Politico ran a jaw-droppingly bad story on the role of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops in battles over abortion. It reads like a histrionic op-ed but it's actually a news story. And it's written by David Rogers, no less -- a reporter who should know better. The story accuses the bishops, without even the slightest attempt at substantiation, of racism and sexism. All in the first two paragraphs. No. really. Here's the lede:
Thirty-three years ago this fall, a bitter, race-tinged fight over abortion matched Roman Catholic bishops and the House against the nation's first popularly elected black senator, Republican Ed Brooke of Massachusetts.
And . . . that's it. I guess we're supposed to take Pope David Rogers' words as the truth because he never even explains what in tarnation he's talking about. The words "Brooke" and "race" literally never re-appear in the story. We move right on to the charge of sexism:
Now, with health care reform on the line, the same male-dominated church hierarchy is dictating to the first woman speaker of the House, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic herself and past ally for the bishops on everything from human rights in China to tax credits for low-income families.
Um, okay. Dictating? Really, Politico? This is just such a bizarre opening to a story, that I don't even know what to say. Is Rogers really saying that the Catholic bishops only cared about Ed Brooke's support of abortion because he was black? Is Rogers really considered "simply . . . the best congressional reporter in the country"? Because that's just ignorant. I mean, I'm no historian or theologian but I'm pretty darn sure traditional Christians have opposed abortion for a couple thousand years. And not just when black Republicans support it.
And while the work of the bishops to keep taxpayer funding of abortion out of the health care bill is a great topic, I'm pretty sure political advocacy -- even by churches -- is legal. It's not a sign of a theocracy or dictatorship. And it's not like Pelosi's sex is the reason why the bishops are working to get her to allow votes on abortion funding. It's because of her position as Speaker of the House. Again, call me crazy, but I'm pretty sure the Catholic bishops would be pressing for an up-or-down Stupak vote even if the Speaker had a Y chromosome.
The rest of the story reads, like the first two paragraphs above, as a pro-choice op-ed. Here's a sample:
"We have 53 million people already under Medicaid, and now we're going to add about 33 million uninsured?" asked Richard Doerflinger, an associate director with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "It applies to a new situation, but it is not qualitatively a new situation."
Or is it?
The political reality is the anti-abortion movement has largely succeeded in Washington by applying Hyde restrictions to what are captive populations reliant on the government.
The rest of the piece includes an argument in favor of health reform in general -- written by the reporter of the "news article" himself. Then he explains how insurance companies marketing plans to individuals in the new government-run exchanges would have to tailor their health plans to comply with the restrictions on taxpayer funding of abortions. And this could even have spillover effects on people who don't have insurance plans subsidized by taxpayers. Explaining that is not a bad idea for a story, although it's only a brief portion here.
Speaking in Baltimore on Monday, Chicago Cardinal Francis George, president of the USCCB, defended its tactics, saying the church must ensure that "issues that are moral questions before they become political remain moral questions when they become political."
Watching it all with a special perspective is Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.), who once studied for the priesthood and counseled the bishops to hold firm with the speaker and fellow leaders.
"They were wearing down. I told them time is on our side," Kildee told POLITICO. "The Catholic Church is great at politics. They've been around for 2,000 years. If you go to the Vatican library, you can find correspondence between the pope and Genghis Khan."
"What about the separation of church and state?" a reporter asked.
"In law," Kildee said, smiling broadly. "Not in politics between the church and politically minded people."
Gee, I wonder who the reporter was who asked the question about church and state? Perhaps the reason why Rogers wrote such an embarrassingly bad piece is because he (or another reporter) doesn't understand what the First Amendment says or means? I don't know, but Rogers clearly should not be permitted to write about anything related to the Catholic Church again -- or until he deals with some of his anger issues.
Perhaps it's time for some enterprising reporter to look at this trend of folks thinking separation of church and state means that Catholics shouldn't have input in the political process. (Of course, this Washington Post poll indicates that 61 percent of Americans support the Stupak amendment principle, so it's not just Catholics who are weighing in on the matter.) Still, it seems like there is a bit of a double standard about coverage of religious groups' political activism. If you're advancing progressive causes, you're "speaking truth to power" but if you're advancing conservative causes, you're "dictating" and leading the country into theocracy.