themselves largely irrelevant and more so in recent years, so the more we express angst over their lack of coverage of big and obvious stories, the more weight we give them and their coverage in general.

Here’s the second situation.

On Friday morning, I caught a television interview with a former New York Times investigative journalist about the lack of media coverage on the plight of the doctor in Pakistan who helped US forces find Osama bin Laden. She said ‘though his treatment is shocking and outrageous, the media are concerned about making his plight worse.’

In other words, the media are making calculations, what to cover and what to ignore in coverage, according to the effect coverage may have on outcomes.

That’s not just managing the news, it’s manipulating the news.

So faith based leaders have stepped up to speak for themselves. Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace interviewed Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl said the media has missed the boat on the major news story of the lawsuits, and he clarified.

“This lawsuit isn’t about contraception,” said Cardinal Wuerl. “It is about religious freedom. Embedded in the mandate is a radically new definition of what institutes a religious community, what constitutes religious ministry–brand new and never fortified in the federal level. That’s what we are arguing about.”

“The lawsuit said we have every right to serve in this community as we have served for decades and decades,” he continued. “The new definition says you are not really religious if you serve people other than your own and if you hire people other than your own. That wipes out all of the things that we have been doing, all the things that we contribute to the common good–our schools, our health care services, our Catholic charity and even parish soup kitchens and pantries.”

Wallace raised the question of the “accommodation” as some media keep doing, though time and again journalists who understand it point out there was no accommodation. Things were just stated in a different way to make it appear there was a change in the HHS mandate, like allegedly shifting the burden of providing drugs and procedures from Catholic institutions to insurers in nothing more than a verbal sleight-of-hand.

Criticizing the Obama administration’s “accommodation,” Cardinal Wuerl said that “so many of our institutions, certainly the archdiocese, is self insured. We are the insurer. So, when you say, don’t worry, we changed this and only the insurer has to pay. And we are the insurer, there is no accommodation.”

And the HHS mandate remains unchanged. Which is why this fiasco is becoming a train wreck. And sooner or later the media may take more interest in that.

Race and class and politics

I could write an extemporaenous dissertation on the political race and the human race, class acts and class warfare, and the politicization of everything including morals and the natural law and constitutional liberties never before threatened by government. But I won’t.

People have asked me who I support for the GOP nomination and I answer ‘I don’t know’ not to avoid commitment or engagement (I’m always ready to engage ideas) but because, like many commentators and scholars and analysts and observers with far more intelligence than I dare claim, I do not know who the best candidate would be. But I’m willing to state the belief that any of the four candidates seeking the GOP nomination would be far more respectful of basic rights and liberties and the sanctity and dignity of human life than the current officeholder they seek to replace. That sounds like an editorial comment but is at least as much an account of factual record.

Mr. Obama has his points of merit on certain particular issues, on rhetorical skill and for some on personal likeability, though the election of a president is of far more consequence than that.

So let’s be clear on what’s at stake here. What got little to no attention in the 2008 election is, for starters, Mr. Obama’s voting record in the Illinois Senate. I talked and wrote about it, but now it’s coming more to light.

The nation’s number one talk show host drew attention to Barack Obama’s history of supporting infanticide on Friday’s show.

Discussing this week’s CNN debate in Mesa, Arizona, Rush Limbaugh told his listeners said the president’s vote against the Illinois version of the Born Alive Infant Protection Act in 2001, 2002, and 2003 amounted to “the most shocking and underreported significant story I can ever remember.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich raised the issue of Obama’s support for infanticide after CNN debate moderator John King asked the presidential hopefuls a question about birth control.

The question met with loud audience disapproval, as it was widely interpreted as intended to embarrass Rick Santorum.

Gingrich, who replied first, objected that in 2008, “not once did anybody in the elite media ask why Barack Obama voted in favor of legalizing infanticide.

“If we’re going to have a debate about who the extremist is on these issues, it is President Obama who, as a state senator, voted to protect doctors who killed babies who survived the abortion,” Gingrich said. “It is not the Republicans.”

True. And astounding in its direct analogy to the Dred Scott decision. Obama said that granting protections to infants (though he used the term ‘fetuses’) would make abortion illegal, and he couldn’t do that. But that’s the same argument used against granting protection of human rights to slaves under the Constitution.

President Obama said he wouldn’t want his daugheters ‘punished with a baby’ if they made ‘a mistake,’ whichs till rings in the ears of Americans who recognize the sanctity of human life from conception of human life.

His administration’s HHS mandate is so radical, it has precipitated a broad backlash

I find it unconscionable that a president, who just days previously had made it clear that he would mandate that religious organizations violate their consciences, stood before hundreds at the National Prayer Breakfast and said (1) that he is a Christian, and (2) that somehow the teachings of holy scripture in general and, in particular, Jesus’ teaching in the gospels, have a direct correlation to his presidency and moreover to the mandates he has put into place (whether healthcare-related, economic, or otherwise). Simply put, it is hard to see how Mr. Obama can mandate a violation of conscience one day, and say the following with a straight face just days later, while remaining an honest man:

It’s also about the biblical call to care for the least of these–for the poor; for those at the margins of our society. To answer the responsibility we’re given in Proverbs to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.”…Treating others as you want to be treated.

Who is speaking up for the children who will lose their lives because of the HHS mandate? Who is speaking up for the mothers who, under HHS mandate, have been falsely coerced into feeling that to be a woman means to have “control” of their own bodies? Who is speaking up for the multitude of physicians who refuse to give out death-inducing prescriptions and, in turn, are ridiculed or even discriminated because of it? Those folks are the “least of these” of which Jesus speaks. To the president, however, they are nobodies.

And it continues…

Predictably, the move has drawn fire from the Catholic bishops.

Less predictable—and far more interesting—has been the heat from the Catholic left, including many who have in the past given the president vital cover. In a post for the left-leaning National Catholic Reporter, Michael Sean Winters minces few words. Under the headline “J’ACCUSE,” he rightly takes the president to the woodshed for the politics of the decision, for the substance, and for how “shamefully” it treats “those Catholics who went out on a limb” for him.

The message Mr. Obama is sending, says Mr. Winters, is “that there is no room in this great country of ours for the institutions our Church has built over the years to be Catholic in ways that are important to us.”

Mr. Winters is not alone. The liberal Cardinal Roger Mahony, archbishop emeritus of Los Angeles, blogged that he “cannot imagine a more direct and frontal attack on freedom of conscience”—and he urged people to fight it. Another liberal favorite, Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., has raised the specter of “civil disobedience” and vowed that he will drop coverage for diocesan workers rather than comply. They are joined in their expressions of discontent by the leaders of Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities, which alone employs 70,000 people.

Time to change politics as usual.

The bogus birth control controversy

President Obama’s mandate requiring free access to contraception with virtually no employer exemption is at core a consitutional threat to religious liberty, not a heated debate about contraception and Church teaching. However, it quickly turned into that.

So now that we’re on the subject

Advocates of President Obama’s contraception mandate should admit that its main purpose is sexual liberation and not “women’s health,” according to a feminist author who supports the mandate.

“The phrase ‘women’s health’ in the birth control dispute is the latest nimble euphemism,” author and blogger Pamela Haag wrote in a Feb. 17 essay published on the “Marriage 3.0” blog.

Access to contraception, she said, “isn’t really about my ‘health.’ It’s not principally about the management of ovarian cysts or the regulation of periods.”

“Birth control isn’t about my health unless by ‘health’ you mean, my capacity to get it on, to have a happy, joyous sex life that involves an actual male partner,” wrote Haag, criticizing White House supporters for discussing contraceptives mainly as “preventive services” for women’s health.

“The point of birth control is to have sex that’s recreational and non-procreative,” wrote Haag approvingly. “It’s to permit women to exercise their desires without the ‘sword of Damocles’ of unwanted pregnancy hanging gloomily over their heads.”

And now that women are speaking out

In recent posts on CNA’s Catholic Womanhood page, columnists attacked the mandate from various angles – some addressed the issue of religious freedom while others questioned the validity of abortifacients, sterilization and contraception being labeled as “basic medical care” for women.

The articles come amid a storm of protest over the administration’s Jan. 20 announcement that religious institutions will have to cover these services in employer-provided health insurances plans.

Here’s one.

Now, before anyone gets too hot and bothered over the topic du jour of contraception and whether or not the government (ahem, the taxpayers, aka you and I) should pony up the cash to make it free for all, let’s take a moment to examine the science behind that wonder pill that has freed women from the tyranny of childbearing and the slavery of motherhood … and ask ourselves frankly, “has it all been worth it?”

I’ve seen more passion on Facebook in the past 3 weeks over bedroom matters than can be contained in the entire Twilight series … and then some.

It would seem that the argument, rather than being framed as a matter of religious freedom, (Should the Catholic Church be forced to violate her own beliefs and recount her stance on a major moral issue at the behest of a civil government?) has become something more of an entitlement issue (Do American women have the right to demand, from their fellow citizens, a subsidized supply of contraceptive drugs or devices in order to manage their sex lives?)

So it’s a lively debate, to put it mildly. Women are engaged.

Including this powerful nun named Mother Angelica. Whose concern is at least as much about constitutionally protected religious liberty as anything.

HHS mandate uncompromised

Back in 2008 when Barack Obama was running for president, his media and message-savvy team smugly dubbed him ‘no drama Obama,’ so controlled was his image. They’re going to have to come up with something new for 2012.

His “war on the church” dominated news cycles last week, and isn’t going away yet. Though “the church” in the headlines is Catholic, other religious leaders have started saying “We’re all Catholic now.”

I’m reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King’s profound remarks in his Letter from Birmingham Jail.

I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

And constitutional rights that apply to everyone anywhere in its bounds are at stake here. Which is why the “firestorm” of controversy that dominated headline news last week produced Friday’s ‘breaking news’ press conference pegged as a “compromise” by Obama in concession to religious leaders.

It wasn’t. Watching it live, I said to those around me ‘He hasn’t changed a thing. This is a smokescreen. A shell game. It’s restating the same imperative using different words.’

Here, in a nutshell, is how a lot of media are portraying it.

U.S. Catholic Church leaders said they will fight President Barack Obama’s controversial birth-control insurance coverage policy despite his compromise that religious employers would not have to offer free contraceptives for workers, shifting the responsibility to insurers.

In an abrupt policy shift aimed at trying to end a growing election-year firestorm, Obama on Friday announced the compromise.

And here, in a nutshell, is that “compromise”:

Here’s how the HHS mandate and the new “accommodation” work.

Then: All employers that don’t meet the narrow “religious exemption,” including Catholic hospitals and universities, are required by law to provide insurance coverage that includes contraception and sterilization procedures with no out of pocket costs to the insured.

Now: All employers that don’t meet the narrow “religious exemption,” including Catholic hospitals and universities, are required by law to provide insurance coverage. All such coverage must include contraception and sterilization procedures with no out of pocket costs to the insured.

There is no difference, except in word arrangement and rhetoric.

“The so-called new policy is the discredited old policy, dressed up to look like something else,” said [Congressman Chris] Smith. “It remains a serious violation of religious freedom. Only the most naïve or gullible would accept this as a change in policy.”

“The newest iteration of Obama’s coercion rule utterly fails because it still forces religious employers and employees who have moral objections to paying for abortion inducing drugs, sterilization and contraception to pay for these things, because it is still the employers who buy the coverage for their employees,” he said. “Today’s announcement is a political manipulation designed to get Obama past his own self-made controversy and past the next election.

He has helped himself in at least that, as this insightful piece by Phil Lawler points out.

Unfortunately, before the bishops released their second statement, leaders of two of the largest Catholic employers in the country—the Catholic Health Association and Catholic Charities USA–had released their own statements indicating that they were satisfied with the Obama administration’s “compromise” proposal. So while the political battle continues, the Catholic forces are already split.

In a perceptive analysis of the political debate, reporter Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times said that in its decision to amend the original HHS mandate, the Obama administration was “never really driven by a desire to mollify Roman Catholic bishops, who were strongly opposed to the plan.” She explained:

“Rather, the fight was for Sister Carol Keehan–head of an influential Catholic hospital group, who had supported President Obama’s health care law–and Catholic allies of the White House seen as the religious left. Sister Keehan had told the White House that the new rule, part of the health care law, went too far.”

Now that Sister Keehan has endorsed the Obama “compromise” (along with Father Larry Snyder of Catholic Charities USA), the Obama administration can claim that many Catholics, including some who had originally opposed the plan, now see the wisdom of his ways. President Obama does not intend to persuade the American bishops to support his proposal; he intends to siphon off support for the bishops among American Catholic voters, driving a political wedge further into the country’s Catholic community.

Especially now that they’ve come together in the force of unity.

So the USCCB leaders recognize the thrust of the Obama administration’s political offensive. They realize that the White House has set out to divide and conquer, to separate the Catholic laity from their bishops. Now surely they see that when groups like the Catholic Health Association and Catholic Charities USA side with the Obama administration, they are contributing to the erosion of the bishops’ authority and the splintering of the Church. So this is not merely an important political battle; it is a critical test of the bishops’ overall authority.

They’re not retreating anytime soon.

In a nation dedicated to religious liberty as its first and founding principle, we should not be limited to negotiating within these parameters. The only complete solution to this religious liberty problem is for HHS to rescind the mandate of these objectionable services.

We will therefore continue—with no less vigor, no less sense of urgency—our efforts to correct this problem through the other two branches of government.

Mr. Obama should be concerned about the larger Catholic Vote.

Obama’s losses

The president’s very bad week highlighted what’s either wrong or lacking in his politics. Even liberal Democrats are getting frustrated.

Just one week after the bruising battle in Congress that ended in a debt deal that disappointed his base and failed to avert a first-ever credit downgrade for America, Obama lost another court battle over his healthcare legislation.

An Appeals Court panel yesterday struck down as unconstitutional the national health care law mandate that nearly every American buy insurance, the most prominent rejection yet of the key element of President Obama’s signature achievement.

A panel of the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta, ruled 2 to 1 that Congress does not have the authority to force people to buy “an expensive product from the time they are born until the time they die.’’

The decision conflicts with the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati, which ruled in June that the requirement is constitutional because health care is an economic activity that Congress has the authority to regulate under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause.

The stark disagreement between the two courts means the legality of the law’s centerpiece, the individual mandate, will almost certainly be determined by the US Supreme Court, scholars said.

Here’s some interesting analysis, which puts it more starkly.

A bad week for the White House got worse Friday when a federal appeals court in Atlanta struck down the “individual mandate” portion of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Whatever else it portends, the 2-1 decision by a panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals guarantees that the United States Supreme Court will have to resolve this legal dispute on its merits, probably by next spring. Even if they want to, the justices in Washington won’t be able to duck this one.

You can like it or not, but Cohen’s piece is livelier than most other news items I’ve read on a provocative ruling. But then, I’m a policy and legal wonk…

It took the 11th Circuit 304 pages to announce its findings and conclusions in Florida et al. v. Dept of Health and Human Services: The “individual mandate” provision of the law, which requires the uninsured to buy health insurance, violates the Constitution because it is beyond Congress’ power to regulate such activity. But other provisions of the new law, including its expansion of Medicaid coverage, which also were struck down by a Florida trial judge in January, are permissible. In other words, as bad as this ruling may be for supporters of the Affordable Care Act, it could have been much worse…

No fewer than the first 52 pages of Friday’s opinion offer an “overview” of the facts surrounding the federal law (which, of course, says something about the complexity of the statute itself, regardless of what you think of the legality of it). By contrast, the 11th Circuit needed only the next 14 pages of its ruling to shoot down the notion that states were unlawfully burdened or “coerced” by the Medicaid expansion contemplated by the Care Act. This part of the ruling, which will be underreported over the weekend, is no small thing. It means that this part of the new law, as opposed to the “individual mandate” issue, may come to the Supreme Court with unanimous support from the lower federal courts.

This is why Cohen’s piece is more compelling than others. It parses the ruling and offers color commentary. It’s one you don’t have to be a wonk to appreciate. But it helps…

Finally,the money shot from the Court:

“In sum, the individual mandate is breathtaking in its expansive scope. It regulates those who have not entered the health care market at all. It regulates those who have entered the health care market, but have not entered the insurance market (and have no intention of doing so). It is overinclusive in when it regulates: it conflates those who presently consume health care with those who will not consume health care for many years into the future. That government’s position amounts to an argument that the mere fact of an individual’s existence substantially affects interstate commerce, and therefore Congress may regulate them at every point of their life.”

Then I saw this piece in the New York Times. Which got even more interesting when put in this perspective.

A NYT report on the economic policy thinking inside the White House right now is easily one of the most devastating things you’ll have read about Obama in a long time.

Just the title, White House Debates Fight on The Economy, as if maybe perhaps the sorry economy is something worth getting into a fight over, is sad.

But it gets worse.

As things have, for a while now, for this president and his administration.

Perhaps the most worrisome part is that there doesn’t seem to be anyone at The White House who really grasps the magnitude of the economic problem (and by that, we’re mostly talking about joblessness) who also has a clear idea how to address it.

And the people are getting more doubtful.