More quote malpractice

press-releaseWe’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.

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  • Peggy

    I am glad you are covering this. The impression in my mind has been that the USCCB would support any bill, including socialized medicine, so long as abortion is not covered. The media has been covering it this way. The lack of specific statements from the USCCB on anything but abortion has solidified that idea. It may be that socialized medicine is the USCCB staff’s position, however, which is disturbing to me.

    The fact that the bishops and USCCB issued NO support for a bill with Stupak needs to be made. Fr Jonathon Morris, a Legionnaires of Christ priest, was on Hannity last night and made the point very clearly that NOT ONE bishop has issued an approval of the healthcare bill with or without Stupak language. That was a revelation to me.

    In addition to getting the USCCB position right, I’d really like to see some one in the media explore the agenda of USCCB staff v the bishops. I think there’s a powerful disconnect going on.

    Did you know that the USCCB communications staff have a “Media Blog”? It’s pretty much stuck on Stupak. No comment on the whole bill either way.

    Here is the URL:

  • rick

    The lack of specific statements from the USCCB on anything but abortion has solidified that idea

    The USCCB has been pretty clear for the last couple of months that they are concerned about abortion, end of life issues, and coverage for immigrants. While the USCCB has been specific with lawmakers, the media has not reported it.

  • rick

    Here’s a list of links that shows statements in August, September and October made by the USCCB advocating for a wide spectrum concerns with healthcare reform:

  • Peggy

    Rick. I am fully aware of those statements. Even so, they are vague enough to suggest the USCCB would support (or prefer?) socialized medicine. The USCCB (or its staff) have not drawn a line in the sand on other life issues as they did for abortion. I am pro-life. I do agree with prohibiting public funding of abortion. Stupak is fine, but adequate to make the bill pro-life.

    I think the staff’s actions raise questions. Ray Arroyo just said on Laura I’s show that the bishops are likely to raise questions next week and ask about who is representing them on the Hill and what those representatives are saying to lawmakers.

  • Chris

    Peggy: I think a look at the relationship between USCCB staff and the bishops would not reveal the disconnect you think is there. In fact, I know it would not. The bishops, especially committee chairs, are very involved in the process and the staff does not make a move without them, despite what Ray Arroyo might say.

  • tmatt


    You links are beside the point.

    The LA Times made a very, very basic journalistic error.

    A correction is needed. Pronto.

  • Peggy

    Oh, my! A correction. I meant to say Stupak is “INadequate”…

    Chris. I look forward to seeing/hearing what comes out of the USCCB meeting next week.

  • Chris Bolinger

    Here in the real world, when people make errors — intentional or unintentional — as blatant as the one made by Geiger, we fire them. How do things work in today’s “MSM” publications?

  • MattK

    More proof the press is red.

  • tmatt


    Watch to see if the LA Times corrects this.

    Maybe young master Brad Greenberg can help us with that on the West Coast.

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  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    “Subsidiarity” This is a word I have yet to see in MSM accounts or backgrounders on Catholic bishop’s attitudes toward health reform.
    It is a long standing Catholic social-political principle which holds that matters ought to be handled by the smallest. lowest, or least-centralized competent authority.
    To Catholics –and many others–who look on this principle as great wisdom it’s not even being reported on appears to play into the hands of those who seem to have a lust to grow government power beyond all boundaries and all American tradition (Even to the point–according to the House bill– of throwing people in jail for 5 years who won’t do what they are ordered to do on the health insurance front by the growing federal Leviathan.)
    There have been good articles on “subsidiarity” in the Catholic Press including one in the “Our Sunday Visitor” of Oct. 11, 2009 and the “Catholic World Report” of Nov. 2009.
    Also, although not much noticed on the national media scene, a number of Catholic bishops have raised the issue of “subsidiarity.”
    Bishop James V. Johnston (of Mo.) wrote: “One might legitimately ask if giving a large, inefficient, but powerful bureaucracy like the federal control of health care is a wise move.”
    And Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput wrote: Real healthcare reform need not automatically trandlate into federal programming.
    Hopefully, the national mass media will at some point zero in on this aspect of the issue.

  • Chris Bolinger

    No correction. No disciplining or firing of Geiger. Wonder why?

  • Don Wiley

    My dear wife (Juli Loesch Wiley) is banging away at her keyboard and working the phone as best she can to make this story get traction. Is a curious thing that the Bishops seems to not care that they are being so used.

  • Persephone

    Perhaps there was an (obviously erroneous) assumption that wider access to health care would be supported by all Christians. Isn’t it strange that conservatives – mainly Christians – seem most worried about is that they might personally lose out!