Maddow Guest Jeff Sharlet Falsely Claims 'Majority' of Catholics in US Are 'Pro-Choice'

This sort of thing an actual journalist would have flagged as dubious, but not Rachel Maddow.

On her MSNBC show this past Monday, Maddow and guest Jeff Sharlet, an author and contributing editor at Harper's Magazine, were talking about the so-called Stupak amendment in the House health bill to prevent weakening of the ban on federal funding of abortion.

Here's how the revelant portion of the conversation went --

MADDOW: Let me ask you about some of the other conventional wisdom here because the sort of conventional explanation for this is that this anti-abortion amendment to health reform resulted mostly from the Catholic bishops pressuring Catholic politicians to support it. But I know that you think that it's bigger than that. Can you explain why?

SHARLET: Well, exact-, I think it's unfair to Catholics, I think it's unfair to evangelicals. First of all, most of the press has focused on Catholics despite the fact that a number of the congressmen involved in this are not Catholic, including Congressman (Joseph) Pitts, R-Pa. (co-sponsor of amendment with Bart Stupak, R D-Mich.), including Congressman (Heath) Shuler (D-N.C.) who you mentioned. And frankly the majority of American Catholics are pro-choice. That's not true of the majority of American evangelicals.

That's not true of the majority of Catholics either, according to a poll released April 30 by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life. 

The poll, coming out just before Obama's commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame, found that 47 percent of Catholics believe abortion should be "legal in all/most cases," compared to 42 percent stating it should be "illegal in all/most cases."

More telling was the huge disparity between those who "attend weekly" Mass compared to those who "attend less often." Among weekly churchgoers, nearly two-thirds -- 63 percent -- said abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. Thirty percent of Catholics attending Mass "less often" than weekly said abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

The figures were almost exactly reversed for "less observant" Catholics -- 61 percent said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared to 29 percent opposed.

In other words, Catholics whose attendance at church extends beyond Christmas Eve and Easter overwhelmingly oppose abortion. But you already knew that, right?

I found it amusing for Sharlet to make his claim after Maddow asked him about the "conventional wisdom here" -- whereupon Sharlet trotted out what counts as conventional wisdom at MSNBC.

Such assertions by people who ought to know better (Sharlet, author of a book titled "The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power," has written extensively on religion )  might well have a ripple effect, prompting politicians such as Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., to take on Catholic bishops over abortion -- based on that alleged majority of Catholics supporting it.

A majority of Catholics who summer in Hyannisport, but not a majority otherwise.

Jack Coleman
Jack Coleman
Ex-liberal from People's Republic of Massachusetts