Working hard to avoid religious freedom

Last week, the New York Times published a poll showing serious declines in support for President Obama. The story mentioned that the poll showed female Republican primary voters were supporting Rick Santorum. The story also claimed that “women were split as to whether health insurance plans should cover the costs of birth control and whether employers with religious objections should be able to opt out.”

Worded one way, slightly more women supported religious freedom from the birth control mandate than opposed it. Worded another way, it was more like 53 percent of women favored allowing Catholic hospitals to opt out of the mandate compared to 38 percent opposed.

Yesterday’s story is headlined “Romneys Court Women Put Off by Birth Control Issue.” You might expect that the story is about the Romney family courting women put off by birth control. But the story isn’t about that. It’s weird to see a headline that is completely unsubstantiated by the text of the story.

In general, substantiation seems to be a weak area for this story. Early on we are told:

The Romney campaign is seeking to repair the political damage with women voters that advisers acknowledge has been inflicted by the Republican nominating fight.

In February, women were evenly divided between Mr. Romney and his chief rival, Rick Santorum. But in the most recent New York Times/CBS News national poll, among Republican primary voters, 41 percent of women backed Mr. Santorum and 27 percent favored Mr. Romney.

Mr. Romney is often introduced by his wife at political events, but her role has taken on greater meaning as the campaign looks ahead to independent voters, particularly women, who polls show have been put off by the candidates’ rightward shift on immigration and social issues.

The advisers aren’t named but the problem is that Santorum is appealing to women. Women who are, as the headline says, “put off by birth control issue”? Wait, what is the strategy?

You realize that the paper is trying really hard to suggest – without being specific in any way — that women are, in fact, put off by the birth control issue. Or the completely vague and unspecified “social issues” mentioned in the third paragraph there.

But if you’re looking for any substantiation for this, you will not find any. This might have something to do with what I mentioned at the top of this post — the New York Times‘ own poll doesn’t support the idea that women are turned off by religious freedom.

The story adds:

While women are hardly monolithic in their politics, the Romney campaign is urgently trying to shift the conversation back to the economy from more divisive social issues.

Nice of the reporter to mention that not all women think alike. Although it is odd that the actual results from the New York Times poll that show women favor religious freedom still haven’t made it into any story at the paper there. Super odd.

This story also gives the impression that Mitt Romney is not strong on religious liberty. In fact, here is what he’s said about that religious freedom issue referenced (or not referenced, as it were) in the New York Times headline. This is from a late February debate where each of the Republican candidates went off on a horribly worded question from CNN moderator John King:

“John, what’s happened — and you recall back in the debate that we had George Stephanopoulos talking out about birth control, we wondered why in the world did contraception — and it’s like, why is he going there? Well, we found out when Barack Obama continued his attack on religious conscience,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve seen in the history of this country the kind of attack on religious conscience, religious freedom, religious tolerance that we’ve seen under Barack Obama.”

“Most recently… requiring the Catholic Church to provide for its employees and its various enterprises health care insurance that would include birth control, sterilization and the morning-after pill. Unbelievable,” Romney continued. “And he retried to retreat from that but he retreated in a way that was not appropriate, because these insurance companies now have to provide these same things and obviously the Catholic Church will end up paying for them. But don’t forget the decision just before this, where he said the government — not a church, but the government should have the right to determine who a church’s ministers are for the purposes of determining whether they’re exempt from EEOC or from workforce laws or labor laws. He said the government should make that choice. That went all the way to the Supreme Court. There are a few liberals on the Supreme Court. They voted 9-0 against President Obama.”

Romney continued, “His position on religious tolerance, on religious conscience is clear, and it’s one of the reasons the people in this country are saying we want to have a president who will stand up and fight for the rights under our Constitution, our first right, which is for freedom of religion.”

Now, a story could have fleshed out why even such vehement pronouncements from Romney aren’t winning over Republican voters. But this story does none of that. It doesn’t describe how his views differ from Santorum’s on the issue of religious freedom and the HHS mandate that requires people to fund abortion drugs and other services that violate their doctrine. It doesn’t begin to describe why some people might favor Santorum’s take on these things. And so it makes it very confusing as to why, much less how, Romney is trying to reach this group of women who, we’re told from on high, are turned off by “birth control” according to nameless surveys.

It’s just a hot mess.

Oh, and religious freedom — the big ghost here — isn’t mentioned at all.

Which reminds me. Has anyone seen any good — or bad — advance coverage of the 120 religious freedom rallies planned for cities across the country this Friday? We’ve had readers ask us why there’s been so little coverage. We’ve seen some coverage of Saturday’s atheist rally, termed “massive” by some media outlets, including at USA Today and the Washington Post‘s “On Faith” blog. The USA Today piece, by the way, is great. Very nicely balanced with quotes from interested parties and critics.

Romneys photo via Wikipedia.

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  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    On that last paragraph, Mollie, how about starting a pool? How much you wanna bet there will be tons of media coverage for this one time and very small event on Saturday and almost none for the Freedom of Religion rallies planned all over the country on Friday? Any takers?

  • AuthenticBioethics

    Hmmm. Sounds like the NYTimes is counting on people skimming the headline, assuming it’s true, and moving on.

  • Martha

    “The advisers aren’t named but the problem is that Santorum is appealing to women.”

    Mollie, maybe they mean Rick Santorum is appealing to those non-existent women – you know, the ones who don’t exist since all American women use contraception, so there aren’t any non-contracepting American women. That would be a problem, certainly, since people who don’t exist can’t vote.

    I think the story might be trying to say that Mitt Romney is conducting an outreach to the Republican-voting women who are too cowed to speak up against the theocracy in charge of the party which demands that they remain barefoot and pregnant, and he wishes to assure them that he isn’t going to base his campaign on conducting an auto da fé of all the pills and devices seized from pharmacies at every rally.

  • Jeff

    The MSM are working so very hard to suppress religious freedom as a factor in the HHS crisis, and the talking-points they’re trotting out are so perversely uniform and synchronized, that one has to wonder if there’s any JournoList-type coordination of messaging going on behind the scenes. After all, this does involve one of the two fundamentalist tenets of the liberal left (abortion), and this is an election year.

  • Mark Baddeley

    Actually, I’d be inclined to think that another JournoList-type thing is at work here. I would have scoffed at that as a paranoid rant before JournoList, but life, art, imitation and all that, you know.

    I suspect though, that it’ll be being done far more carefully than a closed group of emails this time. No electronic paper trails for any other journalists to get access to.

    And it’s probably got little to do with the Church of Planned Parenthood, and almost entirely to do with trying to help ensure another Obama term. That “Great Cause” was the thirty pieces of silver that led people to betray their journalistic calling last time. And that’ll probably be the reason why the MSM will avoid the question of religious liberty, in favour of cheerleading for the White House’s version, like the plague. Put religious liberty into play fairly as a valid perspective (let alone the idea that this is an unprecedented infringement upon ‘shall not restrict the free exercise of religion’) would run the risk of spooking independents away from Obama. And, if JournoList wasn’t an aberration but a crystalization of what happens in an election year, getting the Democrat candidate up shapes how a lot of MSM journalists approach their craft in that year.

    Once the election is over, then we can probably expect things to go back to something not quite so egregiously partisan. Unless Planned Parenthood sticks its oar in of course…

  • Jeff

    “And it’s probably got little to do with the Church of Planned Parenthood, and almost entirely to do with trying to help ensure another Obama term.”

    I hear what you’re saying, Mark.

    But, from where I sit, ensuring another Obama terms and serving the Church of Planned Parenthood are one and the same.

    The impetus behind the contemporary left of which the MSM is a part is really nothing at all except culture war stuff involving sex — abortion and homosexuality.

    Well, that and keeping the “bitter-clingers” down.

    It’s an open question whether they want to keep the “bitter-clingers” down because the “bitter clingers” don’t agree with them on the culture war stuff about sex or whether the culture war stuff about sex is just a way to keep the “bitter-clingers” down.

    But it’s clear that in the culture war against the “bitter-clingers” and/or on behalf of their preferred kinds of sex, the left — and especially the MSM — feel no need any more to observe by the old rules of decorum, civility, and professional responsibility.

    New York Times editor Bill Keller admitted as much when he said the Times attempts to be disinterested and fair in its coverage, except where the culture war stuff about sex is concerned — in which case, the Times and its journalistic peers are among the most aggressive and partisan combatants of all, professional ethics be damned.

  • tioedong

    Google news has 72 stories about the Friday march.

    It’s the same here in the Philippines, where the many pro life rallies are ignored by the press. We have a big prayer rally scheduled Sunday, but no articles on it yet.

  • John Pack Lambert

    From what I have seen both Romney and Santorum have wisely framed the HHS mandate exemption battle as one of religious freedom.

    I think what is going on here is something that the NYT covers its eyes, ears and mouth to avoid detecting. It is that women who vote Republican, especially in the Republican primaries, tend to be pro-life, concerned about social issues and the like. At least at a higher percentage of men who vote Republican, who are more likely to be fiscal conservatives. This is more anecdotal than real data, but my baisc sense is that the pro-life movement is heavily dominated by women and that single-issue pro-life voters are more likely to be female.

    On the other hand this may be a backlash at two things. First off the attempt by the media to say that women who believe in religious freedom to not be forced by the government to fund things you find to be morally wrong may have caused them to gravitate to the candidate that the media has told them cares most heavily about this issue. The other may be that women are sickened by the low, dirty attacks by the left on how the Santorum’s handled their child dieing, and have gravitated to Santorum in a fit of rage at such low handed media tactics.

    Lastly, it is hard to say what has happened with such numbers. Is it Romney loosing ground or Santorum getting a higher percentage as women migrate to him and away from Paul and Gingrich?

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    You pays your money and you takes your chances. Which poll would you like to peg your point to? Did you see the PRRI/RNS polling on this topic a few days ago that showed significant national majorities in favor of the mandate among almost every group except the GOP base? No story about it in the NYT that I was able to find.

    And for those of you who see dark, coordinated national conspiracies behind every nuance of coverage: It isn’t happening. It. Is. Not. Happening. We could enter into actual discussions about journalism and its culture if you like, but if you come into the conversation demanding the names of the worldwide leadership of the newsroom Illuminati, it will not be a particularly useful exchange.

  • Jeff

    “It. Is. Not. Happening.”

    And. Richard. Nixon. Was. Not. A. Crook.

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    @Jeff at 10: Nixon saying he wasn’t, no matter how many times, didn’t make it true. And people saying there’s a conspiracy, no matter how many times, doesn’t make that true, either. Seriously: Those of us who actually live inside the beast know that news managers can hardly plan a surprise birthday party without the information getting out. Y’all would be stunned at how discombobulated the process has always been for producing journalism even within a single organization. It’s a near-miracle just about every day. In addition to there being a bare minimum of coordination necessary to get the paper on people’s lawns or news onto screens, secrecy is damned near impossible. Is there a broad cultural bias in many newsrooms, based on who gets to be a boss? Maybe so. A grand cabal? Ain’t happening.

  • Mark Baddeley

    Jeffrey Weiss,

    JournoList happened. I read some of the emails online.

    Until I did that nothing would make me scoff more than the idea of a conspiracy as an explanation. But sometimes conspiracies do happen.

    And unlike Nixon, there were no consequences for those involved in the JournoList. They still are involved in the industry, they never (to my knowledge) disavowed that grouping.

    Do I think they meet together with an agenda and cigars? No. But do I think they talk to each other as fellow professonials, and it’s just quietly understood that it matters to ensure a Democrat president wins, if possible? Yes.

    My ‘conspiracy’ here, might only be one or two steps over from your ‘culture’.

    And Jeff @6 I basically agree. If, for example, Obama suddenly became pro-life, I don’t think MSM would be in the can for him in the same way that it is now (or if someone doesn’t think it is in the can now, it would become significantly more hostile). They’re not pro-Democrat as an end in itself, but because of how they see Democrats as a vehicle for desirable social change.

    My point is that, as has been noted often here by the GetReligionistas (IIRC), is that journalists tend to reduce everything down to politics – will this help x get elected or not? And that’s especially the case in a presidential election year. The issue of Obama’s possible links to a certain black minister wasn’t really at the heart of progressive concerns. Yet was clearly of concern to JournoList. I think that same ‘culture’ or ‘conspiracy’ (choose you pronounciation of ‘tomato’ there as you wish) is at work here. The election is in the spotlight, culture war is offstage – even though they care about the former because of the later.

    In this case, religious freedom isn’t in the frame not because of culture wars directly, but indirectly. An Obama win is more directly the influence IMO.

  • Jeff

    Shorter Jeffrey Weiss (Version One): “Despite the fact that JournoList happened, there is no way that something like JournoList could happen.”

    Even Shorter Jeffrey Weiss (Version Two): “I got a bridge in Brooklyn you can have for cheap, and I’ll throw in some Ginsu knives.”

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    JournoList is an interesting case. From what I recall, there were relatively few managers involved. And most, though hardly all, were writers whose political slant was part of their explicit public persona. In a way, it was the Boys On The Bus writ large. In the Olden Days, many political reporters *would* get together for drinks and cigars and chew over the news of the day. JournoList took that into the Internet age. And some of that can even be useful. I’ve been one reporter among many at an event. Impossible for everyone to see everything, so we share bits of it.I remember a brisk discussion at the ECUSA meeting where permission for locally produced gay marriages was approved. Complex and fraught. Some disagreement amongst the pack of reporters about exactly what had happened. But there was no attempt to slant the news.

    That avowedly liberal writers should kibitz together online and express liberal opinions is not news. But there’s no excuse for hard-news reporters trotting out politically slanted opinion — in *writing* for goodness sakes– on what they’re covering.

    JournoList participants displayed a quaint naivete about the possibility of a private online conversation. I suspect they were cured of that notion. Which is why it is unlikely that something like JournoList is being repeated now, much less a top-down imposition of news slant broadly across the MSM.

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    Argh. Insufficient care with one line of that. Should be “locally produced blessings of same-sex unions” were approved. Not marriages. As I say, it was complex and fraught.

  • Jeff

    Shorter Jeffrey Weiss (Version Three):

    Despite the fact that JournoList happened, nothing like JournoList could happen.

    But, even when JournoList happened, it was no big deal, so don’t complain.

    And the Democratic kulturkampf against the Catholic Church is no big deal, so don’t complain.

    Only bitter-clingers care, and “we” don’t care about “them.”

    So, move along folks, move along, nothing to see here, nothing to see …

    War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.

    Exterminate All The Brutes!

  • Mollie

    Is it possible to sort of split the difference here? It is true that Journolist was a disaster for the building of trust between newsrooms and readers. I remember when the story broke and I kept thinking that it was almost too crazy to believe it was real. That damage was huge and made readers realize that sometimes the media are taking part in a culture that is more than happy to build a narrative that is partisan and biased and what not.

    But it’s also true that most, while certainly not all, of the participants were already identified as ideologically motivated.

    Again, though, it was most, not all. And given that some of the participants were supposed to be performing mainstream media outreach to conservatives (for lack of a better way of putting it), it really looked bad.

    But there’s no need to suspect a conspiracy, which suggests more organization than is likely there.

    Are most reporters liberal? Of course. Do they go to school with, marry, hang out with, work with people whose views are significantly different than theirs? No.

    Does this create an echo chamber of sorts? Sure.

    But it’s not necessarily a conspiracy.

    And furthermore, there are many reporters who are more than aware of their ideological bubble and strive hard to overcome it. I’ve worked with many such reporters who I would trust to handle stories that they might personally be very biased about.

    It’s a difficult problem to treat. On the one hand, newsrooms lack almost every type of diversity. On the other hand, good reporters are good reporters regardless of their personal views. So the problem isn’t exactly diversity (although it would certainly help).

    We all have our biases and we all must remember to cover stories as well as possible and to remember that our job isn’t to advocate for a given political outcome (or other type of outcome) but, simply, to report the news and add value and depth to the discussion.

  • Jeff

    “Are most reporters liberal? Of course. Do they go to school with, marry, hang out with, work with people whose views are significantly different than theirs? No.

    Does this create an echo chamber of sorts? Sure.

    But it’s not necessarily a conspiracy.”

    It’s usually not a conspiracy, because it doesn’t usually have to be.

    The fix is already in, because the world of the MSM is so blinkered, so narrow, so uniform, and so small.

    But that doesn’t mean there isn’t some informal coordination of talking points and some collective effort — whether conscious or not — to frame the public discourse, especially on culture war issues fundamental to the liberal left, like abortion and homosexuality, issues about which, by the admission of none other than the Editor of The New York Times, Bill Keller, the MSM does not feel the need to adhere to customary standards of journalistic objectivity.

    I don’t think the scandal of MSM coverage of the current religious freedom crisis can be chalked up merely to incompetence alone.

    Even if it could be, that would still be a pretty damning indictment of the MSM.

    Either way, what’s absolutely obvious to anybody without a personal stake in defending or playing devil’s advocate for the MSM, is that the MSM has behaved absolutely abominably in this case, and richly deserves such contempt as it receives.

  • Mollie

    Yeah, you can tell I wrote my comment before I watched this abomination from NBC news. It’s like a press release is drafted by the media whizzes at Planned Parenthood and delivered straight to you, without even the slightest bit of filter, via NBC. It’s almost like they’ve stopped trying to pretend they’re not biased.

  • Jeff


    Q. E. D.

    I couldn’t stop laughing.

    There’s a reason there’s no liberal equivalent of Stephen Colbert.

    That’s because the entire MSM is the liberal equivalent of Stephen Colbert.

    Some things are so risible and so contemptible in and of themselves that they can’t be satirized.

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    Mollie, I have to disagree — there was a slight filter on that NBC report. After all, PP wouldn’t have a quote from Karen Santorum on a press release except to taunt it, right? Well, OK, so NBC put it at the very end and it was with a wink and a nudge of the sarcastic “Yeah, right, we believe you” as they then showed images of people protesting. But at least it was a slight filter. Sort of. Maybe.

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    I agree, Mollie. Pretty one-sided. Conflated abortion and all other birth control, for one thing. While there is overlap in the political efforts, it’s not so unified as to make it fair to lump together. And no effort to get someone from that side to offer even a cursory explanation for why they are pushing the legislation. Not good.