Sunday, February 5, 2012

NYT's Ross Douthat's Flawed Analysis of the Komen-Planned Parenthood Controversy

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat criticizes media coverage of the Komen-Planned Parenthood controversy in his latest column, The Media's Abortion Blinders. Douthat argues that media coverage decisively favored Planned Parenthood, leaving the impression that the organization was itself without controversy.  Douthat, however, ignores available information that undermines his claims and that reveals his own ideological blinders regarding the abortion topic.

Partially Reporting Gallup Results

To prove his case, Douthat cites a recent Gallup survey, which he says shows that "[a] combined 58 percent of Americans stated that abortion should either be 'illegal in all circumstances' or 'legal in only a few circumstances.'" Douthat cites this survey in order to argue that the media coverage ignored millions of Americans who disfavor abortion.  He also attempts to depict Planned Parenthood as an organization that sits outside of mainstream public opinion.

The same Gallup poll, however, shows that 77 percent of Americans want abortion legal in all circumstances or legal under certain circumstances. This is so because the majority of Americans -- 51 percent -- favor abortion under certain circumstances. Only a minority of the country occupies the most extreme positions in this debate (abortion legal/illegal in all circumstances). While 21 percent want abortion illegal in all circumstances, 26 percent want it legal in all circumstances. So, more Americans favor abortion (with some restrictions) than those who do not. Also, more Americans favor unrestricted access to abortion than those who want it illegal in all cases. These numbers have remained somewhat consistent over the last two decades.

Douthat Relies Upon Heavily Biased Coverage of Planned Parenthood

Douthat contests Planned Parenthood's statement that abortions only constitute 3 percent of its services. To do so, he cites "conservative estimates," which he claims challenge this figure.

Douthat's conservative estimates, however, come from a highly biased analysis in The Weekly Standard, a unabashedly conservative and partisan publication that was previously owned by Rupert Murdoch.

The Weekly Standard article does not even dispute Planned Parenthood's statement about the breakdown of its services. Instead, it reports that revenue from abortion services constitutes a much larger share of Planned Parenthood's overall intake. Because abortion is more expensive than other services the organization provides, this result is not surprising. Still, this fact does not alter the data that Planned Parenthood presents regarding the mix of services it provides to patients. Conservatives, however, including Douthat and Mike Huckabee, continue to make this false assertion.

Douthat Ignores Available Information to Reach His Conclusion

Douthat concludes his column with a volley of claims. He that argues that fighting breast cancer is "unifying" while abortion is "polarizing"; that the Komen decision to defund Planned Parenthood was no more "political" than the decision to fund it in the first place; and that equal numbers of Americans were "probably" angered and relieved by Komen's decision. For several reasons, Douthat's reasoning fails.

While abortion is a polarizing topic, most Americans disagree with the extreme pro-life position. Furthermore, Komen made breast cancer controversial by thrusting itself into the public debate about abortion. This was unwise from a marketing standpoint. Undoubtedly, the public anger over Komen's decision led to the reversal.

Also, contrary to Douthat's assertion, the Komen defunding decision was absolutely political. It follows decisions and plans by conservative states to defund Planned Parenthood. These state policies are illegal because they violate federal Medicaid rules.

Also, reporting on this issue reveals that Karen Handler, the Vice President for Komen, is anti-choice. Handler ran as an anti-choice candidate in a Georgia gubernatorial election, during which she criticized Planned Parenthood.

When Handler arrived at Komen, she pushed the organization to split from Planned Parenthood.  Komen seized upon the fact that anti-choice House Republicans had launched a partisan "investigation" of Planned Parenthood. Komen created a rule barring the distribution of its funds to entities under federal investigation. It then used this rule to justify defunding Planned Parenthood.

Komen, however, gives money to other organizations under congressional investigation. Yet, it only cut funding to Planned Parenthood. And while the federal investigation is the initial excuse Komen provides for parting with Planned Parenthood, Douthat accepts an alternative argument the Komen made up after the controversy erupted -- that it defunded Planned Parenthood because the latter did not provide many breast cancer screenings in the first place.

Douthat's article omits a lot of available information on this subject.  Douthat does not provide this information either because he has not thoroughly researched the topic or because he wants to ignore facts that challenge his own position.


AHLondon said...

"Furthermore, Komen made breast cancer controversial by thrusting itself into the public debate about abortion."
How did Komen do this, by deciding to not renew the PP grants? How would Komen not have "thrust itself into the public debate"? If your point is that Komen defunded the grants and had a press conference to announce this, then I see your point. But if the only way that Komen could have not "thrust itself into the public debate" was to continue with the grants, that smacks of a racket. Once a foundation funds PP, must it always do so, or face consequences? That is, Komen stopped the PP grants, but who thrust the issue into the public eye? James Taranto at the WSJ made this observation when the news broke, that PP had quite a racket going. "Nice little charity you've got there. Shame if anything should happen to it."
At my place, I mentioned that this isn't a smart tactic for PP to take even though the buzz around the blogsphere seems to be that Planned Parenthood won this round, handily. But I'm not so sure. First, one of the main complaints we pro-lifers have had against abortion providers is their public funding. The quick and effective response of generous liberals provides a persuasive argument that PP does not need government funding. Second, there is the protection racket angle Best of the Web noted. What foundation would foolishly start giving to PP? Third, I've noted that few who gloat about how quickly PP was able to make up the funds notice or care that Komen got a fundraising spike after the PP news broke. The media has gone out of its way to act as if Komen has few supporters. Komen has not been very specific about the fundraising spike, "100% increase" in donations (an increase over the days before? last week? same period last year?), but if the spike is significant, then other current donors to PP might decide that the PR crucible is worth cutting funding PP as well. In short, PP might have just handed the pro-life movement a powerful argument that it can rely on private funding while undercutting its large private funding.

AHLondon said...

I forgot one last thing specific to here (sorry, concise I am not) but remember our discussion of feminism from a few weeks back, about whether or not feminism was about choice or the approved choice? This Komen crisis is an excellent example. PP launched a PR war on a women's health charity because that charity did not support The essential law of feminism: support for abortion. A neutral choice position would have likely involved a statement of disappointment at loosing the funding and then wishing Komen well with breast cancer research. Individual feminists of course might have expressed disappointment and declared no more donations from them. But no, Komen must be taught a lesson. One does not stay from feminist orthodoxy without consequences. I'd mention what's going around twitter, but don't know your explicative tolerance.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Komen thrust itself into the public debates about abortion by singling out Planned Parenthood for defunding. As several sources have documented, other recipients of Komen funds were not defunded, even though they also faced congressional investigation. Also, the principal player in the decision was someone with proven hostility to PP. That individual also shifted her explanation for the decision throughout the controversy. This reeks of a political decision - not one that was based on women's health.

PP does not expect a continuous stream of funds. But the public -which gives to both organizations - do not want defunding based on questionable grounds. Komen made its decision, and the public responded. It could have maintained its ground, right? PP did not force Komen to continue funding. Instead, Komen acted in its own interests.

Also - government funding cannot contribute to abortion services, but legislation on this subject does not mean that ANY institution that performs abortions cannot receive federal funds. If that were the case, then many hospitals would go out of business.

Moreover, the "quick and effective" response does not make the case for defunding. Instead, it makes the case for social causes utilizing social media. It was a spectacular display of the effectiveness of social media.

The alleged 100% spike in Komen spending was only documented by the Daily Caller, and then it spread across the web. Komen did not release a statement on this issue. I certainly would want more info on this. Also, if it is true, then it shows that PP didn't really hurt Komen.

Finally, your feminist argument fails. There are pro-life feminists and pro-choice conservatives. Also, it is highly possible to disagree with abortion but still realize that a medical provider that gives multiple services to low-income individuals is a great resource in society. I don't agree with every aspect of many organizations, but that does not mean that I cannot support the group's general mission. Many feminists are pro-choice, for obvious reasons. But feminism did not force anyone to take a side in the PP/Komen dispute.

liberal dissent said...

I am continually surprised at how Douthat was given a position at the New York Times;, he was given his position when he was only 30, had a fairly run-of-the-mill journalistic career, and his prose is frequently clumsy and poorly-organized.

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