Today, Rick Santorum appears perched to do very well in the Iowa caucuses. Indeed, the betting markets suggest that his chances are better than even to finish among the top two. And the markets say he has about a one-in-four chance of finishing first. Almost no one, I believe, would have said this a month or two.
I am very pleased by this. One reason is that of all the Republican candidates, he’s the only one whom I’ve actually ever met. Another reason is that over the past couple decades, out of almost all American politicians, he has received the most unfair treatment by the U.S. media.
One of the most egregious cases occurred in 2003. In an interview with an AP reporter, Santorum criticized the Supreme Court’s reasoning in the Lawrence v. Texas case. The court had overturned a Texas anti-sodomy law. Specifically, it claimed that a right to privacy made the Texas law unconstitutional.
Santorum noted that if such a right really exists in the Constitution, then it must also be unconstitutional for a state to forbid any kind of sex in the home, including incest, polygamy, or sex with animals or minors. Specifically, he noted:
And if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does.
His point was a specific one about the overreaching of the Court--whether the Constitution really grants such a strong “right of privacy.” Santorum argued no, and one way he illustrated this by pointing out the absurd logical implications of the Court’s argument.
Instead, the media portrayed his point as if he were “comparing” homosexuality to “man on child” and “man on dog” relationships.
In my book Left Turn, I document another case where Santorum has been treated extremely unfairly by the media. It involved the Senate’s passage of the ban on partial-birth abortions. The Senate bill allowed an exception for cases where the life of the mother was in danger. However, many pro-choice senators wanted a stronger exception, one for the health of the mother. On the Senate floor Santorum explained why proponents of the bill did not want to give a health-of-the-mother exception:
The interesting point is, why are they pushing so hard for this health exception, and why are we resisting it so much? …
[W]hen Roe v. Wade was decided, there was a companion case called Doe v. Bolton, and in that case “health” was defined as: “Medical judgment may be exercised in the light of all factors: physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age relevant to the well-being of the patient.” …
So what this provision did, and that is what the Court wanted to do, was to give absolute latitude to the doctor… So the health exception bars the bill, stops the bill from having any effect.
So that is why we resist.
However, none of the national mainstream outlets explained the difference between health and life exceptions. Instead, they portrayed politicians such as Santorum as calloused to the dangers that pregnant women face. Here, for instance, is a partial transcript of NBC News’ report of the Senate’s vote.
TOM BROKAW, anchor (San Francisco):
In the already emotional debate over abortion, this is the issue that takes the passions on both sides to new levels. It is what some are calling partial birth abortion. Others call it late-term. Today those who have campaigned long and hard against the procedure won a major victory in the Senate. But even with President Bush's expected signature, the battle may not be over. NBC's Chip Reid tonight on Capitol Hill.
CHIP REID reporting:
In a debate filled with graphic words and pictures...
Senator RICK SANTORUM (Republican, Pennsylvania): They place a vacuum hose...
REID: ...proponents of a ban on so-called partial birth abortion argued that however one feels about abortion generally, this particular late-term procedure should never be allowed.
Senator JOHN ENSIGN (Republican, Nevada): This procedure is so grotesque that when it is described, it makes people shudder.
Sen. SANTORUM: These abortions are performed on healthy mothers with healthy children, so these are healthy children--otherwise would be born alive.
REID: Opponents say that's not accurate and criticize the ban for undercutting the right to abortion and for failing to make an exception for the health of the mother.
Senator BARBARA BOXER (Democrat, California): She could have blood clots, an embolism, a stroke, damage to nearby organs or paralysis if this particular procedure is not available to her.
Senator TOM HARKIN (Democrat, Iowa): America's women are now second-class citizens.
Unidentified Woman: The yeas are 64, the nays are 34.
REID: In the end, the ban was overwhelmingly approved. President Bush has promised to sign it into law. With the fight in Congress over, the battleground now shifts to the courts, in all likelihood eventually right across the street to the Supreme Court. In fact, opponents of the ban say they'll file lawsuits to overturn it on the very day the president signs it.
Note the cheap shot on Santorum. “Opponents say,” according to Chip Reid, Santorum’s words are inaccurate. He doesn’t say who the opponents are or what the evidence is that Santorum’s words are inaccurate. Further, if he would have given the context of Santorum’s statement, it would have revealed that Santorum was only saying that under current law (i.e. before the ban), at least sometimes the aborted fetuses and their mothers were healthy, not necessarily always. Given this context, his statement is absolutely true.
Note also that Chip Reid says nothing about the life exception in the bill—an exception, which, under many reasonable interpretations, would make Boxer’s words inaccurate. Reid declines to mention that “Opponents say” that her words are inaccurate. That treatment was reserved only for Santorum.
Addendum (posted at approximately 6:15pm Pacific, approximately three hours after my original post): In my original post I implied that when Santorum uttered the phrases “man on dog” and “man on boy” he was using them only as a device to illustrate the absurdity of the Supreme Court decision. I think I should backtrack from that position. I’ve now read notes that the AP reporter released. It seems that at least part of the reason Santorum used those phrases was to argue the moral wrongness of homosexuality, not just the bad judgment in the Supreme Court decision. Consequently, the media’s treatment of Santorum might be slightly less unfair than I originally described. But I stand by my broader point: Their treatment of him is very unfair. And the media’s treatment of him is about the most of unfair of all treatment of any U.S. politician.
(I owe this addendum to a conversation I had with a liberal colleague, whom I respect greatly and who occasionally changes my thinking after some heated political discussions. The colleague happens to be the same colleague I called “Byron B. Bright” in my book. In this Powerline post, you can read a description of him. Unlike most mainstream journalists, I work in an environment that contains many people whose political views differ from my own. As my conversation today illustrates, a benefit of such a diverse political environment is that it occasionally corrects and sharpens one’s thinking.)