In Tuesday's Washington Post, Tom Hundley of the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting gave Post readers a textbook example in biased reporting freighted with loaded language. The target was a predictable bogeyman of secular liberal reporters: the Catholic Church.
Hundley painted the constitutional court battle over a "reproductive health law" in the Philippines as a struggle "pit[ting] the entrenched power of the Roman Catholic establishment against a rising tide of modernization and economic aspiration." You read that right. It's progress and prosperity against repression and Romanism according to Hundley.
The law in question would provide taxpayer-funded contraception to poor Filipinos but "[t]he key question before the court is whether it violates a 1987 constitutional guarantee of protection for 'the life of the unborn from conception.'" Some birth control methods -- like the Plan B "morning after" pill -- are potentially abortifacient, but Hundley failed to mention that anywhere in his article.
Additionally, as the New York Times -- hardly a conservative news journal -- reported last December:
Birth control is legal and widely available in the Philippines for people who can afford it, particularly those living in cities. But condoms, birth control pills and other methods can be difficult to find in rural areas, and their cost puts them out of reach for the very poor.
But of course, this legislation deals with the Philippine taxpayer footing the bill, including many devout Catholics in the predominantly Catholic country. All the same, Hundley [pictured below] saw fit to paint bishops and nuns who showed up during the legislative debate as bullies who won't take no for an answer:
In December, when the bill came to a vote, bishops and nuns packed the public galleries of the Philippine Congress. Their presence seemed calculated to intimidate, but they ended up watching in stunned silence as lawmakers approved the measure. The vote was 13 to 8 in the Senate and 133 to 79 in the House of Representatives. A week later, Aquino signed the bill into law.
“This is the first time we quote-unquote ‘lost’ on this issue,” said the Rev. Francis Lucas, a spokesman for the bishops’ conference. “We may have lost a battle, but we haven’t lost the war.”
The church claimed a victory in March when the Supreme Court put a 120-day hold on the implementation of the law. Oral arguments are scheduled for July 9.
To rally support to its side, the bishops attempted to turn last month’s midterm elections into a referendum on the law. Labeling the church and its supporters as “Team Life” and their opponents as “Team Death,” bishops and priests across the Philippines used their Sunday pulpits to call for the defeat of candidates who had voted in favor of the bill.
The church was hoping for a crushing victory, but each side managed to get about half its candidates elected, a result that was widely interpreted as a setback for the bishops and “Team Life.”
Both sides are now gearing up for next month’s Supreme Court showdown.
The bishops’ conference has been openly lobbying some of the Supreme Court’s 15 justices, 11 of whom were appointed by Aquino’s predecessor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, a staunch supporter of the church’s position on contraception.
Hundley failed to detail exactly what he meant by the bishops "openly lobbying" and whether the same was true of the advocates of the "reproductive health" law. I'm unfamiliar with Philippine jurisprudence, but if their Supreme Court is like many national courts of last resort, they do entertain legal briefs from interested third parties -- amicus curiae or "friend of the court" briefs. Have the bishops filed such a brief? If so, what concerns do they raise? What legal arguments? Hundley doesn't delve into any of that.
The Pulitzer Center, for which Hundley serves as senior editor, describes itself as "dedicated to supporting the independent international journalism that U.S. media organizations are increasingly less able to undertake" by "focus[ing] on under-reported topics, promoting high-quality international reporting and creating platforms that reach broad and diverse audiences." What's more, the Center brags:
The Pulitzer Center is a bold initiative, in keeping with its deep ties to the family whose name for more than a century has been a watchword for journalistic independence, integrity, and courage.
When Joseph Pulitzer III became editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch a half century ago, he paid tribute to that legacy. "Not only will we report the day's news," he said, "but we will illuminate dark places and, with a deep sense of responsibility, interpret these troubled times." The Pulitzer Center is driven by that same mission and deep sense of responsibility, in times just as troubled.
Of course, it's hardly courageous to grind out another hackneyed attack piece against the Catholic Church, which is all that Tom Hundley achieved today.