How Race for the Cure Coverage Led to Myth About the Cause

February 28th, 2012 · No Comments · Uncategorized

By Denise Tessier

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, who criticized President Obama for his handling of contraception coverage, nonetheless in a column that ran in Saturday’s Albuquerque Journal took up for the president in terms of the continuing personal attacks the controversy has spawned.

As Dionne points out, when Obama isn’t a Muslim, as some opponents claim, he’s a secularist waging war on religion.

To follow up, as promised, on Monday’s post about religious rhetoric, I’d like to borrow a few lines from Dionne’s column, which reflect on the political comments of recent weeks:

. . .many in the anti-Obama camp just can’t stop themselves from playing on fears that electing a man who defies old stereotypes was a terrible mistake. Thus did the Rev. Franklin Graham assert Tuesday on MSNBC not only that Muslims regard Obama as “a son of Islam” (because his father was Muslim) but also that . . .(Obama) seems to be more concerned about them than the Christians that are being murdered in the Muslim countries.”

Graham slightly softened his comments on CNN Wednesday, but it remains troubling that he chose to turn a legitimate concern about the persecution of Christians into a slander.

In the meantime, Republican presidential candidates want to take a disagreement over whether and how contraception should be covered in plans issued under the new health-care law and turn it into a war against religion itself.

In short:

Obama’s adversaries are reheating all the old tropes and clichés and slanders.

Reheating is being done, I might add, by their many foot soldiers – those who aggregate the old tropes and email them, or who, I might add, disseminate discredited information the old-fashioned way: by letter to the editor.

Case in point: In between the story about the administration’s contraception mandate and its editorial on the topic, the Albuquerque Journal ran stories about the breast cancer non-profit, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, withdrawing financial support for mammograms done by Planned Parenthood. A-section stories ran Feb. 3 (“Cancer Charity Battling Backlash”), Feb. 4 (“Komen Retracts Funding Decision”) and Feb. 5 (“Supporters Conflicted: Those who once backed Komen now left disillusioned”). A story also appeared on the bottom of the State Legislature page one day.

And predictably, the controversy brought out the old discredited myth about abortion, one of which is the myth that abortions cause breast cancer.

Egregiously, the Journal allowed a letter writer (Feb. 14) to use the Komen/Planned Parenthood controversy to claim that breast cancer numbers are increasing because of abortions. The letter, “Support Abortion, Boost Breast Cancer,” gave itself credibility by advising readers to  check for themselves the “peer-reviewed research” she found on two anti-abortion websites, here and here.

Like the feckless Indiana legislator whose own Internet research led to his refusal to sign a memorial celebrating Girl Scouts, this letter writer found web sites supporting her anti-abortion views, and solely passed on those views to the Journal’s readership.

Thus, the Journal allowed her to perpetuate a web-based myth that has been proven false by the National Cancer Institute.

We’ve talked before at ABQJournalWatch about the limited oversight Journal editors exercise on letters and opinion columns. But the Journal should have spiked this one, because in running it,  the Journal perpetuated a myth, just like those well-meaning but annoying folks who forward to their entire email lists erroneous and outrageous warnings, only to meekly send out an apology a few days later.

The Journal’s version of the follow-up disclaimer is to rely on another letter writer to correct the error; in this case, a Dr. Tom Gross of Los Ranchos, who on Feb. 21 wrote:

The supposed abortion/breast cancer connection has been laid to rest, despite pseudo-scientific garbage to the contrary. If you wish to argue the morality of these sorts of issues, fine, but don’t dismiss the hard work of actual scientists to try to bolster your agenda. All you need to do is look at the New England Journal of Medicine dated Dec. 8. . .

The article mentioned in the letter discusses not only the National Cancer Institute study, but subsequent studies that further discount the abortion/breast cancer claim.

To be fair, two of the letters than ran Feb. 12 in favor of the administration’s coverage of contraceptives in a national health plan (for which no Journal link is available) contained discredited information as well.

Both letters referred to a Huffington Post article by Robert Creamer that claimed 98 percent of women – and 98 percent of Catholic women – use contraceptives. Creamer, it should be noted, did not link to anything supporting this claim. Indeed, further research reveals these numbers are misleading and continue to be repeated despite contradictory clarification by the authors of the original report being cited.

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