Is it just my imagination, or are President Donald Trump’s female picks creating a lot more news-media hysteria than his male nominees?
Whether it’s Paula White as one of his six clergy speakers at his inauguration or Betsy DeVos as education secretary or now Charmaine Yoest as assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, the screaming is over the top.
I’ve never met Charmaine Yoest, although I heard her speak at the 2009 meeting of the Religion Newswriters Association and was impressed at the time. And for the record, my sympathies are with anyone who must work in the Humphrey building, a nasty piece of Brutalist architecture completed in 1977 that serves as HHS headquarters down the street from the Capitol. The one time I was inside was not a pleasant experience.
Back to the react. I’ll use Politico’s opening salvo as an example:
President Donald Trump on Friday said he would name one of the most prominent anti-abortion activists in the country to a top communications post at HHS.
Charmaine Yoest, tapped to be assistant secretary of public affairs, is a senior fellow at American Values. She is the former president of Americans United for Life, which has been instrumental in advancing anti-abortion legislation at the state level to restrict access to the procedure.
Her appointment was quickly panned by Democratic lawmakers and prominent abortion rights organizations. The assistant secretary of public affairs shapes communications efforts for the entire agency.
“Ms. Yoest has a long record of seeking to undermine women’s access to health care and safe, legal abortion by distorting the facts, and her selection shows yet again that this administration is pandering to extreme conservatives and ignoring the millions of men and women nationwide who support women’s constitutionally protected health care rights and don’t want to go backward," Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said in a statement.
AUL’s website -- which states that the group offers state lawmakers 32 different pieces of model legislation to restrict access to abortion -- characterizes Yoest as “public enemy #1” for abortion rights organizations.
Betcha can’t guess where Politico stands on this appointment (or on abortion issues) can you? It wasn’t until the 16th (and last) paragraph that there was a quote from someone supporting Yoest.
The Associated Press was only a little better in allowing a favorable quote in the sixth paragraph of a nine-paragraph story.
Several stories ridiculed Yoest’s belief that abortion can be linked to an increased risk of breast cancer -- without noting that Yoest is a breast cancer survivor and that she might have some informed views on the topic.
But what, you may ask, does any of this have to do with religion? Could it be that Yoest’s convictions –- like many in the anti-abortion arena -- have anything to do with her faith?
I looked about what’s been written about Yoest and was surprised to find a paucity of material on what she believes, what church in the DC area her family attends, etc. Even this 2012 New York Times magazine profile of her said nothing about her beliefs.
Her Wikipedia entry reveals that she attended two evangelical Christian colleges: Taylor University and Wheaton College. This 2011 Christian Science Monitor profile is by far the best piece out there about Yoest, as it shows her as a multi-faceted individual whose views on abortion were shaped by a miscarriage she had in her first pregnancy. It continues:
Despite her career in Republican politics, notable most recently for a stint as communications director on Mike Huckabee's 2008 presidential campaign, it's harder to peg Yoest in the traditionally one-dimensional caricature of an antiabortion advocate. She is not shrill, rigid, or somehow provincial in values or experience. She is not a fire-and-brimstone finger wagger, though faith is a centerpiece of her life.
I wish the story had elaborated on that point, but it didn't. But it did go on to say that she met her husband, Jack, at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Md., a bastion of evangelicalism and conservative theology. I’d be interested to know if they still go there. It shows the humanity of this woman and lots of details about some of the suffering she has endured in life and how that shaped her beliefs on a lot of things.
It’s probably too late to get such detailed interviews with Yoest now, but there’s no reason why reporters can’t ferret out more details about her other than the fact she’s not crazy about IUDs, which she mentioned in the Times profile and which has been repeated endlessly over the last two days in other media. It’s easy to cast people as a type but far more difficult to do the research and portray them as the complex individuals each of us are.
Would that reporters would take the time to do the latter with Trump’s female nominees. They actually might learn something other than the shrill invective most of them have settled for.