'Expert Witness' or Fluke?

I was seriously sick this week -- bed rest and the whole nine yards -- and am catching up on some news. I've sent out an APB on Twitter (from both my personal account and the GetReligion account) asking for any good stories at all -- anywhere -- by the mainstream media about religious liberty this week. Would you send along any links you have to stories that did a good job covering the major religious liberty issues in play right now in America regarding this HHS mandate from the Obama administration? When I put out my original request, one conservative media critic responded that she hadn't seen a single story about religious liberty but could send me quite a few about how the pill is getting banned by meanies.

Yes, well, we're seeing lots of stories that frame things in ways that seem a bit partisan. (Note, for instance, the repeated use of the DNC's talking point regarding "denial of coverage" in this New York Times story on the Blunt amendment.)

I wanted to show one example of how the media are driving a story. A couple of weeks ago, there was a hearing on religious liberty. The Republicans did their thing -- going after Obama in grandstanding fashion -- and the Democrats did their thing -- walking out of the hearing because their "expert witness" hadn't been allowed to testify. You can read some of our earlier posts about that here: "Media shirk debate on religious liberty" and "Media ignore women, for women." We saw headlines like: 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." CNN: Angry lawmakers challenge lineup at hearing: 'Where are the women?'

That, remember, is how they covered a hearing on religious liberty.

Later, the Democrats had a hearing with only their expert witness. That was very well covered, as we discussed earlier. CNN even ran a live stream of it.

But I learned something today about the "expert witness" that I found just fascinating. Her name is Sandra Fluke and she is a student at Georgetown Law school. The interesting thing is that the HHS mandate has literally nothing to do with student health plans. Fluke is a birth control activist, this is true, but her testimony was supposed to be relevant, obviously, to the HHS mandate. And as her later testimony, which was very well covered, shows, she only talked about student health care plans. Which aren't even touched by the HHS mandate. Did you learn that from any mainstream media coverage?

Just so we're on the same page, here's what the Department of Justice has said on the matter (in response to a lawsuit regarding religious liberty brought by Belmont Abbey against the HHS mandate):

Neither the preventive services coverage regulations [including the HHS contraception mandate] nor any other federal law requires [a university] to provide health insurance to its students — much less health insurance that covers contraceptive services.

So guess how many stories about Fluke mentioned that her testimony would have no connection to the HHS mandate in question. I can't find any. I looked at the five stories at CNN, the twelve (12!) at the Washington Post, Time, Newsbeast, and so on and so forth. (I found zero stories with the "expert witness"' name at New York Times, USA Today, and the Los Angeles Times, although your mileage may vary.)

Read all the way through this Washington Post piece headlined "Meet Sandra Fluke: The woman you didn’t hear at Congress’ contraceptives hearing" and tell me if you can discern anything about the relevancy of her testimony to the actual matter at hand.

So while the meme meant that we had to ignore the religious liberty arguments made by the men and women (I know, I know, we're supposed to lie and say that there were no women there, but I just can't) were ignored while the big news was that the House committee didn't seat this "expert witness" of a law student. But her testimony was completely irrelevant to the matter at hand. Read this one-sided CNN puff piece on Fluke and note how the details of the irrelevancy of her testimony are bungled.

I just find that fascinating. Great reporting job everybody! I'm so glad you ignored the expert testimony at the religious liberty hearing to focus on something that had literally nothing to do with the HHS mandate! Speak truth to power, yo!

On that note, the expert witness is back in the news because -- sit down, I'm sure you'll be shocked -- Rush Limbaugh said something very mean about her. Jake Tapper at ABC News sent out a link to his story about the brouhaha with the promising tweet:

It's all about framing. Are we debating women's health? Religious liberty? Or Limbaugh calling a law student a "slut"?

If you're wondering, ABC News chose the last option for this story. But Tapper says he's been fair to those who are concerned about religious liberty in earlier stories. (And to be sure, Tapper is a great reporter who is tenacious but very fair in how he approaches stories.) I'll dig through them in my quest for good stories on religious liberty. Don't forget to send along any mainstream news story you see that is focused on religious liberty, or even predominantly about religious liberty. Good or bad, it doesn't matter. If it adopts the religious liberty framing instead of the "war on women/war on contraception" framing, I'll take it. Thank you!

Please respect our Commenting Policy