Media’s Gosnell reputation isn’t going to fix itself

Days after my quest for answers about why the media downplayed abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell’s abortion trial went viral, we have seen approximately eleventy billion media analysis pieces about the coverage. Many folks have written mea culpas copping to pro-choice bias, ignorance, or other journalistic failures. Some folks have tried claiming that the coverage was really there, usually pointing to either 2011 or the day the trial began (a curious approach, given what we know about the time-space continuum). Others have said that since conservative outlets didn’t cover it (except, you know, they did), that excuses the lack of mainstream coverage. Some folks just reacted defensively, yelled at me and called me names. It really ran the gamut.

What we haven’t seen terribly much of, however, is good coverage of the trial, the abortion industry, regulation of said industry or the larger issues in play. The New York Times hasn’t run anything in days, after one particularly weak story that barely mentioned the trial.

Or take the Los Angeles Times. Let’s take a trip through its search engine. When birth control activist Sandra Fluke was called a bad name, did it think that a story worth covering? Yes, big time:

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What about that Komen/Planned Parenthood dust-up? The East Coast media flipped out about the decision by a private breast cancer foundation to stop funding the country’s biggest abortion provider. Did the Los Angeles Times? Yep:

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What about that Missouri Representative, Todd Akin, who said something very stupid about rape? Uh, yeah:

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So before we look at how the trial of Kermit Gosnell has been covered by the paper, let’s look at how the paper has covered another distant case, one that hasn’t even gone to trial yet. The case dealing with the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Oh boy:

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Which brings us to the Times‘ coverage of Kermit Gosnell.

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Dr. Ben Carson’s faith makes news, this time

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Every now and then, the newspaper that lands in my front yard runs a story about one of the most famous and, for many, most inspirational men currently alive and well and working in Baltimore.

No, this is not another post about coverage of the theological insights of Ray “God’s linebacker” Lewis of the world champion Baltimore Ravens.

I’m talking about Dr. Ben Carson, who is usually, in media reports, described as the “trailblazing black neurosurgeon” at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He is also well known as an author, of course.

The most recent Baltimore Sun story about the good doctor is not, repeat, is NOT, haunted by a religion ghost. In fact, the story does a pretty good job of noting that his Seventh-day Adventist faith is a crucial part of what makes him tick — even if the references settles for the usual “devout” label without providing any material that demonstrates that fact, as opposed to simply proclaiming it.

Let me repeat, this particular story does not ignore religion. In fact, the team that produced it made sure to include the doctor’s beliefs as part of his public persona.

So what, in my humble opinion, makes this a story that deserves some GetReligion attention? I was fascinated by the fact that the Sun team clearly took the content of Carson’s faith semi-seriously for a completely and painfully obvious reason, which is that his recent remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast have stirred up political talk about his future.

The content of his faith is news because it’s political, not because it’s a key element in the life of a major figure in the city. Thus, readers are told right up front:

Dr. Ben Carson says he didn’t anticipate the reaction to what he considered his common-sense remarks as keynote speaker this month at the National Prayer Breakfast. But after video went viral of the trailblazing black neurosurgeon taking jabs at Barack Obama’s health care overhaul a few feet from the president himself, some want the famed doctor at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore to parlay the attention into a new career: politics.

“Here you have this guy who has been a celebrity minority for 30 years coming out and making the conservative case better than a lot of conservatives can,” said Jonah Goldberg, editor-at-large for National Review Online. “Emotionally, that had a really big impact for a lot of people.”

While some objected to Carson raising health care and tax policy at the traditionally nonpolitical Washington breakfast, conservative heavyweights Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter all cheered his address. The Wall Street Journal published an editorial with the headline “Ben Carson for President.”

Trust me on this: How does the Sun team expect their readers to react to all of those names, to this litany of cultural doom, in a news report about a prominent local African-American leader? Click here for the YouTube answer.

So what was Carson actually trying to say at the breakfast? It would have been nice if the piece had actually quoted a chunk or two of the address, but this information made it into the report:

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Is a blasphemous drag show really ‘anti-Catholic’?

Just yesterday Bobby pointed out a practice of double attribution, asking whether it goes beyond attribution into the dreaded scare quote territory. I wonder the same thing in a few stories I’m reading about the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense.

I started looking around when Michael Brendan Dougherty asked, on Twitter:

Curious why reporters put “anti-Catholic” in scare quotes in their stories.

Jonah Goldberg responded, “because they think the anti-Catholics are right.”

What are they talking about? Well, when Hagel was nominated, some groups mentioned that he’d opposed Bill Clinton’s nomination of James Hormel to be an ambassador because he was “aggressively gay.” Those words might not have been as controversial during the Clinton administration as they are now, but people were upset.

I was surprised to learn the rest of the story today:

Hagel also told the World-Herald he has seen tape of Hormell (sic) at an event by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a San Francisco-based performance and activist group comprised of gay men in drag as nuns.

“It is very clear on this tape that he’s laughing and enjoying the antics of an anti-Catholic gay group in this gay parade,” Hagel told the paper in the 1998 interview. “I think it’s wise for the president not to go forward with this nomination.”

It is always good to consider the context of any remark. Hagel has apologized for his remarks either way, but knowing that Hagel was upset by Hormel laughing it up at a blasphemous drag show is an important detail. But is the group really blasphemous or anti-Catholic?

Wikipedia explains the group’s activities:

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Is Sandra Fluke a ‘social justice’ advocate?

Conservatives had quite a bit of fun with a Reno Gazette-Journal article that was originally headlined:

Fluke Takes Center Stage In Reno

The caption for the photo of Fluke that ran underneath the headline but before the copy said:

Sandra Fluke, a social justice advocate and campaign surrogate for Democratic President Barack Obama, speaks in Reno on Saturday.

Now, it turns out that taking “center stage” in Reno means that 10 (ten!) people showed up in the parking lot of the Sak ‘N’ Save in North Reno to hear her. Ten. Yes, the star of such puff pieces as the Washington Post‘s recent hagiography (“Sandra Fluke isn’t finished testifying“) drew a crowd of 10 people and the local paper promoted it in advance and headlined it as if to suggest the event was quite successful. This was why so many people noticed the less-than-stellar journalism of the Reno News-Gazette.

I didn’t even bother with the silly Post piece — it ran in their progressive cultural issues advocacy section called “Style.” But my favorite part was that it called the woman, who in her prime time Democratic National Convention speech accused Rep. Paul Ryan of trying to kill women (and I don’t mean figuratively!), “independent.” Isn’t that the word to use to describe Democratic partisans hoping other people will be forced against their religious objections to pay for birth control they oppose? I think it is, obviously, and good on the Washington Post for figuring out the right word in the piece to explain how Fluke was about to embark on this awesome campaign tour for President Barack Obama. Hurray! Journalism! (To be fair, I did learn some things from the praise piece, even religion-related news, such as that Fluke is the daughter of a Methodist minister.)

Anyway, rather than focus on the “takes center stage” part of the headline, which was changed at some point, or the rather tendentious language in the copy of the piece, I want to focus on something someone else picked up on. The Gannett paper there in Reno describes Fluke as a “social justice” advocate.

What does that mean? I mean, she’s known for almost nothing other than advocating for forced birth control subsidies and abortion on demand. How is that “social justice”? And why not just call her an advocate for government mandated birth control subsidies? Why the euphemism? Why the lack of clarity?

But even more than that, “social justice” is a term with specifically Roman Catholic connotations. That it would be used to describe a woman who specifically enrolled at a Jesuit law school with the express purpose of upending the school’s policy against subsidizing students’ birth control is odd, no? Her entire fame is due to her work against Catholic teaching in practice. I think journalists can pick a better term — and hopefully avoid the incorrect euphemism — here.

“Social justice” is a non-neutral term on a good day. It suggests that people who believe in achieving the same means in a different manner are for social “injustice.” We’d be wise to avoid the term in general. But it really should not be used to describe a woman whose entire fame is based on fighting on behalf of the federal government against Catholic charities and other religious groups.

Byzantine accusations, jammed into a bad headline

The Byzantine drama linked to the removal of Metropolitan JONAH as the leader of the Orthodox Church in America continues to unfold online, even though there has been little information revealed that has not been the subject of rumors and debates for quite some time.

It is hard, at this point, for mainstream coverage of the story to provide outsiders with information deeper than a press statement from the OCA hierarchy — in other words, from the players on one side of this ecclesiastical battle. Most importantly, Metropolitan JONAH has either chosen not to speak in his own defense or, perhaps as a condition of ongoing financial settlement talks, has been forbidden to speak. To my knowledge, he has not said a word in public.

At the end of my first post on this topic, I offered the following summary statements about some of the journalistic issues involved in this matter:

At some point, reporters will have to face a crucial question (should ecclesiastical or secular court proceedings come to past): What do the OCA’s own canon laws say about the events, the actual OCA Synod and Metropolitan Council meetings, that led to Metropolitan JONAH’s fall?

Yes, reporters will need to find informed voices on both sides of those questions, too. Good luck with that.

Essentially, this is still where we stand. It is true that the OCA leadership that ousted +JONAH has produced a letter stating many familiar accusations, a letter that — when the events described are put into a timeline — raises just as many, or more, questions than it answers. That letter can be read here (as a .pdf document) or, for those who don’t want to mess with the .pdf format, over here (as an online document with annotations by a pro-JONAH activist involved in the debates).

The passage in this document that will get the most attention is the following, in part because of its handling of rape accusations against a monastic who — here is one of the key factual questions in this matter, and thus a point journalists must probe — either was, or was not, ever brought into the OCA and, thus, under the authority or control of Metropolitan JONAH.

At some point after his enthronement as our Primate, Metropolitan Jonah unilaterally accepted into the OCA a priest known to him and to others to be actively and severely abusing alcohol, which more than once was coupled with episodes of violence and threats toward women. … While under Metropolitan Jonah’s omophorion, this priest is alleged to have committed a rape against a woman in 2010. Metropolitan Jonah was later told of this allegation in February 2012, yet he neither investigated, nor told his brother bishops, nor notified the Church’s lawyers, nor reported the matter to the police, nor in any other way followed the mandatory, non-discretionary PSPs of the OCA. The alleged victim, however, did report the rape to the police. We know, too, that the alleged victim and a relative were encouraged by certain others not to mention the incident, and were told by them that their salvation depended on their silence. …

We have started an investigation into the rape allegation, and cannot assume whether the allegation is true or not.

Journalists will, throughout this document, note that it keeps switching back and forth between making fact statements and then statements of what are alleged as facts — often about the same event or series of events. Also, the crucial issue of whether this priest was ever brought into the OCA and, thus, subject to its church procedures, is mentioned, but never in terms of factual details.

There is much that can be discussed about all of that. However, this controversial monastic has not been tried or convicted, either by the church or the state. At this point, what is the status of the woman’s accusation? Someone will need to debate some of these issues in a public forum or in public documents, that is, if mainstream journalists are going to have any chance to listen to both sides and report their views fairly and accurately in public media.

This brings me, alas, to the following headline in The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Orthodox Church in America dismisses archbishop for failing to remove rapist priest

Also, note the certainty in this lede, which even jumps beyond the language used in accusations aired by the OCA Synod:

Citing the sex-abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia and at Pennsylvania State University, the Orthodox Church in America has dismissed its presiding archbishop for failing to remove a priest who had raped a woman and been jailed for other violent acts.

The Holy Synod of the church, whose members number about 85,000 in the United States and Canada, announced this week that Metropolitan Jonah, 52, had stepped down Saturday after ignoring the church’s procedures for responding to sexual misconduct.

This is, of course, essentially a rewrite of a press release by one side of a highly contentious, to say the least, debate.

Strangely enough, the same story — only a few lines later — notes that: “Church leaders say they are cooperating with law enforcement and investigating the rape allegation.”

Yes, you read that right. The “rapist priest” (statement of fact) who “had raped a woman” (statement of fact) is now the subject of a church investigation into the “rape allegation.” So which is it, certainty or allegation? And one more thing. Is there, in fact, a police investigation with which the church is cooperating?

Meanwhile, readers will also note that this story does not contain a single quote drawn from a source who backs the fallen metropolitan or who is in any way critical of the OCA leadership. Perhaps there will be a sequel about the views on the other side.

Debates on these topics are raging online and many of the key voices are using their real names (for a change). Meanwhile, the Inquirer story is, as journalism, a major step backwards from the Chicago Tribune story that ran soon after the story broke.

For journalists interested in identifying many of the crucial questions here, I would recommend the following post (read it all) by journalist (and close friend of this weblog) Rod Dreher, an OCA layman whose most recent commentary has been highly critical of Metropolitan JONAH, as well as the OCA Synod. I recommend this essay to journalists, not because I expect everyone to agree with Dreher’s point of view, but because of his relentless, journalistic emphasis on the need for leaders on both sides to take their information public so that it can be evaluated by the laity, OCA clergy, lawyers, journalists, you name it.

The last thing anyone needs right now, in this tragedy or in this news story, is silence and slammed doors. I would assume that all mainstream journalists attempting to cover this story can agree on that.

Meanwhile, there is no sign of a correction at the Inquirer site and no sign of “alleged” in the headline or the lede.

Covering warfare in a Byzantine maze — literally

It goes without saying that I have received quite a bit of email from GetReligion readers, and others, wanting to know my take on last Friday’s resignation, and now the ongoing humiliation, of Metropolitan JONAH of the Orthodox Church in America. In a way, this news was rather shocking, yet not all that shocking because the bitter infighting between the OCA’s old guard and its idealistic young leader has been building for more than a year.

If you need a refresher course on the borders of this truly Byzantine scandal, then click here for the large Washington Post Sunday Magazine feature on the early stages of the fighting.

For journalists, I would also recommend the following essay, “Same Sex Marriage and the Revolt Against Metropolitan Jonah,” published by Father Johannes Jacobse at the doctrinally-conservative American Orthodox Institute. While this article was written by Nicholas Chancy, an openly pro-Jonah leader in the OCA’s growing Diocese of the South (in many ways, this controversy is linked to the growth of the Diocese of the South), the key for mainstream reporters is that it points, naming names, toward many of the key figures in the drama — on the doctrinal left and right — and offers info that hints at how to track them down.

It will be hard to get voices on both sides to talk. However, that is what reporters will need to do, if they want to tell this story in a journalistic manner. Also, I would suggest that journalists tap Catholic and evangelical sources linked to recent debates about religious liberty issues, since Metropolitan JONAH’s work with them was so controversial to leaders on the Orthodox left (yes, there is a doctrinal left in some OCA circles). And someone needs to contact Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, the Russian Orthodox Church’s point man on relations with other religious groups, Orthodox and otherwise.

There is much more I could say, but will not, since Metropolitan JONAH was a friend of my own parish, which is part of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese. However, in the end, what we do here at GetReligion is discuss the mainstream coverage of events and trends in religion news.

This brings us to the first serious mainstream story on this affair, by Manya A. Brachear of The Chicago Tribune. The early versions of this report covered the press release, and little more. However, Brachear has waded several paces into this maze and now has some — limited — on-the-record quotes from key players. For example, there is this:

“People were looking for that new wind of leadership that he seemed to embody,” said the Rev. John Adamcio, rector at Holy Trinity Cathedral, the seat of the Chicago Diocese. “He was under an awful lot of pressure to right the ship and keep the church on course.”

Metropolitan Jonah didn’t just try to correct the course. He also tried to shift the direction of the Orthodox Church in America, part of a constellation of churches separate from the Roman Catholic Church since the 11th century. He insisted on amplifying the church’s voice in the public square, moving the church’s headquarters from Syosset, N.Y., to Washington and speaking up against abortion rights. In 2009 he led a handful of Orthodox clergy to sign the Manhattan Declaration, a pledge to disobey laws that could force religious institutions to participate in abortions or bless same-sex couples.

The Rev. Mark Arey, director of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, said Metropolitan Jonah’s approach was not typical of Orthodox Christianity. “Orthodoxy is not in favor of abortion, but we don’t campaign in the same way you see evangelical groups,” Arey said.

But the Rev. Johannes Jacobse, president of the American Orthodox Institute, agreed with the primate’s foray into politics.

“He saw what needed to be said, and he wasn’t afraid to say it,” said Jacobse, an Antiochian Orthodox priest. “That kind of independence is threatening to a church that has operated by the same rules and assumptions for a long time. Part of this, too, was he represented a cultural shift inside the church that some thought should not have taken place.”

Of course, it is “politics” when an Orthodox leader defends the church’s doctrines in public. It is not “politics” when liberal activists inside the church work to silence the voice of the church, while quietly lobbying in seminaries and elsewhere to redefine those same doctrines. Gosh, that logic sounds rather familiar.

One more point: Voices on both sides are going to speak, at length, about Metropolitan JONAH’s self-confessed failures as an administrator. At some point, reporters will have to face a crucial question (should ecclesiastical or secular court proceedings come to past): What do the OCA’s own canon laws say about the events, the actual OCA synod and Metropolitan Council meetings, that led to Metropolitan JONAH’s fall?

Yes, reporters will need to find informed voices on both sides of those questions, too. Good luck with that.

PHOTO: Metropolitan JONAH, center, during a 2011 Divine Liturgy in Moscow, with Metropolitan HILARION, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations.

Bulgarian bishops galore

Regular readers of GetReligion will appreciate this story in today’s Toledo Blade concerning the consecration of an Orthodox bishop. The story entitled “Bulgarian Diocese to install new bishop” by religion beat professional David Yonke is nicely crafted. It balances the news of the consecration of Dr. Alexander Golitzin with  just the right amount of human interest. It is a really good local news religion story.

It begins:

Nearly five years after the bishop’s chair became vacant, the Rev. Alexander Golitzin is to be consecrated today as Bishop of Toledo in the Toledo-based Bulgarian Diocese of the Orthodox Church in America.

The consecration is to take place in a three-hour ceremony at St. George Orthodox Cathedral in Rossford, with nine bishops from across North America scheduled to participate. Metropolitan Jonah, head of the Orthodox Church in America, will be the main celebrant.

Bishop-elect Alexander, a native of California, will become only the second bishop of Toledo, succeeding Archbishop Kyrill, who led the diocese from 1964 until his death in 2007 at age 87.

Today’s consecration ceremony marks a new era for the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, which until now required all bishops to be born in Bulgaria.

“Before even the selection process began, we had to change our diocesan constitution,” said the Rev. Andrew Jarmus, a Fort Wayne pastor who headed the bishop search committee. “Basically we acknowledged that realities have changed. We are in America and there is a much broader base of people we minister to now in our parishes. They are no longer just the Bulgarian faithful.”

The story presents some interesting bits about the new bishop’s background — studies at Oxford under Kalistos Ware, a year at Mt Athos, professor at Marquette University, and a touch of Hollywood (nephew of art director Alexander Golitzin — winner of Academy Awards for The Phantom of the Opera in 1943, Spartacus in 1960, and To Kill a Mockingbird in 1962.)

The article also gives background on the Bulgarian Diocese of the Orthodox Church of America: its history, previous bishops and demographics. All in all a great local news story.

My question for GetReligion readers is whether it would have been appropriate to mention that there are two Bulgarian Orthodox dioceses belonging to two different churches in the U.S? The article states up front that this consecration is for the Bulgarian Diocese of the Orthodox Church of America (OCA). However there is also a Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Diocese of the U.S.A., Canada, and Australia that is part of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in Bulgaria.

The article states the:

Toledo-based Bulgarian Diocese has 16 parishes in the United States and Canada, mostly in the Midwest, with a total of 5,000 parishioners. The OCA to which it belongs has about 200,000 U.S. members, according to Father Andrew.

The other diocese is based in New York and around 25 congregations and monasteries. There is a degree of bad blood between the two groups — and there is a rivalry between the OCA and the Sofia-based Bulgarian Orthodox Church (as well as with some of the other ethnic Orthodox Churches in the U.S.) This article from a Russian-based website claims that ethnic Bulgarians in the OCA’s Bulgarian diocese are upset with the influx of non-Bulgarian clergy and want to jump ship.

Bulgarians living in the U.S. and Canada are gathering signatures on the petition to the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Church. The letter will contain a request to the Synod about the transfer on Bulgarian parishes that are currently under the jurisdiction of the OCA, to the Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Diocese of the U.S.A., Canada, and Australia. This jurisdiction, headed by His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph, currently has 27 parishes and monasteries.

The petitions states that today 80 percent of the clergy in Bulgarian churches are not Bulgarian, do not celebrate the feast days of Bulgarian saints, or observe Bulgarian national holidays and traditions.

The Toledo Blade article does not mention the other diocese, and uses language that would lead someone not familiar with the Bulgarian Orthodox ecclesial scene to believe this is the only Bulgarian game in town. The article does speak to the transition from an ethnic to an American church — a point of contention for some in the church — but does not develop this angle.

My point, however, is not to play the game of spot the real Bulgarian bishop — but to raise the underlying journalistic question of how to deal with schisms and splits and multiple claimants to a church brand name. Who is the “real” Bulgarian bishop? It is the same question as “who is the real Anglican?”

While there are a plethora of Protestant denominations sharing a Baptist, Presbyterian, Reformed, Methodist, Lutheran or congregational background — the Orthodox Churches (as well as the Episcopalians) have an ecclesial self-identity that does not contemplate multiple expressions of a single polity. In the Orthodox polity — as well as Anglican polity — there is only one bishop in a city. Yet the reality is that there are overlapping Orthodox jurisdictions and with the formation of the Anglican Church in North America there is now a rival to the Episcopal Church.

Where does the reporter’s duty lie in explaining or articulating for his readers these schisms? In the Toledo Blade article highlighted in this story should there have been a line mentioning the other Bulgarian Orthodox body? In stories that reach a national audience, should the distinctions between rival claimants be noted?

How much information is too much? How little is too little? Does it make a difference to the story? And — if a distinction is made, is it proper for a journalist to separate Bulgarian sheep from Bulgarian goats? What say you GetReligion readers?

Media ignore women, for women

Yesterday, the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee had a hearing on threats to religious liberty. The Republicans on that committee were trying to make President Obama look bad, because of his recent edict requiring religious groups to provide insurance policies that violate their doctrines. The Democrats on the Committee staged a walkout because some of the panelists who were brought on to discuss questions of religious liberty had male parts.

Guess what happened with the coverage!

Yesterday I noted Politico: “Carolyn Maloney, Eleanor Holmes Norton walk out of contraception hearing. ABC News: “Rep. Darrell Issa Bars Minority Witness, a Woman, on Contraception”. CBS: “Dems decry all-male House panel on WH contraception rule.” A reader noted:

Mollie, you missed the absolutely wretched CNN article

You would have thought that none of the clergy were present and that only the grandstanding politicos were there.

Because it’s so rare to have the head of my church body speak on these things, our members were surprised (or at least disappointed) to the see the disparity between what actually happened in the hearing (and many of them watched) versus what was reported in the media. It was almost like a parallel universe. And they haven’t even gotten basic facts right, attributing to Metropolitan Jonah what was said by the Rev. Matthew C. Harrison. (Hint: they both have facial hair but very different facial hair.)

What’s interesting to me is that if you were going to focus on grandstanding Democratic politicians, I found the remarks of Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., in which he went after the panelists and dismissed the hearing as a sham much more interesting. And he staged a walkout, too!

But the idea that the media would just swallow the public relations spin of one party and ignore or downplay the substance of the hearing … is frustrating.

My church body never engages in politics, for doctrinal reasons. But here even when we are compelled to speak out, the words that our elected President spoke aren’t important because he’s male? By falling for partisan spin about gender inequality, reporters have completely marginalized me and the millions of women who were being represented yesterday. It’s infuriating. It is sexism, but not the type that they recognize.

In any case, we already showed how laughable the oft-repeated, obsessed-over stat is, the one regarding 98 percent of Catholic women who, we’re told, use birth control for fun all of the time. We showed how that statistic was invented and, rather, showed that 87 percent of Catholic women who are not open to life in general but who report fighting contraception in particular use contraceptives. Or, as we could say 87 percent of Catholic women who are not pregnant, not post-partum, not pre-partum and are having sex right now and are between the ages of 15-44) are using contraceptives. The White House put it in talking points and the media swallowed it hook, line and sinker.

You may be interested in this statistic from CNN reports that a full 22 percent of Catholics support Catholic teaching on birth control. This is a statistic that has nothing whatsoever to do with the religious liberty concerns being addressed by a wide variety of church officials, but at least it addresses how many Catholics support Catholic teaching.

I’ll note a similar statistic from another poll. Guess what percentage of Catholics go to mass weekly? Take a random guess. Did you guess … 22 percent?

Oh, and polls show that a majority of citizens oppose the new HHS policy. Do you think that story is being accurately set forth? The opposite?

I read a piece in the New York Times that mentioned the debunked 98 percent statistic and I decided to follow the link of supposed substantiation. It went to, and I’m not joking, a Politifact story that rated the fraudulent statistic … yes … “mostly true.

The piece admits that characterizations of the study were deeply flawed, although it only mentions some of the flaws with that characterization, before giving the ruling. The article basically says that, despite evidence showing problems with the study design relative to the claims of the study, Politifact says “who cares? Mostly true. Hiccup!” To see what an actual fact-check looks like, as opposed to writing what you wish were true, you can check out the links in this post from a few days ago. And a reader points out that special credit simply must be given to commenter Bain Wellington, who really nailed the problems with that stat before others.

Do check out Glenn Kessler’s fact check of the statistic over at The Washington Post:

The claim that 98 percent of Catholic women use contraception: a media foul

He simply explains what’s flawed with the statistic without denying that many Catholic women do contracept:

If a statistic sounds too good to be true, be wary. A spokesman for Pelosi said she was saying that 98 percent of Catholic women have used birth control at some point in their lives — because that is how the media characterized it.

But, judging from the examples above, the media has gotten it wrong. The journalistic shorthand has been that “98 percent of American Catholic women have used contraception in their lifetimes.” But that is incorrect, according to the research.

“The shorthand is not what our statistic shows since we only looked at women aged 15-44 who have ever had sex,” Jones said.

The NSFG data on women of child-bearing age certainly may still be relevant to the debate over contraception, because these are the women who today might have a need for access to free birth control. The data also shows that there are few differences between women of different religions in terms of contraceptive use; there was not much difference back in 1973 but the gaps have narrowed even further today. But that still does not excuse the media’s sloppy shorthand for this statistic.

Two Pinocchios — to the media

Sounds fair. Now, it’s also true that journalists haven’t explained how the percentage of parishioners who violate a church teaching becomes the basis for determining whether it’s ok to violate religious liberty. There are arguments in favor of this and against it, and it should not be assumed.