Yesterday, the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee had a hearing on threats to religious liberty. The Republicans on that committee were trying to make President Obama look bad, because of his recent edict requiring religious groups to provide insurance policies that violate their doctrines. The Democrats on the Committee staged a walkout because some of the panelists who were brought on to discuss questions of religious liberty had male parts. Guess what happened with the coverage!
Yesterday I noted Politico: "Carolyn Maloney, Eleanor Holmes Norton walk out of contraception hearing. ABC News: "Rep. Darrell Issa Bars Minority Witness, a Woman, on Contraception". CBS: "Dems decry all-male House panel on WH contraception rule." A reader noted:
Mollie, you missed the absolutely wretched CNN article
You would have thought that none of the clergy were present and that only the grandstanding politicos were there.
Because it's so rare to have the head of my church body speak on these things, our members were surprised (or at least disappointed) to the see the disparity between what actually happened in the hearing (and many of them watched) versus what was reported in the media. It was almost like a parallel universe. And they haven't even gotten basic facts right, attributing to Metropolitan Jonah what was said by the Rev. Matthew C. Harrison. (Hint: they both have facial hair but very different facial hair.)
What's interesting to me is that if you were going to focus on grandstanding Democratic politicians, I found the remarks of Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., in which he went after the panelists and dismissed the hearing as a sham much more interesting. And he staged a walkout, too!
But the idea that the media would just swallow the public relations spin of one party and ignore or downplay the substance of the hearing ... is frustrating.
My church body never engages in politics, for doctrinal reasons. But here even when we are compelled to speak out, the words that our elected President spoke aren't important because he's male? By falling for partisan spin about gender inequality, reporters have completely marginalized me and the millions of women who were being represented yesterday. It's infuriating. It is sexism, but not the type that they recognize.
In any case, we already showed how laughable the oft-repeated, obsessed-over stat is, the one regarding 98 percent of Catholic women who, we're told, use birth control for fun all of the time. We showed how that statistic was invented and, rather, showed that 87 percent of Catholic women who are not open to life in general but who report fighting contraception in particular use contraceptives. Or, as we could say 87 percent of Catholic women who are not pregnant, not post-partum, not pre-partum and are having sex right now and are between the ages of 15-44) are using contraceptives. The White House put it in talking points and the media swallowed it hook, line and sinker.
You may be interested in this statistic from CNN.com. CNN reports that a full 22 percent of Catholics support Catholic teaching on birth control. This is a statistic that has nothing whatsoever to do with the religious liberty concerns being addressed by a wide variety of church officials, but at least it addresses how many Catholics support Catholic teaching.
I'll note a similar statistic from another poll. Guess what percentage of Catholics go to mass weekly? Take a random guess. Did you guess ... 22 percent?
Oh, and polls show that a majority of citizens oppose the new HHS policy. Do you think that story is being accurately set forth? The opposite?
I read a piece in the New York Times that mentioned the debunked 98 percent statistic and I decided to follow the link of supposed substantiation. It went to, and I'm not joking, a Politifact story that rated the fraudulent statistic ... yes ... "mostly true."
The piece admits that characterizations of the study were deeply flawed, although it only mentions some of the flaws with that characterization, before giving the ruling. The article basically says that, despite evidence showing problems with the study design relative to the claims of the study, Politifact says "who cares? Mostly true. Hiccup!" To see what an actual fact-check looks like, as opposed to writing what you wish were true, you can check out the links in this post from a few days ago. And a reader points out that special credit simply must be given to commenter Bain Wellington, who really nailed the problems with that stat before others.
Do check out Glenn Kessler's fact check of the statistic over at The Washington Post:
The claim that 98 percent of Catholic women use contraception: a media foul
He simply explains what's flawed with the statistic without denying that many Catholic women do contracept:
If a statistic sounds too good to be true, be wary. A spokesman for Pelosi said she was saying that 98 percent of Catholic women have used birth control at some point in their lives — because that is how the media characterized it.
But, judging from the examples above, the media has gotten it wrong. The journalistic shorthand has been that “98 percent of American Catholic women have used contraception in their lifetimes.” But that is incorrect, according to the research.
“The shorthand is not what our statistic shows since we only looked at women aged 15-44 who have ever had sex,” Jones said.
The NSFG data on women of child-bearing age certainly may still be relevant to the debate over contraception, because these are the women who today might have a need for access to free birth control. The data also shows that there are few differences between women of different religions in terms of contraceptive use; there was not much difference back in 1973 but the gaps have narrowed even further today. But that still does not excuse the media’s sloppy shorthand for this statistic.
Two Pinocchios — to the media
Sounds fair. Now, it's also true that journalists haven't explained how the percentage of parishioners who violate a church teaching becomes the basis for determining whether it's ok to violate religious liberty. There are arguments in favor of this and against it, and it should not be assumed.