- The Obama Administration announces that church-run institutions like hospitals and universities will still be required to offer insurance coverage for abortions, sterilizations and other medical matters that might be in direct opposition to church beliefs. It’s a cynical move, designed to cater to the Democratic base at the expense of religious institutions. It is also irresponsible, since it jeopardizes the huge proportion of medical services performed by church institutions.
- Conservatives scream that the measure is a breach of religious freedom. The is either ignorant or a lie. The Constitution has no provision requiring the government to make special accommodations for churches or church-operated institutions.
- Caught by surprise by the intensity of the backlash, the Administration crafts a “compromise,” which is essentially deceitful sleight-of-hand, form over substance. The insurance companies now have to provide those services but the religious institutions don’t have to pay for it. But of course they will, through increased premiums elsewhere.
- Flagging the deceit, Republican attacks on the measure continue. Democrats successfully frame the debate as a conservative attack on contraception, which it is a misrepresentation, and a “war on women,” which is ridiculous and unfair. The issue is churches being forced to provide or pay for services that violate their faith—which the government has every right to do.
- The controversy activates GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who is a fringe extremist in sexual matters and toes the Roman Catholic line. He really thinks birth control is immoral. This position, which is unethical, is suddenly given exposure it doesn’t deserve in the 21st Century
- Foster Freiss, one of Santorum’s key supporters, goes on television and makes an inappropriate, older than Methuselah joke about aspirin being a contraceptive (if a woman holds the tablets between her knees). The joke is disrespectful to women, and he is an idiot, but the media works overtime to cast him as a typical Republican.
- Many media sources, incredibly, incompetently and misleadingly report that he seriously suggested that aspirin could be used as a contraceptive, unfairly making him out to be a bigger idiot than he is.
- In a House hearing on the issue, House Democrats pull a successful and deceptive stunt, recruiting a male witness on the issue of the need to include contraception in insurance plans, then staging a walk-out on the grounds that no women are testifying. The media, which already has muddled the issues in the controversy, duly takes the bait.
- Sandra Fluke, a 30-year old feminist activist who believes free contraception is a right, testifies before an all-Democrat pseudo-hearing, during which her position is unchallenged, since no opposing voices are among the questioners. This process by itself is deceptive, unfair and unethical. News Media reports, sloppy, careless, misleading and incompetent, widely describe her as merely “a law student” and the informal forum as “a Congressional hearing.”
- Some of Fluke’s assertions and rhetoric are dubious bordering on disingenuous. Her quoted yearly cost of contraception is wildly exaggerated from the norm. Her use of the term “access to contraception” is deceptive. Nobody, but nobody, has suggested limiting access to contraception, which is widely accessible and generally cheap. Nonetheless, this is adopted by the news media as the terms of the debate.
- Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh launches into an ill-considered routine casting Fluke as a “slut” and a “prostitute” who wants “us” to pay her to have sex. It is a cruel, unfair, disgraceful and uncivil display. Also not funny.
- Outrage erupts against Limbaugh, both because his attack was bullying, vulgar and unfair, and also because a lot of people are dying to shut him up and stifle conservative commentary. Petitions circulate calling for a boycott of sponsors of the program.
- Many of the liberal/progressive individuals most indignant over Limbaugh’s comments were not troubled, or didn’t say so, on the multiple occasions comedian Bill Maher used terms like “twat” and “cunt” to denigrate Republican women. Maher had just given a million dollars to President Obama’s Super PAC. There is cynicism and hypocrisy in this, as well as a double standard.
- Republicans and conservatives use the Maher incident to excuse Limbaugh, whose offense was 1) worse, because it was directed at a private citizen 2) more widely disseminated, and 3) irrelevant to Maher in any way. Their defense is an unethical rationalization.
- Democrats use the Limbaugh incident to demand that prominent Republicans condemn his comments, which they have no obligation to do, since he doesn’t speak for them or represent them. It’s a clever and deceptive “When did you stop beating your wife?” trap though: if they refuse, the Republican seem to be excusing Rush; if they do criticize him, they appear to acknowledge their responsibility for him.
- The Republicans, in cowardly fashion, generally refuse to condemn Limbaugh. (John McCain is a notable exception.)
- Several sponsors cave to pressure and drop Limbaugh. The boycott effort is in equal measure an effort to show disapproval of uncivil public discourse (legitimate) and an effort to silence political opinion (unethical.) Maybe a little bit more the latter.
- Limbaugh apologizes publicly to Fluke for his “analogy,” presumably the dumb comparison of advocating free contraception and prostitution, and his use of the words “slut” and “prostitute.” The apology is narrow, but direct. It only occurs, however, after another round of ridiculing Fluke, so its sincerity is suspect.
- Fluke, showing no graciousness and proving that she is allied to the “Get Limbaugh off the air” crowd, refuses to accept Limbaugh’s apology. Other activists make it clear that nothing short of an apology for Limbaugh’s opposition to coverage for contraceptives will do, making the real objective of the boycott palpable: censorship by economic boycott. [ Iconoclast liberal commentator—and my college classmate—Michael Kinsley takes a typically rye but fair look at this phenomenon here.]
- President Obama, maintaining his well-established bad habit of mis-using his power by involving the highest authority in the land in non-governmental disputes and taking sides for and against private citizens, calls Fluke to offer his support and sympathy. This makes his PAC’s willingness to enjoy Bill Maher’s money seem hypocritical to some; in fact, all it does is prove that the call to Fluke is a political stunt designed to keep the pressure on Limbaugh.
Or, to be more succinct, yeccch!
But wait! There’s more!
Laura Ingraham, a frequent presence on Fox News and a conservative radio host herself, refused to criticize Limbaugh’s insults and instead attacked the substance of Fluke’s arguments, which is what Limbaugh should have been doing, of course. This, despite the fact that Ingraham had herself been called a slut in a 2011 TV attack by resident MSNBC boor Ed Schultz, and had been properly indignant about it. But while employing her own double standard on the issue of Limbaugh’s identical insult against another, more vulnerable woman, Ingraham did turn up a spectacular example of a media double standard. Fluke’s public rejection of Limbaugh’s apology took place on The View, where Whoopi and the gang excoriated Limbaugh for his language. Ingraham drew attention to the same group’s discussion of Schultz’s use of “slut” against Ingraham, in which the women all agreed that it was no big deal. They had a good laugh about it, in fact. You can see the clip here.
The real mark of an Ethics Train Wreck is that it gets so bad, you can’t tell the heroes from the miscreants after a while. Sure enough, who should become a voice of reason in the carnage but….Bill Maher, who tweeted:
“Hate to defend #RushLimbaugh but he apologized, liberals looking bad not accepting. Also hate intimidation by sponsor pullout”
Maher may be a misogynist, but he has integrity. Or does he? Maher lost his Comedy Central show because of threatened boycotts and a public uproar over a politically incorrect remark (on a show called “Politically Incorrect”). Is this just a self-serving tweet by Bill, employing the Golden Rule distortion, “Do Unto Others What You Wish Others Had Done Unto You And Hope They Do Unto You When You’re In The Same Position, Which Could Be Any Minute Now”? Is Bill readying a mea culpa for his “cunt” comments about Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann?
And the wreck goes on.