What did Bob Casey say?

casey4A few weeks ago, I criticized a New York Times story about Sen. Bob Casey, Jr.’s expected speech at the Democratic convention partly on the grounds that the story failed to specify its nature. Would Casey address his opposition to legal abortion or some other topic, such as the economy or Barack Obama’s skills on the basketball court? The story never said.

Today I criticize an Associated Press story for a related fault. See if you can catch it. Reporter Kimberly Hefling began her story this way:

Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey invoked his late father’s name Tuesday night and referred to his own opposition to abortion rights from the podium of the Democratic convention–16 years after his father was denied the same privilege.

While he spoke only briefly during the speech on the issue of abortion, it was intended to send a message: Sen. Barack Obama supports abortion rights, but accepts those like Casey who oppose abortion rights.

In 1992, Casey’s father, the late Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey, was denied a prime-time slot to speak in opposition to abortion rights, which created a rift within the party.

“Barack Obama and I have an honest disagreement on the issue of abortion,” Casey said. “But the fact that I’m speaking here tonight is testament to Barack’s ability to show respect for the views of people who may disagree with him.”

That description might sound unobjectionable, but read closer. It is more conclusory than factual.

Hefling asserts that Casey “referred” to his pro-life views. No, he did not. Casey alluded to them. There is a difference. Casey did not say that he is pro life or an abortion foe; he said that he and Obama differ on the issue of abortion. The nature of that difference was not mentioned.

By failing to characterize Casey’s remarks accurately, Hefling’s story gives the false impression of unity between pro-life and pro-choice Democrats. Had she been more careful about describing Casey’s speech, she would have avoided this misimpression.

A reporter who got the story right was James O’Toole of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Instead of jumping to conclusions, O’Toole let his subject speak. Consider his description of Casey’s remarks Tuesday night:

A generation after his father was barred from the podium of the Democratic National Convention, Sen. Bob Casey Jr. invoked his name as he depicted Sen. Barack Obama as a force for tolerance on an issue that continues to divide Democrats.

“I’m honored to stand before you as Gov. Bob Casey’s son,” the senator said as he took the stage of the Pepsi Center. Later, he urged the delegates to rally to the candidate he had endorsed before the Pennsylvania primary, calling him, “a leader who, as Lincoln said, appeals to ‘the better angels of our nature.’ ”

“Barack Obama and I have an honest disagreement on the issue of abortion,” said the lawmaker, who is an abortion foe. “But the fact that I’m speaking here tonight is a testament to Barack’s ability to show respect for the views of people who disagree with him.”

Even better, O’Toole let his subject speak again, this time via an interview with Casey. Casey’s comments were more than revealing; they contradicted Hefling’s implication that pro-choice Democrats had welcomed pro-lifers back into the presidential wing of the party’s tent:

When asked about the relative lack of intra-party unrest over the fact that Mr. Obama was reported to have at least considered several anti-abortion Democrats as running mates, however, Mr. Casey said, “Let’s be candid. I don’t think we’re at the point where our party could nominate someone who is pro-life … maybe even at the vice presidential level.”

It would be unfair to criticize Hefling unduly. Her job at the AP is to get the story right and right away. At a nominating convention, that is a tall order. But uncovering the truth demands being up to the task.

(Photo by Chad Briggs used under a Creative Commons license.)

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  • Jerry

    Mark, I think your particular axe to grind is in evidence here. I do agree that the better term is alluded rather than referred but to me that’s hair splitting. The significant point is that Obama has opened the door to those against abortion more than the Democratic party has done in the past.

    they contradicted Hefling’s implication that pro-choice Democrats had welcomed pro-lifers back into the presidential wing of the party’s tent:

    Casey spoke about Obama not the democratic party as a whole. What Casey is referring to is not the Democratic party but specifically about Obama.

    “Let’s be candid. I don’t think we’re at the point where our party could nominate someone who is pro-life . . . maybe even at the vice presidential level.”

    The odds of a log cabin (gay) or pro-abortion Republican or being able to speak at the Republican convention is zero. Contrast John McCain who went from the following statement in 1999 to his current position. Political opportunism perhaps?

    “I’d love to see a point where Roe vs. Wade is irrelevant, and could be repealed because abortion is no longer necessary. But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe vs. Wade, which would then force women in America to [undergo] illegal and dangerous operations.”

  • http://www.soilcatholics.blogspot.com Peggy

    NARAL gives Bob Casey Jr a 65% on “choice”, while National Right to Life gives him 57%.

    I was curious as I doubt Casey’s “pro-life-ness”. He’s just about middle of the road, precisely.

    [NARAL gave his PA counterpart, Specter 100%, NRLC gave Specter 14%.]

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    I attended a Democrats for Life event yesterday where Casey spoke. He didn’t mention the issue of abortion once.

    Reporters were asking him about his support for Obama as it relates to Obama’s NARAL ratings, promises to expand abortion rights, etc.

    His answers were very vague.

  • Jerry

    It’s probably not going to be the subject of a blog entry here, but speaking of abortion, tonight Obama said during his acceptance speech:

    We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mark Stricherz

    Jerry writes,

    Mark, I think your particular axe to grind is in evidence here. I do agree that the better term is alluded rather than referred but to me that’s hair splitting. The significant point is that Obama has opened the door to those against abortion more than the Democratic party has done in the past.

    I have an axe to grind because my post noted that Casey’s language about abortion was vague and the AP reporter failed to mention this? I don’t follow your logic.

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  • Matt

    Casey did not say that he is pro life or an abortion foe; he said that he and Obama differ on the issue of abortion. The nature of that difference was not mentioned.

    Is there anyone who doesn’t already know this? Some people may not know Casey, but certainly everyone knows Obama’s position on abortion, thus easily inferring Casey’s. I have to agree with Jerry #1 that this is hair-splitting.

  • Matt

    Peggy #2, NRLC dinged Casey on three points, voting for regulation on special-interest groups, for Medicare price controls, and against Bush’s “Mexico City policy”. Only the third is even arguably a pro-life issue, and even that might be justified on foreign-policy arguments.

    On the other side, NARAL gave Casey double-credit for opposing the “Mexico City policy” (which they term the “global gag rule”) and for opposing an effort to de-fund family planning clinics. None of these votes is necessarily anti-life.

    My conclusion from the links you cited is not that Casey is “middle of the road” in his pro-life commitment, but that special-interest groups are more interested in loyalty to their own interests than in fidelity to their supposed guiding principles.

  • Dale

    Matt:

    I think you’re missing Mark’s point. Casey didn’t enunciate his position on abortion. If the Democratic Party is more tolerant toward its pro-life members, it’s only to the extent that they can now be seen, but they’re not heard arguing their position. Muzzling someone on the issue doesn’t show unity, it shows the domination and control exercised by the pro-choicers. The unity is literally one of appearance.

  • Dave

    This is not only hair-splitting, per Jerry and Matt, but it’s not a legitimate instance of the press not getting religion. Mistakenly saying “referred” instead of “alluded” is a technical fault; it does not reflect a failure of the reporter to understand the religion behind the conflict, nor does it misinform the reader about that. Once again GR takes a step down the slippery slope to a quotidian conservative complaint board.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mark Stricherz

    Dave writes,

    Once again GR takes a step down the slippery slope to a quotidian conservative complaint board.

    I disagree wholeheartedly. The debate over abortion in the Democratic Party, such as it is, is for the most part a battle between traditional religious believers and liberal believers and seculars.

  • Dave2

    Mark Stricherz wrote:

    I disagree wholeheartedly. The debate over abortion in the Democratic Party, such as it is, is for the most part a battle between traditional religious believers and liberal believers and seculars.

    So are you conceding Dave’s point that this post has nothing to do with the press not getting religion?

    I mean, say what you will about complaining (on behalf of Democrat pro-lifers) about AP writers failing to capture all the nuance of the current status of pro-lifers in the party, but it’s much more befitting a conservative complaint board than a ‘the press doesn’t get religion’ board.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mark Stricherz

    No, I am not.

  • Dave2

    Mark, then please explain how the AP’s use of “referred to” rather than “alluded to” reveals a failure to get religion. I’m being perfectly honest when I say I have no idea what you have in mind.

  • Dave

    Mark’s rebuttal (#11) to my remark (#10) is a non-sequitur.
    The presence of a longstanding religious issue is not evidence of the failure of a reporter to “get religion” in not reviewing its entirety in one story, especially when the world at large knows of the issue.

    Note I am not denying that “alluded” would have been technically preferable to “referred.” I’m saying that it’s not GR.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mark Stricherz

    Dave 2 writes,

    Mark, then please explain how the AP’s use of “referred to” rather than “alluded to” reveals a failure to get religion. I’m being perfectly honest when I say I have no idea what you have in mind.

    I appreciate the sincere question. Here’s my answer, which I perhaps did not make sufficiently clear: If the AP reporter had used the word “alluded,” she might have reached the conclusion that Casey referred to in his interview in the Pittsburgh paper: liberal and secular Democrats continue to exclude on the national stage religiously traditional Democrats on cultural issues.

  • Dave

    If the AP reporter had used the word “alluded,” she might have reached the conclusion that Casey referred to in his interview in the Pittsburgh paper: liberal and secular Democrats continue to exclude on the national stage religiously traditional Democrats on cultural issues.

    And not doing that is a failure to get religion because…?

    In any event, his interview is old news because this year the liberal and secular Democrats woke up, smelled the polls and included Casey, Jr on the national stage.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mark Stricherz

    Dave writes,

    And not doing that is a failure to get religion because. . .?

    Reporters don’t get that traditional religious believers in the Democratic Party are marginalized on cultural issues. Casey’s speech Tuesday night was a good example. He had to allude to the fact that he is pro-life; he could not say it.

  • Dave2

    So this just sounds like a failure to get politics. Even a deeply knowledgeable religious scholar could not be expected to know the subtle political trends and balance of power issues within the Democratic Party (or the Republican Party or the Senate or the Supreme Court).

  • Dave2

    And, to include ‘the other half of the equation’, even a nonreligious ignoramus who doesn’t know his Bible from his elbow might be such a political junkie that he can easily chart the rise and fall of the various interest groups and constituencies jostling for power within the Democratic Party.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mark Stricherz

    So Dave 2 takes the position that religion and politics are separate and distinct. I wonder if he really believes this.

  • Dave2

    No, I take the position that a failure to get politics is not ipso facto a failure to get religion (even if the political players are motivated by religious concerns). In this case, I simply do not see how a failure to understand the arguably-marginalized status of Democrat pro-lifers (I’m making the generous assumption that this failure of understanding is what’s behind the use of ‘referred’ instead of ‘alluded’) in any way indicates a failure to get religion. I mean, for all we know, these reporters have a deep and impressive understanding of religion in all its forms around the globe. These reporters might put Huston Smith to shame. The fact that they used ‘referred’ instead of ‘alluded’ seems to tell us precisely nothing, except that perhaps they’re not fully sensitive to all the internal politics of the Democratic party.

    Or to come at it another way, this is absolutely nothing like those reporters who read too much into the Lutheran pastor’s sermon when Obama was visiting because they evidently didn’t know about liturgical calendars. That is a failure to get religion. This, I don’t buy.

  • Dave

    [Casey] had to allude to the fact that he is pro-life; he could not say it.

    He said it quite clearly enough for anyone who was awake.


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