Who’s calling who a liar?

I am sorry to be returning to this topic — the missing voices of the pro-life left — so quickly. However, there’s no way around it at the moment.

Trust me, I do realize that there are secular voices on the pro-life side, but even when you are dealing with a group like the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians, I have found that you are almost always dealing with lots of people whose views on this issues are rooted in science, law and faith. Religion is right in there, even on the pro-life left, in these debates over health-care reform and abortion.

So let’s go to Google News and do a basic search or two, to take a quick look at how most mainstream journalists are framing the abortion questions in the health-care debates.

As I write this post, a Google News search for “Obama” and then for “It is a lie” will get you 494 hits in various forms of news sites.

This is, of course, a key phrase from the speech by President Barack Obama — with the “lie” language aimed at critics who he believes are spreading misinformation about several health-care issues, including federal funding for abortion. This would, I noted earlier, mean that the liars include the U.S. Catholic bishops, Democrats for Life, Feminists for Life and other people who are not marching lock-step with the so-called Religious Right.

At the same time, if you search for “Obama” and then “you lie” — as in, “You lie!” — you will get 7,427 hits in Google News.

I guess reporters are more interested in Rep. Joe Wilson shouting “lie” at the president than they are the president calming aiming the word “lie” at a small, but strategic sub-group (right now, all sub-groups are strategic on the Democratic side of the aisle) in his own party. Oh, right, and don’t forget the U.S. Catholic bishops.

Just an aside: I agree that Wilson was way out of line. Where did he think he was, the British Parliament? No, wait, members of parliament are not supposed to call people “liars.” So would Obama be in trouble, too? Obviously, Wilson should have simply booed the president, since that was acceptable earlier this decade. But if you put “Bush,” “boo” and “Democrats” into Google News you get a mere 120 hits, mostly on conservative news sites.

Note to Republicans: Boo next time. That approach is more civil.

Meanwhile, here inside the Beltway, a Washington Post website search this morning turned up five references to the “lie” angle in the Obama speech, mostly in transcripts — not news stories or blog items. However a similar search for Wilson’s “lie” outburst found 58 news items, if I counted right. I got tired to clicking through all the screens.

So this is a story, once again, of Obama and a united Democratic Party taking on the right-wing Republicans who really don’t want health-care reform. That’s it. That’s all.

If you doubt me, check out this Los Angeles Times story, which ran under the headline, “Abortion foes aren’t buying Obama’s assurances — They continue to campaign against healthcare reform, contending that federal money will go toward abortions if the president has his way.”

Here’s the top of the story:

President Obama, a supporter of reproductive rights, forcefully reiterated in his speech to Congress this week that his healthcare plan would not lead to government funding of abortion.

The trouble is, abortion foes don’t believe him. They are working hard to persuade Americans that Obama is wrong — and have even created ads that evoke “Harry and Louise,” the fictional couple that helped tank the Clinton-era attempt at healthcare reform:

“They won’t pay for my surgery,” says an elderly man sitting at a kitchen table. “What are we going to do?”

“But honey, you can’t live this way,” says his wife, patting his arm.

“And to think that Planned Parenthood is included in the government-run health plan, and spending tax dollars on abortions,” he replies. “They won’t pay for my surgery, but we’re forced to pay for abortions.”

The ad, created by the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group, ran for two weeks in August in five states (California not among them). The ad has been criticized by people on both sides of the healthcare debate as a simplistic and inflammatory depiction of the reform measures Congress is considering.

First of all, I thought the newspaper’s style — along with most of the outlets in mainstream news — would say that the president is “pro-abortion rights,” rather than the vague “reproductive rights.” But I digress.

The Family Research Council is a player, no doubt about it, when it comes time to preaching to the choir on the right. But what influence will that organization and others in that wing of the anti-abortion movement have on Democrats? That’s the question for journalists.

If you read the whole report, you will find a complete gap on the pro-life left — although quoting someone at the Susan B. Anthony List came close to finding a note of balance.

LiarLiarThe story does attempt to quote people on both sides of the crucial question, which centers on whether it is possible to prevent government money from funding abortions without including a clear ban on this in the legislation. Once again, as Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) keeps saying, there needs to be a clear up-or-down vote on the Hyde Amendment (click here for background).

The problem, of course, is that Stupak is a Democrat and the story of the day is that Democrats are finding unity, in part because some fiscal Blue Dogs liked the tone of the speech and some liberals may be ready to compromise.

Yes, the Los Angeles Times did a separate story on that angle (as did lots of other newspapers). Read this story and search for signs that the pro-life Democrats exist and may have enough votes to force some clarity on this issue. Once again, the story is framed as Republicans vs. Democrats — as if the GOP has the votes to stop this train in the House and stop a compromise in the Senate that the White House can live with.

Wait a minute, here’s an interesting story:

Pro-life Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak has said he can block proposed health care reform legislation unless House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) allows a vote on a Hyde Amendment to the bill.

The Hyde Amendment, named after the late U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) prohibits taxpayer dollars from being used to pay for abortions. The current health care bill, H.R. 3200, is under fire for measures that allow federal funds to circumvent the Hyde Amendment and also mandate insurance coverage of abortion.

Rep. Stupak of Michigan claimed he has as many as 39 Democratic allies who could join Republicans to block the complete legislation from coming to a vote unless the House leadership allows a vote on a Hyde Amendment.

Drat! That a Catholic News Agency story. That isn’t real news. That’s the wrong kind of Democrat, the kind that tells lies.

NOTE: Before you click “comment,” make sure you have URLs for your quotes and facts. And stick to the journalism side of this post, focusing on the lack of coverage of the pro-life left and the divides within the Democratic Party that threaten this legislation.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Jerry

    as if the GOP has the votes to stop this train in the House and stop a compromise in the Senate that the White House can live with.

    That is exactly the concern on the part of the White House so I don’t know why you are so dismissive of it. If I understand the rules correctly, even if the 59 Democrats vote in favor of it, the 40 Republicans can filibuster if they vote in a block which is the usual pattern.

    But beyond that, there’s a difference between outright lies and what factcheck.org highlighted in their analysis:

    The president said “no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions.” But the House bill would permit a “public option” to cover all abortions, and would also permit federal subsidies to be used to purchase private insurance that covers all abortions, a point that raises objections from anti-abortion groups. That’s true despite a technical ban on use of taxpayer dollars to pay for abortion coverage.

    Even there what the President announced was not support for the house bill but a principle for a bill he’s looking for. To try to tie him to one of the bills in Congress is at best a logical fallacy. It is fair for people interested in this issue to ask him specific questions about how the law should be worded to implement his statement of principle.

    It might also be instructive to go back to a earlier topic here http://www.getreligion.org/?p=6597 and look at what various people wrote at the time about honesty concerning a very different person.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Hey, I’m a Democrat. I’m more interested in what’s happening in the majority.

    Plus, you think the GOP VIEWS are news? Something NEW going on over there?

  • Jerry

    I just noticed this story which serves are a perfect addendum to my earlier posting (bolding “abortion” is something I did)

    This weekend will be critical as aides and lawmakers themselves hammer out language not just on illegal immigration, but also a handful of other thorny issues including abortion, medical malpractice and how much states must pay for an expansion of Medicaid.


  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Google in “Bush State of the Union Boos.” and you will see that the shocked media outrage at Wilson is typical media liberal immoral hypocrisy. I say this because of –overwhelmingly– the stories I’ve seen or read in the MSM treat Wilson’s shout as unique and way out of line while getting the usual liberal amnesia regarding the Dems doing much worse to Bush in 2005. In fact, I heard the Dems disrespectful raucusness played on one talk show and it certainly proves how much of the liberal media loves its Orwellian memory hole.

  • Davis

    Obama used the term “lie” when referring to death panels. He didn’t say that the pro-life people were telling a “lie” or “lying” or any form of that word. He said:

    And one more misunderstanding I want to clear up — under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place.

    No form of the word “lie” exists in that sentence or in reference to the bishops or even the pro-life community, unless you are suggesting they were pushing the death panels rhetoric, which is where the word “lie” was used.

  • Julia

    reproductive rights

    Used to mean the right to reproduce.

    The same thing happened to the phrase “reproductive health” which is often mentioned in the media.

    That used to mean keeping the reproductive system of male and female in working order, not thwarting their natural functioning. This is why insurance frequently covers those little blue pills but not abortion or the birth control pill.

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  • Bram

    Deacon John is, as usual, correct. The Joe Wilson outburst was merely the ganders (Democrats) being dealt the same sauce that they’ve been drowning the geese (Republicans) in for decades now — the same sauce that one gander (Barack Obama) in particular had in fact been drowning the geese in mere seconds before being served his own sauce back by Joe Wilson. Now, if we had a media culture that consisted of geese as well as ganders, we wouldn’t have to come here to read the the plain truth that’s right before everyone’s nose — we could read it in the paper, watch it on tv. But that would be sporting, wouldn’t it? And, of course, we can’t have that.

  • Chip Smith

    tmatt wrote:

    Once again, the story is framed as Republicans vs. Democrats — as if the GOP has the votes to stop this train in the House and stop a compromise in the Senate that the White House can live with.

    and then after an objection, he wrote:

    Hey, I’m a Democrat. I’m more interested in what’s happening in the majority.

    That’s fine, but the reason the story is framed as if the GOP has the votes to stop a compromise in the Senate that the White House can live with is because the GOP has the votes to stop a compromise in the Senate that the White House can live with. Because the Senate is an antimajoritarian body to begin with, and since the GOP decided to a few years ago to break with tradition and filibuster anything that moves, the White House has to be just as concerned about the minority as it does the debates within the majority.

  • http://www.nrlc.org Douglas Johnson

    On September 8, the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) issued its own challenge to the mainstream news media, here:

    Excerpt: “On government-funded abortion, Obama has duped the news media with head fakes and doubletalk . . . The health care legislation being pushed forward by President Obama would create a federally run insurance plan that would pay for elective abortion with government funds. The legislation also would provide massive tax-based subsidies to purchase private insurance plans that would cover elective abortions. Both of these new programs would represent drastic breaks with decades of federal policy against funding abortions in government-subsidized health programs. Yet, in recent weeks, much of the news media have been manipulated by top Congressional Democrats and by the White House into denying or minimizing the abortion-related policy changes that are being advanced. Many journalists have casually adopted highly misleading characterizations of the abortion-related content of the legislation — characterizations that cannot survive careful scrutiny.

    “For example, many journalists have been snookered into reporting that House Democrats amended their legislation (H.R. 3200) so that the proposed government-run insurance program would be paying for elective abortions with ‘private funds’ — a claim that is absurd on its face, and that cannot survive thoughtful and skeptical scrutiny. It is past time for the would-be factcheckers to stop acting as stenographers for the president and Speaker Pelosi on this issue.”

    Douglas Johnson
    Legislative Director
    National Right to Life Committee
    Washington, D.C.
    Legfederal–at–aol, dot, com

  • Richard Doerflinger

    Doug Johnson is absolutely correct in his description of the current bill, HR 3200, as marked up by the Energy and Commerce Committee. If the President was trying to describe THAT bill in his speech, he would have been misrepresenting the bill. But I read him as talking about a different bill, not yet written, that will have his more direct personal support. This is apparent from other parts of the speech, where he described features that are not now found in any House bill but that he plans to include in “his” bill. So his statement about not funding abortions is not a false description of the present, but a promise about the immediate future — which people can choose to believe or not. At the Catholic bishops’ conference, we hope the promise is sincere and we will be very interested to see how he and Congress follow up, giving the new proposal very careful scrutiny.

    Richard Doerflinger, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

  • Dave

    The elephant in the room that the press is missing is that the GOP is not in the practice of filibustering. From time to time it deprives this or that measure of the 60 votes needed to enact cloture in the Senate, but there hasn’t been an actual filibuster for years. It would make a very interesting quote to ask President of the Senate Joe Biden if he would tell the Republicans, “All right, the floor is yours,” and see if they could carry out this threat. Republican Senators are quite hardy at giving sound-bites to the media’s cameras, but we have yet to see if they have the gumption and stamina for a no-fooling, 24/7 filibuster.

  • dalea

    The press is failing to put the anti-abortion forces on record as to how they will balance their opposition to abortion with the plain fact that lack of reform kills people. The estimate I keep seeing is that 50 people a day die from lack of health insurance.


    How many trauma victims need die to prevent one abortion? How many diabetics must go without consistent treatment to prevent one abortion? How many breast cancer victims must die to prevent one abortion? We are at a point where the give and take of politics requires the anti-abortion movement to either get into the give and take of politics that leads to an actual program or admit they are just a purist idealistic fringe. …

  • Julia

    “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” was on TCM recently. Now, that was a real fillibuster.

  • Bern

    There will never be another Jimmy Stewart–or another Mr. Smith. With the current rule of cloture the minority of 40 doesn’t have to actually talk 24/7. They do have to all show up and actually vote on the motion.

    The percentage of bills denied cloture is small, compared with the enormous number of bills passed in any session. However, the GOP did set a record for number of “filibusters” in the sense of keeping legislation from coming to a vote in both the 109th and 110th sessions.

  • http://intersected.org Chris Blackstone


    I’m guessing anti-abortion forces would love to be put on record with that question. It would provide an opportunity for people to start discussing numbers, like 3561 vs 50 (# of abortions per day vs. # of lack-of-health-care deaths per day)

    abortion stat from http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_many_abortions_per_year_in_the_US

  • Jay

    Richard has an important point. The President is (at best) weaseling and being evasive by not being specific about what bill he refers to. So he could be referring to some mythical bill that doesn’t yet exist.

    However, the reality is that for public policy purposes, HR 3200 is the only complete Democratic proposal on the table, and so it’s his bill too unless he criticizes the bill by name.

    For example, on Friday the White House specifically disagreed with HR 3200′s lack of enforcement to prevent illegal aliens from getting government-funded healthcare. So if the White House similarly disagreed with HR 3200′s lack of restrictions on federal funding of abortion, Robert Gibbs would have said so.

    The reality is that the majority of Obama’s (and Pelosi’s) base wants government-funded abortions, and they need a near-unanimous base to pass the healthcare package. Except for a handful of swing Democrats, the Pro-Life votes were going to vote against the bill anyway.

  • Jerry

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/12/health/policy/12beliefs.html?em is a natural follow-up story to the fast evolving debate on abortion. The article correctly points out that ‘abortion neutral’ is to some degree in the eye of the beholder but as the story says, a lot of groups from all parts of the spectrum have this as a goal.

    Administration foes, like the National Right to Life Committee or the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, were quick to declare that the president could not possibly mean what he said.

    But others, like officials of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and some religious leaders with concerns about abortion, welcomed his words. When it comes to health care overhaul, a surprising number of people on both sides of the abortion war have declared a limited truce.

    The key words are “abortion neutral.”

    What those two words mean is that neither abortion opponents nor abortion rights advocates would use the overhaul effort to advance their agendas. Most important, they would not try to change the legal status quo regarding federal financing of abortions.

  • Kristine

    Jerry- (#18)
    Thank you for that concise, clear explanation. I will probably quote you in conversations with friends. If only it had been explained that clearly in our local paper’s post-speech report.

  • MichaelV

    dalea (#13) – If what you are saying is that you’d like the press to take deeper looks at what individuals who oppose abortion (both those for and against health care reform) want out of this and why, I’m all for it. I think it would be good to examine how pro-life pro-health care people balance their priorities in trying to save 50 lives per day by passing health care reform while also trying to save the thousands of lives they believe lost to abortion every day.

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