Contraception mandate: MSM stuck in “narrative capture”?

Blind now leading the sighted?

On retrieving my paper copy of the Wall Street Journal this morning, I saw the discouraging headline:

Obama Retreats on Contraception

My first thought was, “Surely the Journal knows better than this.  Why would they headline this story as if Obama had, in fact, backed off on the mandate?  What are they, USA Today?”

The headline doesn’t reflect reality.

As Ed Morrissey pointed out yesterday, Obama has merely shifted the basis for the mandate.  The insurance companies – I use that term loosely – will be required to provide “free” contraception services to the insured who work for Catholic employers.  This means that the premiums paid by Catholic employers will fund contraception services.  And the overall mandate to purchase the insurance will continue.

I expected better of WSJ.  I expect the editors to recognize the significance of distinctions like this, and refrain from using headlines that bolster a counterfactual narrative.  Obama has not retreated.  He has moved laterally and reset the defenses for the same strategic position.

And in fact, he has done more than that.  I referred above to using the term “insurance companies” loosely, because Obama has just made crystal clear that “insurance” is not what we will be paying for under ObamaCare.  With actual “insurance,” the insured cannot expect to line up for “free” goodies mandated – arbitrarily, and at any time – by the government.  An insurance contract is finite and specific.  The insured pays a premium; the insurer makes defined pay-outs in the case of a contingency.  In most cases, for the average person, the contingency is a major personal setback of some kind:  an auto accident, the house burning down, being diagnosed with cancer.

If the federal government can step in and arbitrarily require a company to provide things for “free” that were previously elective, premium-based services, then it is no longer an insurance company.  We are not buying insurance from it; we are simply participating in a mandatory government program whose features can be changed at any time, regardless of what we or the “insurers” want.  There is no contract.  There are only the one-sided decisions of bureaucrats and future presidents.

This Obama move is the opposite of a retreat.  It’s a decision to reveal the future to us, and to insist on remaining on course for it.

Yet on their news pages (as opposed to the opinion pages), the mainstream media are stuck in the old mode of interpreting political events in a single dimension, as if all other things remain equal, and a rhetorical “retreat” from a president means the same thing it usually has in the past.  We see this in numerous aspects of their coverage.  They keep putting out stories in the same old narrative ruts, as if we have a business-as-usual political situation.  The president’s people say he has changed his mind on the contraception mandate; in the shallowest of political terms, that can be seen as a “retreat”; and no care is taken to frame the overriding reality that Catholic employers will be required to pay for “insurance” programs that distribute contraception to their employees.

That is not a change of heart, it’s a significant broadening of the state’s control, undertaken at the drop of a hat – and we have a huge mainstream media apparatus that simply does not frame what’s going on in realistic terms.  The clear implications of the Obama decision were widely discussed across the conservative blogosphere yesterday, and even on some MSM opinion pages.  But in their news reporting, the MSM characterized what had happened – falsely – as a retreat by the president.

Are they idiots?  Are they all “in the tank” for Obama?  It may feel good to excoriate them in these terms, but I see it differently in the case of at least some of the MSM.  There is no doubt that a significant segment of the MSM has the same peculiar worldview as Obama and his advisors, and takes care to frame everything in the terms of that worldview.  But that doesn’t necessarily explain the behavior of the entire MSM.

Please note:  I am speaking here of how “straight news” is framed in the news pages or broadcasts.  Various opinions may be expressed on the editorial pages, but it matters greatly how the MSM attempt to reflect reality, which is what we all tacitly accept they are doing in “straight news” reporting.  This reporting comes, over time, to write the narratives in our heads about what is going on in the world.  And I have never seen reality so reflexively misinterpreted in the retailing of “news.”

What I perceive is a sort of “capture”: the MSM being stuck in a retrograde narrative about American political conditions that no longer obtains.  We are not in the old political conditions today.  We have not had a federal budget for more than 1,000 days.  That’s extremely abnormal.  The 2010 election was a large-scale repudiation of the sitting president and his policies, but the new Congress is gridlocked, unable to exercise its proper role in the separation of powers.  President Obama, besides presiding over a network of executive agencies larger and more powerful than any previous president had at his disposal, is a deliberate political “divider,” constantly – constantly – making divisive appeals to one constituency and rhetorically “flaming” another.  No president has behaved in anything close to this manner since FDR in the mid-1930s.

This president is not Bill Clinton, or even Jimmy Carter; he is not Lyndon Johnson or JFK.  He and his administration have broken with America’s trademark political mindset of gradualism and respect – however grudging at times – for the people.  So why is the narrative by which his administration’s actions are explained the same one the MSM has used for decades?  Why is this administration being interpreted on the same terms as its predecessors, when its actions and perspectives, in both domestic and foreign policy, are so very different?

I’m not sure I have an answer for that.  But the outcome is consistent.  The longer we go in this presidency, the less relation MSM headlines have to reality.  If you asked a random sample of journalists at WSJ what the practical effect of Obama’s “retreat” on the contraception mandate would be, I’m betting more than 50% of them would get it right.  The Catholics are still stuck with paying for contraception services.  But the misleading headlines march on of their own accord, even at WSJ.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air’s Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, and The Weekly Standard online.

12 thoughts on “Contraception mandate: MSM stuck in “narrative capture”?”

  1. I guess even the WSJ has now given up and decided to follow the path of short-attention-span, bumper sticker journalism. Can’t say I blame them. If the vast majority of Americans won’t take three minutes to read into the details of well researched and accurately written stories, why should anyone bother to write such stories?

  2. Mandated payment is called insurance? Are these guys patterning their strategy after Orwell’s fiction? Or was it fiction?

    If we can muddle through without a budget for 1000 days why do we need a budget at all? With quantitative easing, Orwell-speak for printing money, the US needs a budget just as a particularly adept counterfeiter would.

  3. Eveyone — even his lapdogs at the NYTimes and on NPR — know that Barry’s just putting lipstick on his abortion pig.

    The problem is that this petty tyrant does so many unconstitutional things so frequently, that even attentive citizens lose count. Just a few weeks ago, it was the non-recess recess appointments. Then Harry Reid and his Demo-dictators announced that there would be no debating, much less passing, of any budget again this year. And soon Baby Doc will release his laughable “budget” which will be $1.3 trillion in the red; add rather than cut federal employees and bs programs; and, if it ever came to a vote, be voted down 93-0 as his last year’s effort was.

    Hard times for our country.

  4. An underreported aspect of this story is the effect on self-insured plans. Just about every plan with more than a few hundred employees (insureds) is self-funded by the employer. That means the employer pays the claims out of its assets. There is no insurance, no insurance company and no premium. The employer hires a company to administer the plan (process the bills, figure out what is covered, issue the Explanations of Benefits, etc) but the money for treatments comes directly from the employer. Under the Obama “compromise,” self-funded religious institutions will pay for contraception because there is no insurance company around to absorb the cost. Today, religious institutions in some states pay for contraception today. That’s because some states have mandates for contraception coverage (many do, in fact, although most have exceptions for religious institutions). But, state mandates apply only to fully insured plans, not self-insured plans. Obamacare now covers all plans.

  5. Now, did you all notice how Catholics blithely paid their taxes during the Iraq war – even though John Paul II was outspoken in his opposition to the war and made no bones about telling GWB to his face exactly what he thought of his immoral war-on-a-lie. And I don’t remember any clamour by the so-called religious right suggesting that Catholics should withold their taxes because some of the money was going to buy bombs and guns to kill people in an unconscionable war (a rather more far-reaching use of taxpayers money than a few tablets whose consumption is not actually compulsory). The blunt truth is that it is probable (at least initially when the public in general was buying the lies) that most US Catholics supported the Iraq war in spite of Catholic theology and on what constitutes a justifiable war.

    In fact, I would wish that the self-appointed guardians of our morals would not presume to speak for American Roman Catholics at all. American Catholics hold very different views on contraception and matters of sexual morality generally from the orthodoxy propounded by the official Roman Catholic Church. They also make a clear distinction between the role and ambit of personal belief and the role of the civil law (As, to be fair, do most Americans).

    As far as I can see, the average American Catholic wasn’t too bothered by the original formulation, and most of the rest are now quite satisfied by the proposed amendment.

    I am rather amused (but not surprised) at the attempts by the right-wing media machine to manufacture a huge issue out of this non-story. I am particularly amused that this faction is composed of exactly the same sort of people, now putting-on all palsy-walsy with Catholics, who in the very recent past loathed Catholicism and Roman Catholics in a manner that makes the current wave of Islamophobia look pleasant in comparison. In fact, some evangelical colleges closely associated with the fringe-right still teach that Catholicism is herisy, that Catholics are damned, and that the Pope is the Anti-Christ. No, I don’t think that I or other RCs will be taking much notice of the so-called concern these people have for our religous rights.

    1. I agree with Paulite. I imagine most Catholic women welcome the coverage. No real advantage to the Republicans in the long run here, sorry

    2. The Catholics “blithely paid their taxes during the Iraq war”? Interesting adverb. How do you know they “blithely” paid their taxes? Most people’s taxes are withheld from their paycheck, blithely doesn’t enter the equation. If they have to write the IRS a check do they scrawl a happy face on the memorandum line? The reality is that they pay their taxes because if they don’t the feds put liens on their property, holds on their bank accounts and, ultimately, restrictions on their freedom that involve federal prison.

    3. Whether something qualifies as a just war is not doctrine. The imperative to not intentionally kill the unborn is doctrine. Perhaps that’s too fine a distinction for some, but even many non-Catholics can grasp it.

      I don’t know if Roman Catholics will refuse to pay taxes over any government policy issue. Beside the immediate consequences that can be exacted by our government, St. Paul said pay your taxes to Rome, and Rome could be a pretty oppressive regime, too.

      Finally, people need to understand that the Roman Catholic Church is not a democratic institution, The people can join or not, leave or stay, but they don’t get a vote on doctrine. Of course, people who claim to be Catholic may not always follow Catholic doctrine. That has been a problem for all churches for as long as they have existed. It points up another issue, though: Why should only the church as a church be exempt from being compelled to purchase something that violates his religious beliefs? Religious liberty does not apply to individuals?

      My amusement comes seeing Paulite’s mask slip again. The faux libertarian Paulite dismisses this as a “non-story” while imagining all sorts of restrictions on his freedom stemming from the Patriot Act.

      1. CV, Anyone who consistently peddles the “Bush lied” tripe like Paulite can pretty much be disregarded. You make a great point Paulite’s contradictory stance defending the Obama contraception mandate but seeing such dire threats to liberty in the Patriot Act. Kind of like his (correct) dismissal of the “birthers” as a wacko fringe, but his religious adherence to the “Bush lied” drivel.

      2. You will all be delighted to learn that the representatives of the relevant universities and other Catholic institutions have welcomed the amended provision.
        Of course, these institutions employ many non-Catholics, who, along with Catholics who personally differ with their Church’s official view on matters of sexual morality, and Catholics who distinguish between personal morality and civil law, will be free from the Roman Catholic Hierarchy having a fatwa over their right to have the health insurance coverage they are entitled to under the law.

        (It is truely exquisite irony that the RC Hierarchy was claiming exactly the same sort of legal exception to impose its own orthodoxy on Americans who called themselves Catholics – (and on non-Catholics employed in Catholic institutions) – that the Islamaphobes (falsely) accuse Moslem bodies of wanting for American Moslems)

      3. Exactly. The RC hierarchy was not elected by anyone to legislate for American citizens. They have the freedom to preach all they wish, and Catholics or anyone else has the right to heed or ignore them. What they don’t have is the right to decide the legal entitlements of Americans who call themselves Roman Catholics, or Americans who may be employed by nominally Catholic institutions. Legal entitlements are a matter for the law of the land made by those empowered under the Constitution to legislate.

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