Once upon a time, I was a reporter, and I believed in journalism: it could tell you things you didn’t know and clarify issues that politicians and others had distorted.

Somehow I knew from the headline alone that this story in yesterday's New York Times would neither break new ground nor clarify an issue. Quite the contrary:

Centrist Women Tell of Disenchantment with Republicans

The reporter, Susan Saulny, finds the proverbial moderate Republican who is likely going to vote Democratic in the forthcoming election:

Until the baby shower, just two weeks ago, she had favored Mitt Romney for president.

Not anymore. She said she might vote for President Obama now. “I didn’t realize I had a strong viewpoint on this until these conversations,” Ms. Russell said. As for the Republican presidential candidates, she added: “If they’re going to decide on women’s reproductive issues, I’m not going to vote for any of them. Women’s reproduction is our own business.”

The baby shower is a nice touch, isn't it?

It is clear from the story that what worries the speaker is that she believes that the GOP is talking about contraception. Here’s the problem: With the exception of some remarks by Rick Santorum–remarks that in my opinion would be fine in a pulpit but are not for the campaign trail–nobody in the GOP has said a word about contraception. Mitt Romney has said absolutely nothing about contraception and indeed seemed surprised that George Stephanopoulos raised the issue in a debate some time before the Obama administration made it an issue. Admittedly, Republicans do care about religious freedom, the real issue before us. Republicans plead guilty to that charge.

Saulny writes:

The sudden return of the “culture wars” over the rights of women and their place in society has resulted, the women said, in a distinct change in mood in the past several weeks. That shift adds yet another element of uncertainty to a race that has been defined by unpredictability, at least for Republicans.

There is a culture war. But it has nothing to do with contraception—it is over whether faith-based organizations that don’t regard contraception as morally acceptable should be forced by the federal government to pay for contraception coverage. If, like Sandra Fluke, you get your health insurance from a Jesuit institution, yes, you will have to pay for it while in law school. But, having wandered about my nearest CVS, researching Ms. Fluke's claim about the financial burden this imposes, I want her to know that she doesn’t have to pay $1,000 a year—her outlandish estimate of the cost of contraception. Sandra, you can do this without forcing the good Fathers to violate their consciences!

Here is another interesting paragraph from the story:

After the talk show host Rush Limbaugh denounced a Georgetown University law student as a “slut” and a “prostitute” for her advocacy of insurance coverage of contraception, some women were critical of Mr. Romney’s tepid response.

To repeat for about the hundredth time: Ms. Fluke’s advocacy is not merely for contraception, which nobody is trying to take away from her, or even for insurance that provides free contraception—her advocacy is for forcing the Jesuits, who run the expensive law school she attends, and from which she will graduate to a lucrative job, if she does well, to cover the cost of her contraception. There is a big difference. Romney did respond to Limbaugh's words, but, no, he didn’t set his hair on fire over the crude remarks of a talk show host.


“Everybody is so busy telling us how we should act in the bedroom, they’re letting the country fall through the cracks,” said Fran Kelley, a retired public school worker in Seattle who voted for Senator John McCain over Mr. Obama in the 2008 election. Of the Republican candidates this year, she added, “They’re nothing but hatemongers trying to control everyone, saying, ‘Live as I live.’ ”

She continued, “If Republicans would stop all this ridiculous talk about contraception, I’d consider voting in November.”

Aside from Rick Santorum's foray into contraception, Republicans have said nothing about contraception. It is not an issue. They have talked about religious freedom and even dared to try to pass the Blunt Amendment, which would have upheld First Amendment rights to religious freedom. Saulny and others are promoting a false narrative that Republicans are talking about contraception by talking about Republicans talking about contraception.

In my day, reporters portraying the situation that way would have been asked to dredge up some supporting quotes of Republicans doing this. But that was then–this is now.

Allysia Finley, an assistant editor at the Wall Street Journal, puts this in perspective this morning in a piece headlined “Coffee Is an Essential Benefit, Too” in which, using the argument for making contraception free, even at the expense of Catholic conscience, she enumerates all the things that health insurance must cover:

It is written as a Dear President Obama letter:

Can you believe the nerve of employers? Many of them still seem to think that they should be allowed to determine the benefits they offer. I guess they haven't read your 2,000-page health law. It's the government's job now.

That's a good thing, too. Employers for too long have been able to restrict our access to essential health services like contraception by making us pay some of the bill. Really, it's amazing that we aren't all dead. Now, thanks to you, we'll enjoy free and universal access to preventative care just like workers do in Cuba. Even so, there are still many essential benefits that the government must mandate to make the U.S. the freest country in the world.

Fitness club memberships, massages, yoga classes, salad-bar access and coffee should all be free:

Studies show that coffee can ward off depression, Alzheimer's disease, type 2 diabetes and sleepiness—which makes it one of the most powerful preventive treatments. Workers who drink java are also more productive and pleasant. While many offices have coffee makers, some employers—most notably those affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—continue to deny workers this essential benefit. All employers should have to provide workers with freshly brewed coffee. Oh, and workers must also be able to choose the kind of coffee regardless of the price.

Republicans might argue that requiring Mormon charities to serve coffee is a violation of "religious liberty" since the Mormon church's doctrine proscribes coffee, but this argument is a red herring. Leading medical experts recommend drinking coffee. Moreover, 99% of adults have drunk coffee at one point in their lives (including most Mormons).

 This satire captures the current level of discourse. I can’t believe that the journalists are dumb enough, or paranoid enough, to think Republicans care about contraception. I hate to say it, but it seems to me that quite a few journalists are willing to sacrifice journalism to lend a helping hand to their friends in high places.