In the course of thumping Gingrich Alexander Burns of Politico delivers a howler:
Newt: Media never asked Obama about 'infanticide' - except it did (UPDATE: Or did it?)
That is quite an UPDATE. As if to illustrate Newt's point that the Elite Media turned a blind eye to Obama's stance on infanticide, Mr. Burns reframes the question to one about late term abortions and ignores Obama's stance on infanticide.
Tim Graham of Newsbusters has some fun with this, and perhaps I can help - the question of Obama's positioning on infanticide attracted enough attention that the Jess Henig of the Annenberg Fact Check team took a look:
Anti-abortion activists accuse Obama of "supporting infanticide," and the National Right to Life Committee says he’s conducted a "four-year effort to cover up his full role in killing legislation to protect born-alive survivors of abortions." Obama says they’re "lying."
At issue is Obama’s opposition to Illinois legislation in 2001, 2002 and 2003 that would have defined any aborted fetus that showed signs of life as a "born alive infant" entitled to legal protection, even if doctors believe it could not survive.
Obama opposed the 2001 and 2002 "born alive" bills as backdoor attacks on a woman’s legal right to abortion, but he says he would have been "fully in support" of a similar federal bill that President Bush had signed in 2002, because it contained protections for Roe v. Wade.
We find that, as the NRLC said in a recent statement, Obama voted in committee against the 2003 state bill that was nearly identical to the federal act he says he would have supported. Both contained identical clauses saying that nothing in the bills could be construed to affect legal rights of an unborn fetus, according to an undisputed summary written immediately after the committee’s 2003 mark-up session.
So was Obama lying when he said his critics were lying? Well, let's not oversimplify this:
Whether opposing "born alive" legislation is the same as supporting "infanticide," however, is entirely a matter of interpretation. That could be true only for those, such as Obama’s 2004 Republican opponent, Alan Keyes, who believes a fetus that doctors give no chance of surviving is an "infant." It is worth noting that Illinois law already provided that physicians must protect the life of a fetus when there is "a reasonable likelihood of sustained survival of the fetus outside the womb, with or without artificial support."
The "born alive" bill gave legal status to infants born with (in the doctors opinion) no chance of long term viabiity. After a lot of pro-Obama nuance, we finally get this:
But whether or not one accepts those arguments, it is not the reason Obama had been giving for his 2003 opposition.
So, to return to the question at hand - Newt asked about the infanticide controversy, not Obama's stance on late term abortion; points off for Politico.
And was Newt right that he Elite Media never asked Obama about it? Well, I guess that depends on where one ranks the Annenberg Fact Check people. They only cite the National Right to Life Committee, conservative commentator William J. Bennett, and David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network as raising the issue; with all due respect, I don't think Newt had those folks in mind as "Elite Media".
Since you ask, here is the contemporaneous Times coverage of the same interview that inspired the Fact Check:
Both Mr. Obama and his critics agree that, as chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee in the state legislature in 2003, he led efforts to defeat a bill called the Born Alive Infants Protection Act. But they disagree about virtually every other aspect of the legislation, from its meaning and purpose to the breadth of its application.
The recent controversy erupted after an interview Mr. Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, gave to the Christian Broadcasting Network on Saturday night, immediately following his televised question-and-answer session with the Rev. Rick Warren at Saddleback Church in California. Asked about the legislation, Mr. Obama said, “here’s a situation where folks are lying” when they say he has misrepresented his position.
And after a lot of nuance we learn that Obama is acey-deucy with the Times:
In 2002, President Bush signed a federal “born alive” law.... Even organizations like the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, now known as Naral Pro-Choice America, did not oppose the bill.
Mr. Obama has repeatedly said that he would have been willing to vote for such a measure in Illinois had it been identical to the federal statute. But “that was not the bill that was presented at the state level,” he said Saturday. “What that bill also was doing was trying to undermine Roe v. Wade.”
The statute Congress passed in 2002 and the one the Illinois committee rejected a year later are virtually identical....
That has led Mr. Obama’s critics to accuse him of playing fast and loose with the truth when he says he “would have been completely in, fully in support of the federal bill that everybody supported” if it had been offered at the state level.
But the Illinois proposal always had a companion bill. The accompanying legislation, called the Induced Infant Liability Act, would have allowed legal action “on the child’s behalf for damages, including costs of care to preserve and protect the life, health and safety of the child, punitive damages, and costs and attorney’s fees, against a hospital, health care facility or health care provider who harms or neglects the child or fails to provide medical care to the child after the child’s birth.”
Groups that favor abortion rights say that bill would have introduced the possibility that doctors could be sued for failing to take extraordinary measures to save the lives of pre-viable infants, those born so prematurely that they could not possibly survive. As a result, they argue, it is disingenuous of anti-abortion organizations to claim that Mr. Obama was moving to quash only a narrow and innocuous definitional bill identical to federal law.
“I can tell you the sponsors always wanted the entire package of bills, which were introduced together and analyzed together,” said Pam Sutherland, who was president of the Illinois branch of Planned Parenthood at the time and is now the group’s lobbyist. “They never wanted them separated, because they wanted to make sure that physicians would be chilled into not performing abortions for fear of going to jail.”
Although views differ on the companionship of the two bills:
“Obama confuses these bills, which were entirely separate,” Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, said. “They had sequential numbers, but they were not in any way linked. To call them a package is a tactic to try to reach out and grab issues in an attempt to divert attention from this one.”
So Obama would have supported the bill that mirrored the Federal law if he could have figured out how, with a Democratic majority, to send just that out of committee and not the companion piece. Uh huh - per the Fact Check piece, we learn that the problem was not insurmountable:
And in fact, the 2005 version of the Illinois bill, which passed the Senate 52 to 0 (with four voting "present") after Obama had gone on to Washington, included an additional protective clause not included in the federal legislation: "Nothing in this Section shall be construed to affect existing federal or State law regarding abortion." Obama campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor says that Obama would have voted for that bill if he had been in state office at the time.
Yeah, that's the one he woud have supported.
Well - missing from the Times piece is a quote from the Obama campaign, which supports Newt's point. And I do think Newt had in mind a question at a nationally televised debate, of which the Democrats had many.
The Politico is no doubt working on this.
SINCE YOU ASKED: In pre-convention coverage of Obama's 'Catholic problem', John Broder of the Times delivered this summary of the issue:
Republicans are gearing up campaigns to depict Mr. Obama as a radical on the question of abortion, because as a state senator in Illinois he opposed a ban on the killing of fetuses born alive.
Mr. Obama has said he had opposed the bill because it was poorly drafted and would have threatened the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade that established abortion as a constitutional right. He said he would have voted for a similar bill that passed the United States Senate because it did not have the same constitutional flaw as the Illinois bill. Mr. Obama has opposed the federal ban on so-called partial-birth abortions for similar legal and constitutional reasons.
That explanation did not wash with many abortion foes and most Republicans.
''When you look at his opposition to the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act in Illinois and the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban, which many Mass-attending Catholics view as bans on infanticide, Obama's more extreme than any other Democratic presidential candidate,'' said Leonard Leo, who directed Catholic outreach for Republicans in 2004, and is an informal adviser to the party and the McCain campaign.
Gosh, I feel like a lot of nuance about the 2003 bill was lost in translation.
SEND BETTER REBUTTALS: Naureen Khan of the National Journal weighs in:
FACT CHECK: Gingrich Claim on Obama Infanticide Vote A Stretch
Obama did not vote to legalize infanticide, and the media did not ignore the issue.
The media did not ignore it? This is Newt's claim, from the Newsbusters transcription:
“You did not once in the 2008 campaign, not once did anybody in the elite media ask why Barack Obama voted in favor of legalizing infanticide.”
A more impressive rebuttal would be to find an instance of someone actually asking Obama about this. Literalists can (and no doubt will) argue that Newt's objection is met by the media asking other people about Obama's thought process, but since Newt was sitting on a stage before a nationally televised audience with a CNN interviewer, I would have thought his meaning was clear.
AND SPEAKING OF LITERALISTS: Erik Wemple of the WaPo picks one side but nods to the other:
That exchange alone [between William Bennet, Costello, and nurse turned newsmaker turned blogger Jill Stanek] would appear to nullify Gingrich’s claim about the elite media circa 2008. After all, Gingrich said merely that “Not once did anybody in the elite media ask why Barack Obama voted in favor of legalizing infanticide.” That formulation means that the members of the elite media didn’t need to ask Obama directly---they just needed to ask why. Another CNN segment on the same matter [between Benet and James Carville]...
And the nod to an alternative reality, after noting that John McCain raised the issue during a national debate:
Now who made Obama issue that defense? Could it have been debate moderator and elite media standard bearer Bob Schieffer? No, it was McCain, who used the debate to go after Obama on his record on abortion in Illinois. That turn of events would align with Gingrich’s media worldview, which is that you cannot rely on the left-leaning media to pose tough questions to liberal politicians. Such labor thus defaults to their political opponents.
Broken down word for word, Gingrich’s haymaker against the media looks like just another flailing attempt by an undisciplined politician to demonize an institution that conservatives despise. Yet if you consider what Gingrich may have intended to say — i.e., that Obama wasn’t pressed personally by the “elite media” on this question — there may be some daylight here for the speaker. Coming to a firm conclusion on that question, however, will take at least two more hours of database research, plus an analysis of umpteen 2008 primary debates, and then some.
In other words, based on a perfectly reasonable intrepetation of Newt's accusation (which was live, not a legal brief), Newt is right, or at least, unrebutted. Oh.
Well, if their goal is to prove Newt's point that the media relexively covers for Obama, Mission Accomplished.