Friday, September 26, 2008

Bishop Slattery's Letter to Pelosi and Biden

A big thanks to one of my friends for getting me a copy of a letter from Bishop Slattery of the Diocese of Tulsa, Oklahoma, regarding the erroneous and scandalous comments made by Speaker Pelosi and Sen. Joe Biden on the matter of abortion. This letter in particular stands out as being one of great evangelism on the dignity of human life and the need to end abortion in our society. See for yourself!

In recent weeks, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Joe Biden have been asked by Tom Brokaw on "Meet the Press" to explain their personal opinions on the question of “When does Human Life Begin?” The essence of their views, which they both claim are developed from their experience as Catholics, is first, that the tradition is inconsistent (Pelosi), and second, that even if it is clear, it is a matter of personal faith which, in a democracy, ought not be imposed on others (Biden). Having made their views public, and by presenting themselves as Catholics, both Speaker Pelosi and Sen. Biden have invited a discussion about the legitimacy of their views.

I, and other bishops, have already stated that Speaker Pelosi’s position is clearly inconsistent with Catholic teaching, and to promote such a view is scandalous. There are many witnesses in the tradition that clearly state the Catholic view in opposition to Speaker Pelosi.

In view of the absolute duty that we all have of protecting innocent human life, it is also necessary to respond publicly to Sen. Biden’s remarks. In his interview, Sen. Biden explained that although he was prepared as a matter of faith to accept the teaching that life begins at the moment of conception, it would be wrong in a pluralistic society to impose that judgment on everyone else, who may be just as ardent as he is in their own faith. He remarked that abortion is “a personal and private issue.”

Sen. Biden’s remarks reflect two erroneous beliefs. It is plainly false to assert that the answer to the question of when human life begins is limited to the realm of personal and private faith and that therefore there is no basis for preferring one position over another. While it is true that Christian revelation provides a framework for understanding human nature, there is also biological evidence on when human life begins, that all persons of good will, and not just Christians, may examine. Also, the division that Sen. Biden creates between privacy and social responsibility is tenuous. He supposes that social responsibility ends at the point that we turn the decision over to individuals.

Modern science clearly proves that human life begins at conception. At the moment when DNA from the mother and the father combine, a new, unique human being, who will develop continuously until death, is created. From then on, the early zygote functions as a human being. It has specifically human enzymes and proteins, and, over time, it develops complex human tissues and organs. After this genetic transfer, it can never develop into any other kind of being. Even as it develops through the process of pregnancy, the human nature of the zygote, embryo, fetus, or baby never changes. It is this nature that directs and causes the miraculous physical transformation that takes place during the pregnancy.

In fact, the desire of some persons to destroy embryos in order to harvest stem cells is dependent upon the reality that they are already biologically human. Sen. Biden’s support for increased federal funding of embryonic stem cell research would therefore be at odds with his stated belief that life begins at conception. Contrary to some misconceptions, the early human embryo is not a vague collection of tissues without specificity. In fact the exact opposite is true. The first cells of this new human being contain all of the information that will guide its development throughout life. The process of embryonic and fetal development involves “switching off” the complete power of the early cells so that they only take on one function, like being a heart cell.

While there are some members of our society who would like to define this biological human being as someone who does not share our basic human rights, such as the right to its own existence, this is a dangerous path. We, as a human society, have gone this way before, with disastrous results. Inevitably, it ends with the act of murdering those whom we objectify, as we have seen with the lynching of African Americans, or the Holocaust, or the countless other genocides of the 20th century. Whenever we treat another human being as an object, a thing, that we may do with as we please, rather than as a human person made in the image and likeness of God, we diminish, and inevitably destroy that being, and ourselves.

It is also paradoxical to suggest that by throwing the cloak of “privacy” over the act of abortion, that individual choice can transform an evil act into something that is good, or even tolerable. If, as Sen. Biden believes, human life begins at conception, it is difficult to see how that view can be reconciled with the position that we, as a society, should legally allow individual persons to decide on their own if murder is wrong.

The modern day notion of “privacy” assumes that there is a neat division between the individual who makes a decision, and the rest of the human community. A “private” decision is one that is limited to the individual. However, in the case of abortion, this decision has implications not only for the mother, but also for the father, both of their immediate families, and, in fact, for all of our society. The mother and the father lose a child, the family a niece or nephew, or grandchild, and the rest of us, a companion in life. How we protect, or ignore, these smallest members of our human community defines who we are as human persons.

A democracy, in order to flourish, must attend to the defense of the values that are essential to the human community. Ignoring this hard work and simply relegating abortion to the sphere of individual choice allows a cancer to eat at our very core, as we permit some human persons to sacrifice the lives of others for their own personal reasons. As Catholics, we cannot accept the premise that in the name of “privacy” all choices are equally right.Sen. Biden has opposed federal funding of abortions and backed the ban on partial birth abortions, and for that he should be commended. Yet, his justification for continuing to allow Roe v. Wade to stand as the law of the United States is incompatible with Catholic teaching.

Once an evil is truly seen for what it is, neither can an emphasis on “privacy” excuse one’s moral responsibility to act to stop it, nor can defining murder as a “right to choose” change what it is that is actually chosen.Trusting always in the protection of Our Blessed Lady, whose immaculate womb first tabernacled the Word made Flesh, and asking for your prayers, I am

In Domino

Edward J. Slattery
Bishop of Tulsa

Heritage Foundation Founder Paul Weyrich Provides Comments on Financial Bailout

Free Congress Foundation Commentary
Questionable Economics at the Presidential Level
By Paul M. Weyrich

September 26, 2008

Messages have poured in asking my opinion of the trillion-dollar bailout announced by President George W. Bush late last week. I hesitate to discuss this topic because I am not an economist nor do I have any special insight which would enable me to offer an informed comment. I can provide my opinion. For what it is worth, here it is.

The White House arranged a conference call with an official who had been working on the matter. I sat in on the discussion. Surprisingly, there were only two questions asked. Mine was one of them. I asked the White House economist to give me an estimate of what this bailout eventually would cost the taxpayer. He replied that he had no idea. It depended, he said, upon how well the new entity which would buy and re-sell assets handles the situation. In a best case scenario the entity actually would make money. That would happen if the entity were able to buy low and sell high. On the other hand, if things didn’t work out, the economist said, the taxpayer could be on the line for a lot.

President Bush, in defending the hundreds of billions required to bail out AIG, said it was too big to fail. However, there are many thriving businesses inside AIG not in any danger of going under. AIG has assets of $17 trillion whereas $100 billion was needed in twenty-four hours to prevent bankruptcy. AIG could not get its hands on cash fast enough, it would seem. That being the case, I don’t understand why the highly profitable parts of AIG couldn’t have been separated out while letting the part of AIG which experienced the shortfall declare bankruptcy. One thing, at least we won’t have to suffer through those AIG commercials with precious children who know more about running their businesses than their parents. One of the children always confesses that his parents are with AIG to the cheers of everyone else.

I also don’t understand the Federal Government’s picking and choosing which investment banking firms are to survive and which are to disappear. The market is supposed to determine this. In fact, I thought one of the cornerstones of the free-enterprise system is that companies which are run poorly likely will fail. An elderly gentleman called in to Austin Hill’s radio show on WMAL Radio in Washington. He said he had come to the United States four years ago from the former Soviet Union. He told Hill that the Russians, despite recent problems, are advancing free enterprise whereas we in the USA are promoting socialism. I am afraid he is correct.

What of the big one? What of the Bush proposal that has the Federal Government picking up all bad debts to allow the banking system to behave as usual? Essentially this would create a two-tier system in which we have capitalism for profits and socialism for losses. This goes against everything in which I ever believed. Ninety-three percent of mortgage holders pay their bills on time. Why not let the other 7% default? If some mortgage bankers are stuck with bad paper because they foolishly gave home loans to people who could not afford them those bankers should have to sink. It seems to me we would be stronger for it in the long run, even though there would be significant disruption in the short term. I hope I am wrong. The stock markets surely liked Bush’s proposal. It wiped out all loses of the previous week. If Bush is proved to be correct, he will go down in history, like Harry S. Truman, as a courageous leader who bit the bullet when the going was tough. If he is not, he will replace Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter as a failed President.

Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

Let's Start from the Beginning

Special thanks to "The Great One" Mark Levin for posting these two articles from the late 1990s, which help clarify the start of the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac debacle. Connect the dots people!

September 30, 1999

Fannie Mae Eases Credit To Aid Mortgage Lending

By Steven A. Holmes, New York Times

In a move that could help increase home ownership rates among minorities and low-income consumers, the Fannie Mae Corporation is easing the credit requirements on loans that it will purchase from banks and other lenders.

The action, which will begin as a pilot program involving 24 banks in 15 markets -- including the New York metropolitan region -- will encourage those banks to extend home mortgages to individuals whose credit is generally not good enough to qualify for conventional loans. Fannie Mae officials say they hope to make it a nationwide program by next spring.

Fannie Mae, the nation's biggest underwriter of home mortgages, has been under increasing pressure from the Clinton Administration to expand mortgage loans among low and moderate income people and felt pressure from stock holders to maintain its phenomenal growth in profits.

In addition, banks, thrift institutions and mortgage companies have been pressing Fannie Mae to help them make more loans to so-called subprime borrowers. These borrowers whose incomes, credit ratings and savings are not good enough to qualify for conventional loans, can only get loans from finance companies that charge much higher interest rates -- anywhere from three to four percentage points higher than conventional loans.

''Fannie Mae has expanded home ownership for millions of families in the 1990's by reducing down payment requirements,'' said Franklin D. Raines, Fannie Mae's chairman and chief executive officer. ''Yet there remain too many borrowers whose credit is just a notch below what our underwriting has required who have been relegated to paying significantly higher mortgage rates in the so-called subprime market.''

Demographic information on these borrowers is sketchy. But at least one study indicates that 18 percent of the loans in the subprime market went to black borrowers, compared to 5 per cent of loans in the conventional loan market.

In moving, even tentatively, into this new area of lending, Fannie Mae is taking on significantly more risk, which may not pose any difficulties during flush economic times. But the government-subsidized corporation may run into trouble in an economic downturn, prompting a government rescue similar to that of the savings and loan industry in the 1980's.

''From the perspective of many people, including me, this is another thrift industry growing up around us,'' said Peter Wallison a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. ''If they fail, the government will have to step up and bail them out the way it stepped up and bailed out the thrift industry.''

Under Fannie Mae's pilot program, consumers who qualify can secure a mortgage with an interest rate one percentage point above that of a conventional, 30-year fixed rate mortgage of less than $240,000 -- a rate that currently averages about 7.76 per cent. If the borrower makes his or her monthly payments on time for two years, the one percentage point premium is dropped.

Fannie Mae, the nation's biggest underwriter of home mortgages, does not lend money directly to consumers. Instead, it purchases loans that banks make on what is called the secondary market. By expanding the type of loans that it will buy, Fannie Mae is hoping to spur banks to make more loans to people with less-than-stellar credit ratings.

Fannie Mae officials stress that the new mortgages will be extended to all potential borrowers who can qualify for a mortgage. But they add that the move is intended in part to increase the number of minority and low income home owners who tend to have worse credit ratings than non-Hispanic whites.

Home ownership has, in fact, exploded among minorities during the economic boom of the 1990's. The number of mortgages extended to Hispanic applicants jumped by 87.2 percent from 1993 to 1998, according to Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies. During that same period the number of African Americans who got mortgages to buy a home increased by 71.9 percent and the number of Asian Americans by 46.3 percent.

In contrast, the number of non-Hispanic whites who received loans for homes increased by 31.2 percent.

Despite these gains, home ownership rates for minorities continue to lag behind non-Hispanic whites, in part because blacks and Hispanics in particular tend to have on average worse credit ratings.

In July, the Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed that by the year 2001, 50 percent of Fannie Mae's and Freddie Mac's portfolio be made up of loans to low and moderate-income borrowers. Last year, 44 percent of the loans Fannie Mae purchased were from these groups.

The change in policy also comes at the same time that HUD is investigating allegations of racial discrimination in the automated underwriting systems used by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to determine the credit-worthiness of credit applicants.


May 31, 1999

Minorities’ Home Ownership Booms Under Clinton but Still Lags Whites’

By Ronald Brownstein, L.A. Times

It’s one of the hidden success stories of the Clinton era. In the great housing boom of the 1990s, black and Latino homeownership has surged to the highest level ever recorded. The number of African Americans owning their own home is now increasing nearly three times as fast as the number of whites; the number of Latino homeowners is growing nearly five times as fast as that of whites.

These numbers are dramatic enough to deserve more detail. When President Clinton took office in 1993, 42% of African Americans and 39% of Latinos owned their own home. By this spring, those figures had jumped to 46.9% of blacks and 46.2% of Latinos.

That’s a lot of new picket fences. Since 1994, when the numbers really took off, the number of black and Latino homeowners has increased by 2 million. In all, the minority homeownership rate is on track to increase more in the 1990s than in any decade this century except the 1940s, when minorities joined in the wartime surge out of the Depression.

This trend is good news on many fronts. Homeownership stabilizes neighborhoods and even families. Housing scholar William C. Apgar, now an assistant secretary of Housing and Urban Development, says that research shows homeowners are more likely than renters to participate in their community. The children of homeowners even tend to perform better in school. Most significantly, increased homeownership allows minority families, who have accumulated far less wealth than whites, to amass assets and transmit them to future generations.

What explains the surge? The answer starts with the economy. Historically low rates of minority unemployment have created a larger pool of qualified buyers. And the lowest interest rates in years have made homes more affordable for white and minority buyers alike.

But the economy isn’t the whole story. As HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo says: “There have been points in the past when the economy has done well but minority homeownership has not increased proportionally.” Case in point: Despite generally good times in the 1980s, homeownership among blacks and Latinos actually declined slightly, while rising slightly among whites.

All of this suggests that Clinton’s efforts to increase minority access to loans and capital also have spurred this decade’s gains. Under Clinton, bank regulators have breathed the first real life into enforcement of the Community Reinvestment Act, a 20-year-old statute meant to combat “redlining” by requiring banks to serve their low-income communities. The administration also has sent a clear message by stiffening enforcement of the fair housing and fair lending laws. The bottom line: Between 1993 and 1997, home loans grew by 72% to blacks and by 45% to Latinos, far faster than the total growth rate.

Lenders also have opened the door wider to minorities because of new initiatives at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – the giant federally chartered corporations that play critical, if obscure, roles in the home finance system. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac buy mortgages from lenders and bundle them into securities; that provides lenders the funds to lend more.

In 1992, Congress mandated that Fannie and Freddie increase their purchases of mortgages for low-income and medium-income borrowers. Operating under that requirement, Fannie Mae, in particular, has been aggressive and creative in stimulating minority gains. It has aimed extensive advertising campaigns at minorities that explain how to buy a home and opened three dozen local offices to encourage lenders to serve these markets. Most importantly, Fannie Mae has agreed to buy more loans with very low down payments–or with mortgage payments that represent an unusually high percentage of a buyer’s income. That’s made banks willing to lend to lower-income families they once might have rejected.

But for all that progress, the black and Latino homeownership rates, at about 46%, still significantly trail the white rate, which is nearing 73%. Much of that difference represents structural social disparities–in education levels, wealth and the percentage of single-parent families–that will only change slowly. Still, Apgar says, HUD’s analysis suggests there are enough qualified buyers to move the minority homeownership rate into the mid-50% range.

The market itself will probably produce some of that progress. For many builders and lenders, serving minority buyers is now less a social obligation than a business opportunity. Because blacks and Latinos, as groups, are younger than whites, many experts believe they will continue to lead the housing market for years.

But with discrimination in the banking system not yet eradicated, maintaining the momentum of the 1990s will also require a continuing nudge from Washington. One key is to defend the Community Reinvestment Act, which the Senate shortsightedly voted to retrench recently. Clinton has threatened a veto if the House concurs.

The top priority may be to ask more of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The two companies are now required to devote 42% of their portfolios to loans for low- and moderate-income borrowers; HUD, which has the authority to set the targets, is poised to propose an increase this summer. Although Fannie Mae actually has exceeded its target since 1994, it is resisting any hike. It argues that a higher target would only produce more loan defaults by pressuring banks to accept unsafe borrowers. HUD says Fannie Mae is resisting more low-income loans because they are less profitable.

Barry Zigas, who heads Fannie Mae’s low-income efforts, is undoubtedly correct when he argues, “There is obviously a limit beyond which [we] can’t push [the banks] to produce.” But with the housing market still sizzling, minority unemployment down and Fannie Mae enjoying record profits (over $3.4 billion last year), it doesn’t appear that the limit has been reached.

All signs point toward a high-velocity collision this summer between two strong-willed protagonists: HUD’s Cuomo and Fannie Mae CEO Franklin D. Raines, the first African American to hold the post. Better they reach a reasonable agreement that provides more fuel for the extraordinary boom transforming millions of minority families from renters into owners.

Archbishop Chaput on Faith and Politics

Not only does religion have a place in the public square, a democracy needs the input of religious morals and convictions to remain healthy and strong, says the archbishop of Denver.

Taking religion out of play, adds Archbishop Charles Chaput, author of "Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life," is the fastest way to destroy a democracy.

In this interview with ZENIT's Karna Swanson, Archbishop Chaput talks about the ideas put forth in his book on Catholics and politics, and comments on what he thinks are the important issues facing voters this November.

Q: Catholicism in the public square in the United States has had a long and complicated journey, and you say that Catholics have a lot to offer the political process, but that more often than not they keep their beliefs and convictions separate from their political actions. Why is that?

Archbishop Chaput: Catholics have always been a minority in the United States, and prejudice against Catholics in this country has always been real, even before the founding. Sometimes the bias has been indirect and genteel. Just as often it has taken more vulgar forms of economic and political discrimination, and media bigotry. Either way, prejudice always fuels the appetite of a minority to fit in, to achieve and to assimilate, and American Catholics have done that extraordinarily well -- in fact, too well.

In the name of being good citizens, a lot of Catholics have bought into a very mistaken idea of the “separation of Church and state.” American Catholics have always supported the principle of keeping religious and civil authority distinct.

Nobody wants a theocracy, and much of the media hand-wringing about the specter of “Christian fundamentalism” is really just a particularly offensive scare tactic. The Church doesn’t presume to run the state. We also don’t want the state interfering with our religious beliefs and practices -- which, candidly, is a much bigger problem today.

Separating Church and state does not mean separating faith and political issues. Real pluralism requires a healthy conflict of ideas. In fact, the best way to kill a democracy is for people to remove their religious and moral convictions from their political decision-making. If people really believe something, they’ll always act on it as a matter of conscience. Otherwise they’re just lying to themselves. So the idea of forcing religion out of public policy debates is not only unwise, it’s anti-democratic.

Q: A chapter of the book was dedicated to St. Thomas More. In the same chapter you mention John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic president of the United States. What is the fundamental difference between these two Catholic political leaders?

Archbishop Chaput: As I say in the book, we should be wary of drawing too close a parallel between More’s situation and the problems facing American public officials. But More and his friend John Fisher stay so vivid in our memories for a reason. They kept their integrity at the cost of everything they had, including their lives. They put God before Caesar.

As for Kennedy, we need to remember the context of his 1960 campaign. Kennedy had plenty of talent and courage, but he also had to overcome 200 years of ingrained Protestant suspicion.
Unfortunately, in easing those Protestant fears, he created a new and very flawed Catholic model of separating public service from private conviction. He was acting in good will, and of course he couldn’t see the future -- but he did a great deal of damage. Over the past 40 years, his example has guided every Catholic public official who is “personally opposed” to some grave evil, but won’t do anything about it. We’re still suffering the effects.

Q: You also note that the new media culture has created a new environment for public debate in which a "serious marketplace of ideas" is replaced by sound bites. How can faithful Catholic politicians operate in this environment?

Archbishop Chaput: There’s no easy answer to that. American Catholics need to take a much more critical attitude toward the mass media, including the news industry. Many very good people work in journalism, for example. But the picture of reality reported by the news media is always colored by at least three things: the technology of the medium, the need to make a profit and the bias of the organization.

What we see and hear in political reporting is often a dumbed-down version of the facts. Individual citizens need to be alert to how the media shape public appetites and mold our opinions. And Catholic political officials need to learn how to use the media -- honestly, of course -- and not be used by them.

Q: Did you hope the book, which was published months ahead of the presidential elections in the United States, would impact the election process in some way?

Archbishop Chaput: Actually, I finished the text in July last year and made final revisions last November. I wanted the book to appear in March this year to put some space between it and the campaign season. But the publisher makes those decisions.

It’s not my intention, in the book or anywhere else, to tell people how to vote. I don’t endorse candidates, I don’t use code language to get people to like or dislike any political party. That’s not the job of a pastor.

People need to vote their conscience. But “conscience” doesn’t miraculously appear out of nothing; it’s not a matter of personal opinion or private preference. Conscience is always grounded in truth bigger than ourselves. People who claim to be Catholic need to be honest with themselves and with the believing community. They need to really act “Catholic” in private and in public, and that includes the way they make their political choices. And it’s very much the job of a pastor to teach Catholics their faith and to encourage them to apply it.

Q: In this election year there seems to be more talk of "wider" social issues that Catholics should consider when voting. How do you see this trend? And what do you see as the biggest issues facing Catholic voters this November?

Archbishop Chaput: The moral witness of the Church doesn’t change, whether it’s an election year or not. We face a lot of very important issues this fall: the economy, immigration reform, the war in Iraq. These are urgent and compelling, but they can’t be used as an excuse to ignore the unborn child.

No matter how much we want to cover it over with talk about “wider social issues,” the abortion struggle remains the foundational social issue of our time. There’s no way of wriggling around the profits, the brutality and the injustice of abortion with pious language or theatrical gestures. Abortion is legalized homicide. It has to stop. Every other right depends on the right to life.

Q: The book is written mainly for a U.S. audience as it directly speaks of the Church in the United States. What could an international audience take away from the book?

Archbishop Chaput: All Catholics, wherever they live, whatever their country, need to remember that we’re citizens of heaven first. That’s our home. We serve our nation in this world best by living our Catholic faith fully and authentically, and bringing our Catholic witness for human dignity vigorously into our nation’s political life.

We need to stop being embarrassed to speak and work for the truth. We can be disciples, or we can be cowards. In today’s world, there’s no room for anything else. We need to choose.

Media Double Standards Become Even More Obvious

Just finished reading the following article in National Journal from Stuart Taylor, Jr., who typically leans left of center. The blatancy of the liberal bias from the mainstream media during this presidential election is becoming even too obnoxious for people like him...


Campaign Lies, Media Double Standards

The media can no longer be trusted to provide accurate and fair campaign reporting and analysis.

by Stuart Taylor
Saturday, Sept. 20, 2008

Some who have been admirers of John McCain think that the war hero has debased himself by using gross distortions to trash Barack Obama and his record. Others see the media fury over McCain's campaign ads as more evidence of a double standard driven by liberal bias at most major news organizations.

Both are right. Although each candidate is responsible for many distortions -- hardly a novelty -- McCain has lately been leading the race to the bottom. (Since the print version of this column went to press, Obama may have pulled even with McCain in the race to the bottom, or even ahead of him, by launching a scurrilously dishonest new Spanish-language TV ad. It misleadingly portrays McCain "and his Republican friends" as anti-immigrant bigots who say "lies just to get our vote." It also associates McCain with deceptively out-of-context quotes by Rush Limbaugh -- no friend of McCain's -- about "stupid and unskilled Mexicans." Jake Tapper of ABC News provides details.)

At the same time, many in the media have been one-sided, sometimes adding to Obama's distortions rather than acting as impartial reporters of fact and referees of the mud fights.
We still have many great journalists, but I no longer trust the major newspapers or television networks to provide consistently accurate and fair reporting and analysis of all the charges and countercharges. This in an era when the noise produced by highly partisan TV hosts and blogs creates a crying need for at least one newspaper that we can count on to play it straight.
Indeed, one reason that candidates get away with dishonest campaign ads and speeches may be that it is so hard for undecided voters like me to discern which charges are true, which are exaggerated, and which are false. Most people can't spend hours every day cross-checking diverse sources of information to verify the accuracy of slanted stories and broadcasts such as these:

* In Sarah Palin's first big media interview, on September 11, Charlie Gibson of ABC News asked: "You said recently, in your old church, 'Our national leaders are sending U.S. soldiers on a task that is from God.' Are we fighting a holy war?" Palin responded: "You know, I don't know if that was my exact quote." Gibson pressed: "Exact words."

Viewers had no way of knowing that, in fact, Gibson was distorting Palin's meaning by leaving out critical context and thus making an unremarkable exhortation to prayer sound like a declaration of holy war. Palin had not said that the war was a task from God. She had urged her listeners to "pray" that it was a task from God. A September 3 Associated Press report by Gene Johnson distorted Palin's meaning in exactly the same way.

* A front-page story in the September 12 Washington Post, by Anne Kornblut, was headlined: "Palin Links Iraq to Sept. 11 in Talk to Troops in Alaska." This was misleading, as were the first two paragraphs. They implied that Palin had advanced the long-discredited "idea that the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein helped Al Qaeda plan the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon." In fact, Palin's reasonably clear meaning was not that Saddam had a role in the 9/11 attacks but that (as the article backhandedly acknowledged) the troops would be fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq, which is related to the group that launched the 9/11 attacks.

* The New York Times did a huge (3,120-word) front-page story on February 21 implying that McCain had had a sexual affair with a female lobbyist while doing her political favors. But the article lacked strong evidence either that there had been a sexual affair or that McCain had crossed legal or ethical lines to do favors. Would The Times have printed the same story had the senator been Barack Obama or John Kerry? I doubt it.

* The Times also rushed to assert, in a front-page story on September 2 questioning how carefully McCain vetted Palin's background, that she "was a member for two years in the 1990s of the Alaska Independence Party, which has at times sought a vote on whether the state should secede." This turned out to be erroneous. (Her husband had previously been a member.)

This is not to deny that McCain deserves much of the criticism he has received for his distortions about Obama. But not all of it. Take the ad on which the most-bitter media complaints -- "blizzard of lies" and the like -- have focused. It asserts that Obama's "one accomplishment" in the area of education was "legislation to teach 'comprehensive sex education' to kindergarteners."

But the bill was not Obama's (he was not a sponsor), was not an accomplishment (it never passed), and would not have been his "only" accomplishment even if it had passed. More important, it called for extending only "age appropriate" sex ed from sixth grade down to kindergarten. There is no reason to doubt Obama's explanation that he wanted kindergartners to be taught only the dangers of inappropriate touching.

But a Times editorial overstated the case in saying that "the kindergarten ad flat-out lies" and that "at most, kindergartners were to be taught the dangers of sexual predators." In fact, whatever Obama's intention, the bill itself was designed "to mandate that issues like contraception and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases be included in sex-education classes for children below sixth grade, and as early as kindergarten," as Byron York demonstrates in a detailed National Review Online article.

McCain has also lowered himself by claiming repeatedly, and incorrectly, that Obama's proposals would raise taxes on the middle class. (In fact, Obama would cut middle-class taxes more than McCain would.) And his campaign has descended into fatuousness by implausibly claiming that Obama was trying to demean Sarah Palin when he used the "lipstick on a pig" analogy to criticize McCain's economic proposals.

Obama seems to prefer a more civil discourse. But he, too, has sometimes lowered himself, without provoking anything like the media outcry against McCain. Obama falsely claimed in February that McCain "is willing to send our troops into another 100 years of war in Iraq." In fact, McCain had made it clear that just as "we've been in Japan for 60 years," he could see a 100-year presence in Iraq -- but only "as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed."

More recently, Obama has run misleading ads claiming that McCain has voted to cut education funding and would give "$200 billion more to special interests while taking money away from public schools"; implying that his aides are still lobbying for special interests; and more.
McCain also deserves criticism for the ugly culture-warring epitomized at the Republican convention by Rudy Giuliani's keynote speech and sneers about Obama's stint as a community organizer. But who started the culture-warring? Democratic talking heads and pols -- although not Obama -- heaped disdain on Palin's social class, religion, and anti-abortion values from the moment that McCain plucked her from obscurity.

I was deeply dismayed by the 72-year-old McCain's reckless choice of the inexperienced and untested Palin to be a heartbeat away from the presidency. But I am also deeply skeptical when I see front-page headlines like "As Mayor of Wasilla, Palin Cut Own Duties, Left Trail of Bad Blood" (Washington Post, September 14), or "Once Elected, Palin Hired Friends and Lashed Foes" (New York Times, same day). Such loaded language is a badge not of a newsroom committed to impartial investigation but of an ideological echo chamber.

Many media commentators also exude a conviction that Republicans have long played dirtier and more dishonest political hardball than do Democrats. Maybe, but I'm not so sure. We are often reminded of Republican sins ranging from the (accurate) Willie Horton ads of 1988 to the (over-the-top) "Swiftboating" of 2004. We hear a lot less about Democratic sins such as President Clinton's distortions of Bob Dole's position on Medicare in 1996 and the NAACP's stunningly scurrilous ad campaign in 2000 associating George W. Bush's opposition to a hate crimes bill with the racist murderers who dragged James Byrd behind a truck.

Ironically, there is some evidence that media venting about McCain's ads may be helping McCain. The venting, especially on TV gabfests, draws much more attention than the ads themselves, while distracting attention from the issues on which Obama wants to focus. Indeed, reportedly the McCain campaign often buys little or no TV time to air the ads, preferring to get them on the air free, denunciations and all.

Consider also a fascinating Washington Post piece by Shankar Vedantam on September 15. He cites studies showing not only that "misinformation can exercise a ghostly influence on people's minds [even] after it has been debunked" -- especially among those predisposed to believe it -- but also that refutations sometimes backfire by increasing the number of people who believe the original misinformation.

The studies found this refutation "backfire effect" among conservatives but not liberals. Part of the explanation may be that conservatives have more-rigid views than liberals, as political scientists quoted by Vedantam suggest. And part of it may be that conservatives have more reason to distrust the usual refuters.

Correction: My September 13 column erred in saying that in 2003, as an Illinois legislator, Barack Obama "unsuccessfully" opposed a bill nearly identical to the federal "Born Alive Infant Protection Act." In fact, he helped kill the bill. is an independent site and is not affiliated with any official web sites, associations, or organizations associated with President Reagan. Any views expressed or content included on this site do not necessarily reflect the views, positions, or opinions of any of the organizations or individuals named, linked, or advertised.

Questions? Contact

Copyright © 2008-2011, All rights reserved.