I have been watching with some consternation the whole imbroglio surrounding the remarks of Richard Mourdock, candidate for U.S. Senator from Indiana. I’ve listened to and read his remarks in context, and my frustrations are twofold. First, his words have been completely distorted by his political opponents. Contrary to what you may have heard from reports, Mourdock did not say that God endorses rape. Anyone who says otherwise is not being objective and is likely beholden to the lowest form of hackery. Should Mourdock have expressed his point more clearly? Yes, absolutely. But that does not excuse bearing false witness in order to score political points against an opponent. And that is what is happening here.
Second, the national press has only been too eager to disseminate this distortion to the public at large. No one even brought up Mourdock’s remarks during the debate. It was his political foes who made hay out of it afterward, and the press went right along with Mourdock’s partisan opponents. This tells us something about the press in my view, and I agree entirely with Ross Douthat’s remarks today on the NY Times website. He notes the disconnect between the worldview of mainstream media and that of the rest of the country. He writes:
In the case of Mourdock, the disconnect has manifested itself in two ways. First, there’s the near-complete failure to acknowledge that his religious point, about God having the power to bring good even from the worst of human crimes, is much more commonplace than controversial — since the alternative would be to claim that children with rapists for fathers are somehow uniquely disfavored by an otherwise all-loving Almighty. Second, there’s the disproportionate focus on what’s “extreme” about his specific position on the legal issue. It’s not that the press is wrong to call Mourdock’s views controversial, since his opposition to abortion in cases of rape really does place him well outside of the mainstream: Per Gallup’s abortion polling, only about 22 percent of Americans agree with him. But the same polling also shows, as a for instance, that only 24 percent believe that second-trimester abortion should be legal (as it is almost without restriction under current law), and only 10 percent believe that it should be legal in the third trimester. In both cases, the Democratic Party’s position is starkly at odds with the public’s, yet you almost never see a national Democrat pressed the way Republicans have been pressed on the rape issue in this cycle, or a pro-choice politician pinned down by tough follow-up questions during a high-profile debate. The problem isn’t necessarily that Mourdock’s comments have become a big story, in other words: In a closely-fought battle for control of the Senate, maybe they deserve to be. It’s that President Obama’s similarly outside-the-mainstream views and votes on abortion have always been a non-story outside the right-wing press, which leaves the president and his party free to make hay out of Republican extremism without paying much of a price for their own.
Do not underestimate how much influence the media have on this election. It is enormous, and they often unselfconsciously have their finger on the scale in favor of the pro-choice side. Douthat is right on point with this. Read the rest here.