Media shirk debate on religious liberty

Yesterday morning, an editor of the CNN religion section tweeted:

Why was #CNNDebate question on contraception booed? Is it just us or are social conservative questions often booed? Why?

Now, if you watched the question, and you are in any way even remotely aware of the recent battle over religious liberty, you know exactly why the question got booed. At a debate hosted by CNN, ostensibly to elucidate the differences between the Republican candidates for president, a question that sounded as if it was written by junior-level Planned Parenthood strategist was asked. That question was, and I'm entirely serious:

Since birth control is the latest hot topic, which candidates believe in birth control and, if not, why?

"Believe in"?

You bet your bottom dollar that the audience booed. I myself composed a tweet that was remarkable not only for being in all caps but also for including crude language. See, you wouldn't know it from media coverage but the Obama Administration has issued a strict mandate that deeply concerns many religious liberty observers. Because that mandate requires everyone to pay for abortifacients, sterilization and contraception for their employees -- even if they have religious objections to it -- the media have decided to adopt the framework that this is a battle over "women" and a battle over "belief" in "birth control."

That's not even close to an accurate description of what concerns the religious liberty activists, but it doesn't matter. And it's a sexist dismissal of all the women, such as myself, who care deeply and passionately about religious liberty. But it doesn't matter. It's the way many in the media have decided to frame the issue and they don't care how many Jews, Lutherans, Baptists, Catholics and Zoroastrians (female or male!) say otherwise, it's going to be about birth control. And there's nothing you can do about it.

Take a look at this picture of Dr. Allison Dabbs Garrett, the senior vice-president for academic affairs at Oklahoma Christian University. According to the mainstream media, she doesn't exist. Neither does Dr. Laura Champion, medical director of Calvin College Health Services. See, they testified at a hearing on religious liberty. But since the talking points used by the media are, quite literally, "Where were the women at the religious liberty hearing?", they can't acknowledge that they exist. And they can't acknowledged that Dabbs Garrett said things such as:

“While our views differ from those of our Catholic friends regarding what our plans should cover, our views are exactly the same on whether the government should be able to require individuals or institutions to violate their religious beliefs.”

It didn't happen, OK? Just stop trying to pretend that she is a real woman who really cares about religious liberty. Does that quote sound like something a real woman would say?

Now, last week I was traveling on business when the head of my church body, the Rev. Matthew C. Harrison, testified about Lutheran objections to the mandate. In order to watch it, which I really wanted to do because I care so much about the issue of religious liberty, I had to find the web site for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and then figure out how to stream the coverage live. I watched for three hours or so. Now, at my last newspaper, I had to cover that committee all the time. So I kind of knew what I had to do to find it. But would the average person be able to easily navigate this? I'm not sure.

Compare that with this tweet from CNN today.

@CNNLive: House #Democrats hold a #contraception hearing of their own. Live:

Yes, you could watch CNN live streaming of a Democratic counter-hearing. Now, remember that the committee hearing wasn't on contraception, except insofar as the Obama Administration is forcing religious institutions to cover abortifacients, sterilization and contraception for employees even if they have doctrinal problems with doing so.

It was a religious liberty hearing. That you had to go to the Committee website to find. (I went back and reviewed CNNLive's tweets -- they didn't stream the hearing on religious liberty.) So when the religious liberty activists had their day, their arguments were barely covered under a barrage of talking points about how everyone testifying had man parts and everyone knows that man parts mean you may not have an opinion on the First Amendment. (I know, I know, you keep pointing to that woman there. I've told you: She does not exist, OK?) And then when the Democrats have a counter-hearing to highlight that women such as Allison Dabbs Garrett don't exist and certainly aren't worthy of having their views listened to, then we get CNN live streaming it. That's not journalism, that's taking sides.

In response to the tweet above, a friend wrote, "The fact that CNN could not have anticipated that reaction and even worse, not understood it, is nearly unfathomable. The candidates were obviously not surprised or unprepared for the question -- how could anyone still professing objectivity have so little perspective at how far spun they are?" I can only assume that the religion editors there were just trying to provoke a conversation rather than actually confused as to why the question was roundly booed (although this follow-up suggests otherwise). But it's not just them. The Washington Post tweeted out last night that "Republicans try to shirk debate on contraception, prefer to criticize Obama." Um, well, kind of. But they're kind of missing the point. What was that thing that they were criticizing Obama about? (Hint: It rhymes with Creligious Fliberty.)

To be absolutely clear: It's fine that Rep. Nancy Pelosi alleges that people such as myself are attempting to impose "an ideological point of view" designed to hurt women rather than people who have an earnest concern about religious freedom. She's a politician and I get that she will be political when characterizing those who don't agree with her. This is not the first time that's happened and that's her job. But I do care that the media are just marching lockstep with her in her campaign. That's not what journalists are supposed to do. And this lockstep marching in the culture wars is unrelenting. First, the media embedded with Planned Parenthood in their fight against Komen. Then many in the media ignored the complaints of religious liberty activists. Then when the religious liberty activists were making serious ground, the media changed the terms of the debate, lying about statistics if necessary, to something more advantageous. And it just keeps going.

Are the media in an increasingly thick bubble that inures them to one-sided approaches to hot-button issues? Let's wrap it up by looking at this op-ed piece analysis report from the Associated Press' Robert Lewis headlined "Ridicule helped doom Va. ultrasound bill."

I challenge you to find a more one-sided piece about a bill that would have required ultrasounds to be performed before abortions. Not a single person who supported the bill is quoted, for instance. Nor is it mentioned that Planned Parenthood of Virginia already does multiple ultrasounds before abortions, as Alana Goodman reported for Commentary.

The backstory is that some journalist activists such as Slate's Dahlia Lithwick compared the ultrasounds required in the bill to forcible rape for no medical reason and said people should be outraged. And so journalists got outraged and so did the people the journalists care about most: Jon Stewart, "Saturday Night Live" and... Megan McCain. Reporting on the bill wasn't exactly noteworthy, although the campaigning against it was.

So here's how the Associated Press' Robert Lewis begins his "news" piece:

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Once the word "transvaginal" became a big joke on "Saturday Night Live" and "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," it wasn't long before Virginia's conservative Republicans realized they had overreached on abortion.

Oh was that how it worked? What an evenhanded report from the AP about "overreach" on abortion, eh? The conservative Republicans polled their noted fans Megan McCain, Saturday Night Live and Jon Stewart and decided that if they were being mocked, then that must mean they had "overreached on abortion"? I guess Robert Lewis has a point. Megan McCain -- oh, I'm sorry -- "conservative columnist Megan McCain" is highly respected among all people and when she makes a recommendation, you can hear all of Washington, D.C. come crashing to a halt to figure out how to incorporate her wisdom into their political strategy. And the GOP actually runs their morning meetings based on what Stewart said to his audience the previous night.

Oh wait, no, that's not quite right. If there are people who really care about what Jon Stewart and Megan McCain say, it's probably not conservative Republicans. Still, this "news" report does indicate something about the way stuff gets reported in the Associated Press.

It may be time for some introspection, however, among the media elite and the thickness of the bubble they're in.

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