When Planned Parenthood isn’t news (fraud edition)

Is fraud a religion story? Not necessarily.

Are the actions of Planned Parenthood religion stories? Not necessarily.

But what about the larger issue of the ongoing problems that the mainstream news media have had covering abortion and other social issues related to religion? Is it worth noting here, for instance, the very odd lack of coverage of Planned Parenthood’s recent settlement over fraud allegations?

You wouldn’t probably know it from media coverage but, as one conservative think tank noted this week:

Alliance Defending Freedom’s recent analysis of state and federal audits of family planning programs suggests that in 12 states, Planned Parenthood affiliates overbilled Medicaid for more than $8 million. One federal audit of New York’s Medicaid family planning program reported that certain providers, “especially Planned Parenthoods,” had engaged in improper practices resulting in overpayment.

Despite mounting accusations of fraud, the organization that performs roughly one out of every four abortions in the U.S. has continued to ride the waves of taxpayer funding to annual surpluses. During its last reporting year alone, Planned Parenthood received over half a billion dollars in taxpayer government funding, all the while performing a record 333,964 abortions. To solidify its place as the top abortion provider in the country, Planned Parenthood announced that all local affiliates would have to begin providing abortion services starting in 2013.

I don’t remember what the original allegations of fraud in Texas were but Planned Parenthood there agreed to pay the state $1.4 million $4.3 million to settle the claim that it had fraudulently overbilled the state’s Medicaid program for products and services that were never actually rendered, not medically necessary, and were not covered by the Medicaid program.

No biggie. This is just a story about the mainstream news media’s very favorite organization in the whole world paying to settle legal claims. I know that usually when other organizations — say Roman Catholic archdioceses — settle lawsuits even below a million dollars, it usually gets reported pretty far and wide. Rightly so. Certainly the country’s largest abortion provider — and a taxpayer funded one at that — should get some media coverage, no?

It’s so confusing how a private breast cancer charity choosing not to give Planned Parenthood a couple hundred thousand dollars generated thousands of stories but that same abortion group paying a $1.4 million $4.3 million fraud settlement doesn’t generate hardly any.

A quick Google search for Planned + Parenthood + fraud shows that the following outlets did pay attention. See if you can detect a pattern:

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NPR misses the symbolism — and reality — of Jane Roe

NPR had a story on the Texas legislature passing what journalists usually call “sweeping abortion restrictions.” Let’s look at a big chunk of the story right at the top:

“What this does is completely reshape the abortion landscape in the state,” says Elizabeth Nash, who follows state issues at the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights research group. “With this legislation, Texas will become one of the most restrictive states in the country. And Texas really matters.”

First, Texas is the second most populous state in the nation, with four major cities and 5.5 million women of reproductive age. It also has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation.

And symbolically, Texas was home to Jane Roe, whose fight for a legal abortion went all the way to the Supreme Court — which decided in 1973 that abortion is a woman’s fundamental right under the Constitution.

Under the new law, abortion doctors must get admitting privileges at nearby hospitals; abortion clinics must upgrade to surgical centers; abortion-inducing pills can only be taken when a physician is present; and abortions would be banned 20 weeks after fertilization.

Well, kudos to NPR for actually describing these “sweeping” restrictions, however briefly. But did you catch that bit about Jane Roe? Texas matters because Jane Roe came from here? And hers was the case that decided that legalized abortion is a fundamental right under the Constitution?

And then on we are to the next line without mentioning some crucial information.

I like the idea of including “Jane Roe” and her symbolism in a story about Texas’ move to change the abortion regime in that state. She might be the perfect symbol of what this battle in Texas says about our country’s messy views on abortion. But, as the reader who submitted this story put it:

What a way to spin.  How convenient to ignore that “Jane Roe” was the assumed name of Norma McCorvey, who is now outspokenly pro-life, and who has made it clear that she was used by pro-abortionists who wanted to push their agenda. Even Wikipedia notes this.

It’s amazingly convenient and misses the real, the ultimate symbolism of this Texas woman. There are even religion ghosts all over her story. Let’s go ahead and look at the portion of her Wikipedia entry dealing with her views on abortion:

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Could it be … Satan? Not in the news coverage

When abortion rights supporters showed up at the Texas state capitol to protest, the AP considers it worthy of a 800-plus word feature. The headline on Monday was “Crowd Of Thousands Packs Texas Capitol To Protest Abortion Bill.”

It was the largest demonstration at the Capitol in recent memory, with the Department of Public Safety pegging the crowd size at about 3,000 by mid-morning and The Associated Press later estimating it had grown to at least 5,000 participants at its peak. Scattered among the sea of orange were clusters of blue-clad counter-demonstrators who prayed, clutched crosses, sang and watched the debate from the Senate gallery, but they were far outnumbered by opponents of the legislation.

The AP makes a point of noting the religious activity of the counter-demonstrators (prayed, clutched crosses, sang hymns, the usual stuff), but why do they not mention the religious activity of the demonstrators? For example, what about those who were chanting, “Hail Satan”?

Texas blogger Adam Cahm, who recorded the video, says, “For the record: They’ve been doing this all day, this is just the first time we caught it on video.” So if the protestors were chanting “Hail Satan” all day yesterday, why have we not seen reports about today by mainstream outlets?

The Washington Times appears to be the only newspaper to report on these chants. Meanwhile, CNN producer Josh Rubin mentioned the chants on Twitter (“Crowd of anti abortion activists giving speeches while a group of people chant hail Satan in the background.”) but, so far, nothing on CNN, in terms of actual coverage.

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Clear eyes, full heart, can’t stop advocating for abortion

Last night, reporters were very excited to tweet extensively about an abortion filibuster going on in Texas.

While reporters struggled and struggled and struggled to find any reason at all to cover abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell’s trial, there was no struggle at all to give extensive coverage to Texas Sen. Wendy Davis’ filibustering of a bill that would protect unborn children who had made it to 20 weeks’ gestation, would require abortion clinics to meet the standards of other ambulatory surgery centers and would require doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

A sample from Sarah “local crime” Kliff, health policy reporter at the Washington Post:

This legislation is happening in the context of increased national awareness of serious problems at abortion clinics around the country, including Gosnell’s “house of horrors” and a Texas clinic run by Douglas Karpen that is accused of being even worse than Gosnell’s, if you can imagine that.

None of that context has made it into stories, near as I can tell. I asked for examples of any reporters tying this abortion debate to any of these other stories that the media have suppressed or downplayed and Texas Monthly reporter Erica Grieder (pictured here, with the big smile on the left, with Planned Parenthood honcho Cecile Richards and another Texas Monthly staffer Sonia Smith) responded “Republicans have made that argument & we’ve covered it.” The link goes to a story that says:

The bill’s sponsor, Katy Republican Glenn Hegar, said that it “raises the standard of care” for women seeking abortions and protects the lives of the unborn. Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, who had repeatedly called for Governor Rick Perry to add abortion to the special session’s agenda, had frequently invoked the genuinely horrific case of Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia-based doctor who was recently convicted of murder after killing a baby who was born alive.

Oh how quickly we forget last month’s trial that the media only covered reluctantly at best! Gosnell, of course, was convicted of killing three babies and one woman, although by all accounts he was responsible for the deaths of untold numbers of babies born alive and at least one other mother.

Grieder said she’d correct the story (written by Sonia Smith). She also offered her version of the “Gosnell is just a local crime story” explanation by saying that the Texas legislature doesn’t oversee Gosnell and that covering the legislature is a “super-full-time task.”

I suggested the omission of mentions of Douglas Karpen might be more significant. She argued that the context of the bill had nothing to do with problems reported at abortion clinics since previous incarnations of this bill predated Karpen. Perhaps reporters might consider why this bill went further than previous bills that attempted to accomplish the same thing and if the context of Gosnell or Karpen might play a role there.

But, as Grieder notes, she literally just wrote a book about putting Texas in context. Perhaps people with opinions on abortion in Texas are very different from people with opinions on abortion elsewhere. And since the Texas AP reporters are all on vacation right now, we have to trust the folks who have stayed to report.

Although I must say that Grieder and Smith’s interview of Richards doesn’t give much reason for confidence. All of the hard-hitting questions she was forced to answer:

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Journalism highs and lows: Christianity and gays edition

YouTube Preview ImageI’m elated to be able to highlight a wonderful article headlined “Christians’ views vary on gay marriage.” The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette news piece shared just that — how Christians view marriage and why.

A sample from the work:

Most opposition to same-sex civil marriage is rooted in religious conviction. A recent Pew poll found that 73 percent of those who believe that gay sex is sinful oppose it, while 84 percent of those who say it’s not a sin support it.

Leviticus 20:13 says, “If a man has sexual relations with a man … both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death.”

That Bible verse isn’t what led Wesley Hill, assistant professor of biblical studies at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, to conclude that his gay sexual orientation requires him to be celibate. The first two chapters of Genesis, which “presents male and female as the partners of one another” and Jesus’ affirmation of that in Matthew 19, are far more important to him.

Mr. Hill, 32, grew up in a Baptist family where homosexuality was unacceptable, but he knew that other traditions found it compatible with Christianity. He studied all sides, he said.

“I found myself convinced of the more traditional reading of scripture, that marriage between one man and one woman was the only context for sexual expression in a Christian setting, and that if I intended to remain a traditional orthodox Christian, I needed to be celibate.”

He believes people are born with same-sex orientation as a result of the fall — humanity’s original rebellion against God — which brought imperfections to the world. He hasn’t settled his view of same-sex civil marriage.

I wish I could excerpt the whole thing. It’s full of descriptions that are nuanced and balanced and really dig down into the doctrinal views of the various parties. We hear from many sides and we get to hear them explain themselves in their own words. How sad that this is so rare in reporting on the matter. But what a great contribution to civil discourse.

For the absolute opposite end of the spectrum, I offer the video embedded above from ABC “News.” A reporter sent it to us with a note saying that the program should be called “To Catch A Christian” (a riff on “To Catch A Predator”). The piece is so appalling I almost don’t know what to say about it.

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Revelations, Books of Psalms and other scriptures

Last week we noticed some embarrassing corrections related to how newspapers described the Epistle to the Ephesians. In the comments, Godbeat veteran Ann Rodgers wrote:

My paper today carried a Washington Post story about the memorial service for explosion victims in West, Texas, that said President Obama alluded to the “Books of Psalms.”

Could that be true? The Books of Psalms? Is Biblical illiteracy this bad? Literary knowledge at an all time low? Let’s check out the passage:

It was the second time in as many weeks that Obama had to console a grieving community after a tragedy, following a trip to Boston last week. Before he spoke, videorecorded eulogies quoted the tearful grandparents, parents, wives, relatives and friends of the fallen. At Baylor, the wails of crying babies and young children echoed through the Ferrell Center.

“I cannot match the power of the voices you just heard on that video,” Obama said. Alluding to the Books of Psalms, he said: “You have been tested, West. You have been tried. You have gone through fire. But you are and will always be surrounded by the abundance of love.”

Yikes. Or is it that bad? As commenter Brett responded:

Ann — What’s in our Bibles as the Psalms has been considered to be made up of five “books” or sections, each ending with a doxology or a benediction. The sections are Pss. 1-41; Pss. 42-72; Pss. 73-89; Pss. 90-106 and Pss. 107-150. Some Bibles will have headings like “Book 1″ or “Book 4″ to mark the groupings.

That being said, the division is not common knowledge and although it’s possible President Obama meant his construction in that way, I’d imagine it’s just one of those slips of the tongue that happen sometimes.

I didn’t watch President Obama’s comments, but I didn’t take it that it was his reference to the “Books” of Psalms but, rather, the Washington Post‘s. The commenter later noted:

Whoops, just reread Ann’s comment and realized she may have been talking about what the WaPo writer said and not the President. If it was the writer, then I’m agreeing with her that it’s the kind of omission from ignorance that also brings us “the Book of Revelations.”

Nothing makes me want to scream quite like people making the Revelation of St. John into “Revelations.” Anyway, for future reference, here’s the passage from which President Obama was riffing:

Oh, bless our God, you peoples!
And make the voice of His praise to be heard,
Who keeps our soul among the living,
And does not allow our feet to be moved.
For You, O God, have tested us;
You have refined us as silver is refined.
You brought us into the net;
You laid affliction on our backs.
You have caused men to ride over our heads;
We went through fire and through water;
But You brought us out to rich fulfillment.

The more you know, as they say.

Psalms image via Shutterstock.

Van Cliburn on stage, at church and in private life

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You know how, when you are growing up, that there is always some kind of music that you want to play late at night and it drives (Will you PLEASE turn that down?!) your parents kind of crazy? Well, for my parents, the music they had to endure for most of my teen years was Artur Rubinstein playing Rachmaninoff (piano concerto No. 2, of course) and Van Cliburn’s epic performance of the Tchaikovsky Concerto No. 1.

Yes, it did help matters that Cliburn was a Texan, and a Baptist, when one is growing up in the home of a Southern Baptist minister on the Texas Gulf Coast. It also matters that I had a friend who, week after week, made the long, long journey north into East Texas to study piano with Cliburn’s mother. So I knew, secondhand, a few things about the Cliburn family and the son’s struggles to break out of the glorious box created by his historic 1958 triumph in Moscow. How does a young Texas Baptist recover from a ticker-tape parade in New York City?

I say all of this for a simple reason, after reading through quite a few obituaries marking Cliburn’s death, from cancer, at the age of 78. Cliburn was a very private man, yet there was more to the religious element of his life than what is shown in this stunningly blunt, rather simplistic passage in the USA Today report.

On the personal front, Cliburn was a devout Baptist but also quietly gay; in the late ’90s, his longtime partner, Thomas Zaremba, unsuccessfully sued the pianist over compensation claims.

And that is that. Really?

What really matters, of course, is what the journalistic college of cardinals at The New York Times elected to say. First, there is this:

Even as a personality, Mr. Cliburn began to seem out of step. In the late 1950s this baby-faced, teetotaling, churchgoing, wholesome Texan had fit the times. But to young Americans of the late 1960s he seemed a strained, stiff representative of the demonized establishment.

Followed, later on, by a crisp summary of the pianist’s brief moment in the glare of legal and social scandal:

In 1978, at 44, Mr. Cliburn announced his withdrawal from concertizing. Having earned large sums of money and invested wisely, he was a wealthy man. He moved into a magnificent home in the Fort Worth area with his mother. There he hosted frequent late-night dinner parties, his teetotaling days long behind him.

As a young man, Mr. Cliburn was briefly linked romantically with a soprano classmate from Juilliard. But even then he was living a discreet homosexual life. His discreetness was relaxed considerably in 1966 when, at 32, he met Thomas E. Zaremba, who was 19.

The details of their romantic relationship exploded into public view in 1995, when Mr. Zaremba filed a palimony suit against Mr. Cliburn seeking “multiple millions,” according to The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Mr. Zaremba, who had moved to Michigan and become a funeral director, claimed that during his 17-year relationship with Mr. Cliburn he had served as a consultant and business associate, arranging promotional events and trips, managing some of the pianist’s finances, and helping to care for Mr. Cliburn’s mother, who died in 1994 at 97. The suit was eventually dismissed because Mr. Zaremba could not provide written validation of his domestic arrangement with Mr. Cliburn, as required by Texas law.

There is no attribution, of course, for many of these facts or the degree to which the sexual side of this partnership was documented.

My point is not, of course, to say that the pianist’s private life is irrelevant in this context.

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More vague evangelicals jump on immigration bandwagon

Last week, I complained about a front-page Tampa Bay Times story filled with broad generalizations about vague evangelicals advocating immigration reform.

This, of course, wasn’t the first time I raised concerns about media treatment of this subject.

Unfortunately, The Dallas Morning News did not get my memo.

The Texas newspaper — duplicating the sketchy Florida report in a way that only Xerox could top — splashed this main headline and kicker across the top of Page 1A on Thursday:

Applying Bible to U.S. borders

Evangelical Christians calling for path citizenship

Once again, we have a major newspaper story making sweeping statements about a largely undefined group of Christians who — at least according to those pushing the story — suddenly have changed their position on immigration reform.

Let’s start from the top of the Dallas Morning News story:

AUSTIN — After years of silence and even hostility to modifying immigration laws, conservative evangelical Christians have become unlikely allies in pressing for a path to citizenship for those here illegally because, they say, the Bible told them so.

A coalition of religious leaders in Texas and elsewhere, many with strong credentials as social conservatives, is engaging congregations in a coordinated call for Congress and the White House to deal with 11 million illegal immigrants.

“Circumstances culturally and politically have thrown evangelicals back on their biblical authority to ask, ‘What does the Bible really say about this?’” said George Mason, senior pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas. “There may be lots of political positions that differ on how we accomplish it, but they want to be on the side of God in their minds.”

While moderate and liberal religious groups have long been a part of the immigration debate, the increasingly active involvement of conservative evangelicals marks what Mason called “a sea change” by an important group that could help move Washington toward political consensus.

By now, GetReligion readers should be familiar with that storyline (did I already mention this post and this one?).

The vagueness in the Dallas story extends to the hard data (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) used to back up the thesis:

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