“Check out this headline!” implored an excited email from a friend of mine, a Protestant well aware of my Catholic loyalties. The headline declared: “CATHOLICS SUE OBAMA.
The headline came from a popular website. In mere minutes, more emails flooded into my box. It turned out that on a single day 43 Catholic dioceses, archdioceses, organizations, universities, schools and groups had filed 12 federal lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the Obama administration’s Health and Human Services mandate on contraception, sterilization and abortion drugs. That mandate, a stunning display of executive fiat, has been pushed unrelentingly by President Barack Obama and his HHS secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, a Roman Catholic.
The story hit on May 21, 2012, a kind of D-Day for the Catholic Church in its battle against ongoing salvos launched by the Obama administration. One observer called it “legal Armageddon.”
Everyone reading this newspaper is familiar with what happened. They are aware of the accompanying statements from Cardinals Timothy Dolan and Donald Wuerl and others. Even Notre Dame, burned by honoring Obama with an honorary degree in May 2009, participated.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of Americans do not know that these lawsuits — a truly extraordinary, unprecedented action — have been filed. Aiding and abetting their ignorance were the major news networks, which flagrantly ignored the story. Their sin of omission was caught by Brent Bozell, head of the longtime media watchdog the Media Research Center. Bozell stated:
You’d think the largest legal action in American history in defense of religious liberty would be a major news story. But ABC, CBS and NBC don’t judge news events by their inherent importance, as relates to the future of our freedoms. They deliver the news according to a simple formula: Does it, or doesn’t it, advance the re-election of Barack Obama?
It’s truly jaw-dropping that ABC and NBC completely ignored the coordinated legal action on their evening newscasts, while CBS Evening News devoted just 19 seconds to this historic event.
No, let’s be blunt: They spiked the news.
This is the worst example of shameless bias by omission I have seen in the quarter-century history of the Media Research Center.
We could come up with fancy theories as to why the media would ignore this dramatic headline, but the answer is simple: The mainstream media is liberal, wildly “pro-choice” and scandalously biased in support of President Obama. Oh, and it also isn’t an enthusiastic admirer of Catholic moral doctrine. The media is ignoring this significant story to help protect President Obama.
As an illustration of the media bias, I’d like to offer a point of contrast:
By my recollection, the last time the hierarchy of the Church expressed a notably high level of public concern (though not nearly at today’s level) regarding the policies of a presidential administration came in the 1980s over the Reagan administration’s nuclear policy. Certain bishops expressed reservations about the arms buildup pursued by the Reagan administration. The concern was such that the entirety of the bishops took up the issue.
There were many nuances and details to this issue, too many to cover here. But a few things stand out from the incident, particularly in contrast to the current situation with the Obama administration and the bishops (and the media).
The Reagan administration suggested that certain bishops misperceived the goal of President Reagan’s arms buildup. As President Reagan said many times, his goal was not to launch nuclear war, but to bring the Soviets to the negotiating table in order to actually reduce nuclear stockpiles and lessen the prospects of nuclear war. The Reagan strategy was “peace through strength,” to build up in order to ultimately build down. To cite just one of innumerable examples, Reagan made this crystal clear in a major televised speech on the “zero-zero option” in August 1981.
For the record, this strategy worked, culminating in the historic INF Treaty and START agreements in Reagan’s second term. The INF Treaty became the first treaty to abolish an entire class of nuclear weapons (intermediate-range nuclear missiles) and was the precise culmination of Reagan’s vision expressed in his August 1981 speech.
For the Reagan team, clarifying this policy (and these intentions) to the bishops was a top priority. Reagan’s closest aides had great respect for the bishops. They saw the bishops and the Catholic Church, from the American leadership to Pope John Paul II’s Vatican, as cherished allies on the same team.
Among Reagan’s team, National Security Adviser Bill Clark, a devout Roman Catholic, became the front man in reaching out to the bishops. Clark engaged in a long, sustained dialogue with Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, the point man for the bishops. Clark’s letters to and from Cardinal Bernardin were lengthy; they were also polite, thoughtful and constructive. Unlike the current mess with the Obama administration, these were kindred souls working together and legitimately attempting to resolve differences. These were honest brokers who treated one another with deference, civility and charity. They wanted each other’s support. I know this well because I’m Bill Clark’s biographer. I saw it in depth, firsthand, reading all the correspondence.
As for the media, reporters were on this story big-time. In one case, the full text of one of the Reagan administration’s formal letters to the bishops, signed by Bill Clark, was reprinted in newspapers, including the Nov. 17, 1982, New York Times. In fact, the media coverage by The New York Times and Washington Post alone was so vast that I, as Clark’s biographer, was overwhelmed trying to wade through it. I had a literal box of articles to sort through. In the end, I found, as Clark and Reagan did, that much of the conflict really was based on a misunderstanding of the Reagan administration’s intentions.
To return to my point on media bias and President Obama and the Church today: Unlike the major media currently ignoring the 12 lawsuits filed by more than 40 Catholic groups against Obama, the mainstream media in the 1980s went all out in covering the bishops and the Reagan administration. And yet, in the 1980s, there was not even a single lawsuit; there was basically only misunderstanding.
Today, there is no misunderstanding at all. No, these Catholics today understand the stakes completely, which is why they see no other recourse other than the judicial branch of our government. President Obama has forced them into a terrible position. So much so that, yes, we’re now witnessing the extraordinary spectacle of headlines like “CATHOLICS SUE OBAMA.”
One would think that our mainstream media might find all of this newsworthy. Sadly, however, for too many “journalists,” honest journalism is sacrificed at the altar of political ideology. Once again, truth is a casualty.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of
the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.
His books include The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand,