Author Page | Media Matters for America

Morgan Weiland

Author ››› Morgan Weiland
  • For abortion coverage, there's no choice

    Blog ››› ››› MORGAN WEILAND

    As Senate Democrats are apparently preparing to drop the public option, the next front line in the health care reform debate has emerged: abortion rights. It is a key issue in the Democrats' fight to win over Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), a moderate, anti-choice Democrat whose vote is necessary to reach the magic number of 60. Even now, Democrats are wooing him. According to TPM's Brian Beutler, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) gave Nelson "new legislative language to address how abortion services will be funded in Senate health care legislation," which the Associated Press reported today that Nelson apparently rejected because it "doesn't get to the fundamental issue of barring federal funding for abortions." That sounds like a prescription for more restrictive abortion language. And if past practice is any guide, it's certainly a prescription for terrible media coverage.

    During the debate about the nearly identical anti-choice amendments -- the Stupak amendment in the House, which passed, and the Nelson amendment in the Senate, which didn't -- many in the media went along with the line fed to them by the amendments' supporters: it will not change the status quo established by the Hyde Amendment and, consequently, the bills as they are written will. The most egregious repeat offenders were multiple Fox News personalities, as well as MSNBC host Chris Matthews, who went along with the status quo line. In other words, move along ladies and gentleman, nothing to see here.

    The only problem is that none of what they claimed was true. I think The New York Times explained the reality of the Stupak amendment (and consequently the virtually identical Nelson amendment) most clearly when writing in a November 9 editorial that the amendment "would prevent millions of Americans from buying insurance that covers abortions -- even if they use their own money." The Times pointed out that amendment supporters "reached far beyond Hyde and made it largely impossible to use a policyholder's own dollars to pay for abortion coverage." (The Hyde Amendment already bans direct federal payment for abortion services, with exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, or when the mother's life is in danger.) The editorial continued:

    If insurers want to attract subsidized customers, who will be the great majority on the exchange, they will have to offer them plans that don't cover abortions. It is theoretically possible that insurers could offer plans aimed only at nonsubsidized customers, but it is highly uncertain that they will find it worthwhile to do so.

    In that case, some women who have coverage for abortion services through policies bought by small employers could actually lose that coverage if their employer decides to transfer its workers to the exchange. Ultimately, if larger employers are permitted to make use of the exchange, ever larger numbers of women might lose abortion coverage that they now have.

    The restrictive language allows people to buy "riders" that would cover abortions. But nobody plans to have an unplanned pregnancy, so this concession is meaningless. It is not clear that insurers would even offer the riders since few people would buy them.

    Similarly, a November 16 study by the George Washington University School of Public Health & Health Services assessing the impact of the Stupak amendment on "coverage of medically indicated abortions" concluded in part that:

    In view of how the health benefit services industry operates and how insurance product design responds to broad regulatory intervention aimed at reshaping product content, we conclude that the treatment exclusions required under the Stupak/Pitts Amendment will have an industry-wide effect, eliminating coverage of medically indicated abortions over time for all women, not only those whose coverage is derived through a health insurance exchange. As a result, Stupak/Pitts can be expected to move the industry away from current norms of coverage for medically indicated abortions. In combination with the Hyde Amendment, Stupak/Pitts will impose a coverage exclusion for medically indicated abortions on such a widespread basis that the health benefit services industry can be expected to recalibrate product design downward across the board in order to accommodate the exclusion in selected markets.

    But the problem with the media's coverage is not simply that they were wrong on the facts. Regurgitating talking points is lazy and often partisan, but when that talking point leads readers and viewers to believe that there is no debate -- that nothing is at stake -- it is sinister. Indeed, rolling back decades of women's rights gains under a Democratic-led health reform bill is something about which I'll venture to guess there is some debate, not to mention a significant media story.

    So the media has a choice: If Casey's new legislative language -- or whatever is proposed to placate Nelson -- is anything like what Nelson was previously pushing, they can fulfill their journalistic obligation and report on the facts and implications of the amendment, or they could keep their viewers and readers in the dark.

    It's an important choice, with serious implications for the choices women may -- or may not -- be able to make about their lives.

  • Bolton falsely suggested Obama said "treaties and declarations" more important to post-WWII security than U.S. role

    ››› ››› MORGAN WEILAND

    Fox News contributor and former United Nations ambassador John Bolton falsely characterized President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, claiming Obama suggested "it's the treaties and declarations that were the centerpiece" of post-World War II global security "and the United States made a small contribution here or there." In fact, Obama suggested that while "the world" may believe that it was "just treaties and declarations" that "brought stability to a post-World War II world," Obama himself also attributed it to how "The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms," which he stated "has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea."

  • WashPo again lets Will misinform about global warming -- this time about hacked CRU emails

    ››› ››› MORGAN WEILAND

    The Washington Post once again provided column inches to serial global warming minsformer George Will, who in this week's installment piled on the recent global warming controversy concerning reportedly hacked emails from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia. Falsely claiming that the emails "reveal some scientists' willingness to suppress or massage data," Will proceeded to take one such email out of context to suggest that the case for global warming is "less compelling."

  • Wash. Times highlighting its "cultural coverage based on traditional values"

    Blog ››› ››› MORGAN WEILAND

    Best graph from the Washington Times' press release announcing "changes to refocus its position as a provider of vital information and insight to readers in the nation's capital, across the country and around the world":

    News focused on strengths. The Washington Times news operation will operate in a highly focused manner, investing in Washington Times' well-established core strengths that include exclusive reporting and in-depth national political coverage, enterprise and investigative reporting, geo-strategic and national security news, and cultural coverage based on traditional values.

    Shorter WT: We will go back to putting "gay marriage" in scare quotes.

  • Contradicting broad economic consensus, right-wing media use jobs summit to declare stimulus has failed

    ››› ››› MATT GERTZ & MORGAN WEILAND

    Right-wing media figures have used the upcoming White House jobs summit to claim that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) has failed to stimulate the economy and thus that the Obama administration should not continue to pursue such policies. In fact, a broad consensus of economists have agreed that the Recovery Act has boosted gross domestic product and reduced unemployment in recent months; moreover, numerous economists have stated that the ARRA's flaw was that it was not large enough, and that additional federal stimulus is needed to continue the economic recovery.

  • There's (Still) Something About Sexism

    Blog ››› ››› MORGAN WEILAND

    It is truly amazing that Time allowed Mark Halperin to publish the following caption and image on his blog, The Page -- no matter how briefly (the site has since pulled it down):

    Maybe Halperin thought it was really clever to echo a scene from a late-90s romantic comedy, but it isn't. The image and all that it suggests -- yes, her hair is supposed to be held up by semen -- isn't supported by any facts provided by Halperin in his post. The page to which he links doesn't have anything to do with semen, romantic comedies, or hair gel. In fact, it's a statement from Sen. Mary Landrieu's (D-LA) Communications Director "on motion to proceed timing" on the Senate's health care reform bill.

    In other words, it's part of a broader, sexist right-wing narrative that the U.S. Senator from Louisiana is, as Glenn Beck put it yesterday, "a high-class prostitute" engaged in "hookin'" -- all because she lobbied Senate leadership for expanded Medicaid funding for Louisiana in the Senate health care bill in what was characterized by the media as an exchange for her "yea" vote to proceed with floor debate on the bill.

    Not to be left out, Rush Limbaugh got in on the action yesterday too, declaring that Landrieu "may be the most expensive prostitute in the history of prostitution."

    These types of backwards, sexist remarks are what we have come to expect from Beck or Limbaugh, but this is truly a new low for Halperin, and, by association, for Time. As my colleague Julie Millican pointed out last week, the other weekly news magazine -- Newsweek -- has a sexism problem that it needs to address concerning another female politician.

    So let this serve as a word of warning to those media figures like Halperin who like to think of themselves as separate and apart from -- perhaps I should say above? -- right-wing bloviators and pot-stirrers like Beck and Limbaugh: When you engage in baseless, sexist smears of women politicians, you are no different than the side-show commentators. Maybe you're worse -- at least they don't purport to be journalists.

  • Van Susteren hops aboard Palin's bus - and takes her viewers for a ride

    Blog ››› ››› MORGAN WEILAND

    Fox News host Greta Van Susteren aired the first part of her interview with Sarah Palin last night, during which she "hopped on the [book tour] bus with Governor Palin." But the people who were really taken for "a ride" were Van Susteren's viewers: throughout the nearly 40-minute long interview, which spanned questions of policy and political ambitions, Van Susteren failed to disclose that her husband, John Coale, reportedly advised Palin after her 2008 vice presidential run and reportedly stated that he conceived of and created Palin's political action committee, SarahPAC.

    This lack of disclosure isn't terribly surprising given Van Susteren's track record. It's not like she bothered to mention that fact when she used her Fox perch to actively "campaign" to secure the interview and hype Palin's memoir, Going Rogue: An American Life.

    And it's not terribly surprising given Fox's record of giving free rein to its evening commentators to seamlessly merge commentary and advocacy, most notably in the case of Glenn Beck. If Fox isn't concerned about its Beck problem, presumably Van Susteren's journalistic malpractice isn't even showing up on their radar screen.

    Maybe Van Susteren will go rogue tonight when she airs the next installment of her Palin interview and, in a radical departure from Fox's status quo, disclose her conflict of interest. But somehow I doubt that she'll get off the bus and on the level with her viewers.

  • CNSNews' Jeffrey falsely suggests Senate bill "mandates federally subsidized abortion" inconsistent with Hyde Amendment

    ››› ››› MATT GERTZ & MORGAN WEILAND

    Terence Jeffrey, editor-in-chief of the conservative website CNSNews.com, falsely suggested that the Senate health care bill "would mandate federally subsidized abortion" in a manner inconsistent with the Hyde Amendment's restrictions on the types of abortions for which federal dollars can be used. But the section of the bill Jeffrey cited explicitly prohibits the use of federal funds to provide coverage for abortions that are currently restricted under Hyde, and requires segregation of non-federal funds from federal funds to pay for those procedures in a manner similar to that used in many states that cover such abortions under the federally subsidized Medicaid program.

  • Quick Fact: Fearmongering about rationing, Baier falsely claimed a "federal panel" promulgated cervical cancer guidelines

    ››› ››› MORGAN WEILAND

    Special Report host Bret Baier falsely claimed that recently released cervical cancer screening guidelines were promulgated by a "federal panel," adding that those guidelines "open the door to this conversation about rationing." Additionally, Mara Liasson suggested that that the Senate health care reform bill would implement a task force's recommendations for breast cancer screenings when "writing the basic health care package that insurers who participate in these exchanges are going to offer."