Spoon-feeding partisan talking points

At the beginning of last month, tmatt highlighted the main framing device in the news and commentary in the battle over the Obama Administration's mandate requiring employers to provide coverage for abortifacients, sterilization and contraception even if they have religious objections:

(1) The White House says this is a story about birth control and women’s health. Thus, this is a story about birth-control debates between a small number of traditional Catholics and the rest of the nation, including most Catholics.

(2) The nasty Catholic bishops and GOP candidates are attempting to frame this story as a battle over the First Amendment and religious liberty — but that’s just politics, not doctrine. In other words, that’s mere right-wing political spin.

(3) Thus, the vast majority of news reports are framing this as a birth-control battle, perhaps with a few conservative voices thrown into the mix. Many journalists, it seems, have decided that even mentioning “religious liberty” and related Constitutional issues is forbidden, since that would raise the issue of whether religious traditionalists in all faiths have a valid point worthy of fair and accurate coverage. The “religious liberty” nuts are sort of the flat-earth people in this scenario.

More than three weeks later, we can see that this is as true as ever. And after three weeks of being told that the HHS mandate forcing religious and other conscientious objectors to do something against their will is a "contraception battle," it almost seems quaint to remind people that not everyone agrees with this.

So let's look at the New York Times piece headlined, shockingly, "Senate Nears Showdown on Contraception Policy." (Got it? Religious Liberty, abortifacients, sterilization contraception-contraception-contraception!)

The 2010 health care law requires most insurers to cover preventive services without co-payments or deductibles. Under the administration policy, most health plans must cover birth control for women — all contraceptive drugs and devices approved by the Food and Drug Administration — as well as sterilization procedures.

Church-affiliated universities, hospitals and charities would not have to provide or pay for such coverage. Instead, the White House says, coverage for birth control could be offered to women directly by their employers’ insurance companies, “with no role for religious employers who oppose contraception.”

Mr. Blunt said, “The president’s so-called compromise is nothing more than an accounting gimmick.”

Do you see the problem(s) with this portion? It is certainly true that the Obama administration has spun its HHS mandate in the way that the New York Times reports as fact: "Church-affiliated universities, hospitals and charities would not have to provide or pay for such coverage."

But beyond the issue of whether the so-called compromise ever made it into the mandate -- I don't see it in the published regulations, do you? -- should this Obama spin be recorded as fact? If so, why?

Let's look at the relevant line again:

Church-affiliated universities, hospitals and charities would not have to provide or pay for such coverage.

Now, if you said that your father in no way provided for your college tuition because the college savings plan he set up with his own money paid for your college tuition, you would be laughed at, right? (Please tell this former econ student you would be laughed it.)

If you said that your mother didn't pay for her own assisted living facility because the retirement plan she set up with her life savings paid for her assisted living facility, you would be laughed at, right?

But if you say that religious organizations don't pay for sterilization, abortifacients and birth control because the insurance plan they purchased (which was forced to cover those things) provides such coverage, that's worthy of the seal of approval from the paper of record? It insults the intelligence of New York Times readers, no?

Again, I get that it's spin from the Obama Administration.

But note how Obama's HHS argument is reported as fact while Blunt's contention that it's just an accounting gimmick is quoted but in no way explained. Why is it not explained? It certainly wouldn't require much work, would it?

Over at Reason, Jacob Sullum points out many of these problems, and even goes through some of the arguments against the so-called "compromise," before offering some sample language that the New York Times could use:

I don't expect the Times to endorse these critiques. But it should at least clarify that the issue of whether church-affiliated organizations still have to pay for birth control coverage is contested, and maybe even explain why. Here is a short version:

The Obama administration says its new policy means church-affiliated universities, hospitals and charities won't have to provide or pay for such coverage. Blunt says "the president’s so-called compromise is nothing more than an accounting gimmick" because the cost of the coverage will be reflected in the premiums employers pay.

Here is an optional addition:

The administration says the contraceptive mandate won't raise premiums because it will save insurers money by preventing pregnancies. Even if that's true, critics say, church-affiliated organizations still have to pay for health plans that cover products and services they consider immoral.

Indeed, not difficult at all! I would only add that the above bolded line is just flat-out wrong as it relates to self-insured organizations, which includes many colleges and hospitals.

New York Times readers are not stupid. They don't need to be spoon-fed partisan talking points and hidden from the actual nature of the disagreement in this religious liberty, er, I mean, contraception battle.

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