We've looked a bit at the coverage of Rep. Bart Stupak's successful amendment to the House health care legislation that prohibits the use of tax dollars to fund abortions. Catholic representatives and the Catholic Conference of Bishops were key players in getting this amendment passed, certainly. Does that mean that Catholics or, specifically, the Catholic Conference of Bishops, endorse the Democrats' health care bill? Hardly.
And yet that's what the Los Angeles Times claimed in a story written by reporter Kim Geiger. Here's how the story begins:
In a last-minute compromise seeking to secure a majority vote for a healthcare overhaul, House Democratic leaders agreed Saturday to essentially exclude abortion coverage from their bill except for insurance policies paid exclusively with private money.
The amendment, offered just prior to the vote on the healthcare bill, passed 240 to 194.
The compromise won immediate support from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which urged Catholics to "lend their full-throated support" to the Democrats' healthcare bill.
"The bishops' stamp of approval means that this bill is unambiguously pro-life and we will vigorously oppose those who suggest otherwise," the conference said in a statement Saturday.
Well, that's pretty unambiguous.
Except it's also completely untrue. The Conference of Catholic Bishops did not urge Catholics to "lend their full-throated support" to the Democrats' healthcare bill.
And they didn't give a stamp of approval. The "full-throated" phrase and the following comment come not from the Conference of Catholic Bishops but, rather, a press release from Catholics United. I know they both have the word "Catholic" in them, but this really shouldn't be that confusing.
Catholics United bills itself as a "non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to promoting the message of justice and the common good found at the heart of the Catholic Social Tradition." Religion reporter Dan Gilgoff of U.S. News & World Report says that they "provide Roman Catholic cover for the White House and the Democrats." They're a progressive activist group that has been vocal in support of much of the Democratic agenda. There are similar groups that serve the same function across the aisle, of course.
But the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is just that and they have most definitely not urged Catholics to lend their full-throated support to the current version of the Democrats' health care bill or given any stamp of approval. Here's a sample from a recent press release:
"We remain deeply concerned about other aspects of health care reform as the debate now moves to the Senate, especially as it affects the poor and vulnerable, and those at the beginning and end of life. We will continue to insist that health care reform legislation must protect conscience rights. We support measures to make health care more affordable for low-income people and the uninsured. We remain deeply concerned that immigrants be treated fairly and not lose the health care coverage that they now have," [Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops] said also.
It's bad enough how reliant reporters are on press releases for their work. That they can't even attribute the press release to the right organization is pretty sorry. And unfortunately the quote mis-attribution is spreading.