Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Practicing “gotcha” journalism and ignoring the Constitution

 Commentary by James H. Shott

A viral news item recently is the controversy over the mandate by the Department of Health and Human Services requiring insurance plans operated by Catholic-affiliated institutions, such as universities and hospitals, to offer contraception, sterilization and abortafacients, services which are opposed by the moral foundations of the church. And that is the genesis of a comment that sent people into a tizzy.

Foster Friess is a supporter of Republican presidential nomination seeker Rick Santorum. He’s a political activist and Christian conservative. In an interview on MSNBC with Andrea Mitchell Mr. Friess made a comment about the contraception issue that left Ms. Mitchell stunned. Alluding to the costs of providing contraception, he concluded, “You know back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraception.  The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly.”

That comment has been roundly criticized as a tasteless condemnation of contraceptive protection for women, for which certain hyper-sensitive folks believe he should be hanged, or at least water boarded.

Two sub-stories arise from this event: First is the gotcha journalism so on display in the current political campaign, evidenced in the attempt to hold Mr. Santorum responsible for the behavior of people who support his candidacy.

Charlie Rose on CBS TV asked Sen. Santorum what he had said to Foster Friess about the offending comment. Implicit in his questions were: Did you, Mr. Santorum, rebuke Mr. Friess enough to satisfy the PC police? Is Mr. Friess contrite? Are you, Mr. Santorum, also suitably contrite, and prepared to take your 20 lashes?

All of this foolishness arises from the supposition by Charlie Rose that candidates are somehow responsible for what all/any of their supporters say at every moment, on any subject, under all circumstances, whether or not they were speaking on the candidate’s behalf.

You may remember that same critical standard was not in effect during the 2008 campaign when the racist and incendiary statements about America by Barack Obama’s preacher, Jeremiah Wright, came to light. Mr. Obama said that even though he had been in preacher Wright’s church for 20 years, he hadn’t heard any of those vile comments. The media did not question that explanation.

And there was the domestic terrorist, Bill Ayers, who was suspected of being Mr. Obama’s friend, or at least a friendly neighbor who held campaign events in his home. But the alleged friendship with Bill Ayers was “tenuous.” It must be true; [begin ital] The Washington Post [end ital] said so.

Since Mr. Obama was not challenged by the media like Mr. Santorum was, about either Mr. Wright or his relationship with Weatherman Ayers, the media apparently believes that anti-American speech and bombing police stations aren’t as serious as opposing free contraceptives for women.

Mr. Santorum pointed out the “gotcha” aspect of the question, and then the discussion turned to the candidate’s position on recreational sex and promiscuity, which really is the essence of the contraception issue. And later on MSNBC Mr. Friess said that his comment was a joke. “Back in my days, they didn’t have the birth control pill, so to suggest that Bayer aspirin could be a birth control pill was considered pretty ridiculous and quite funny.  … [And] it gives an opportunity to really look at what this contraceptive issue is all about.” 

In Mr. Friess’ youthful days, recreational sex was pretty rare, certainly far less common than today. Why? Because the morality of the day placed a stigma on girls who “slept around” and an even greater no-no was a single girl who got pregnant, or a boy who didn’t do the right thing if he got a girl pregnant. However, in the decades since, our culture has stopped teaching and stressing morality, bowing to the “I’m free to do as I please” attitude leftover from the hippie sub-culture that emerged in the mid-60s. The resulting social pathologies of out-of-wedlock births, single-parent families, sexually transmitted diseases and abortions are just the price we have to pay so that people may be comfortably free from societal restrictions and the responsibilities that once accompanied personal behavior.

The HHS mandate is in line with the desires of free-love 60s hippies, but worse than enabling promiscuity and the misery it causes, the mandate violates the U.S. Constitution’s protection of religion by requiring religious employers to provide insurance plans that include coverage for things which run directly counter to the moral precepts of those employers.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says plainly, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …” It does not say, “Except where contraceptives, sterilization or abortion are concerned.” Even big-government liberals should understand that.

Therefore, the government cannot force religious organizations to provide any service that is regarded as immoral by that organization. The position of the Catholic Church does not deny women any service that they may desire, it merely refuses to provide those services or pay for them indirectly through an insurance policy, which is both proper and legal.

The Obama administration and the pro-contraceptive, pro-sterilization, pro-abortion faction will simply have to find another way to foster promiscuity without the assistance of the nation’s religious institutions.

Cross-posted from Observations

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