Hillary Clinton, the media and the common good

This story appears in the Election 2016 feature series. View the full series.

by Christine Schenk

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I've been a big fan of Hillary Clinton ever since she fought to expand health care coverage in the 1990s, when I was working as a nurse midwife to low-income families. Too many struggling pregnant women were showing up at my hospital in premature labor because they couldn't afford prenatal care.

Too many went on to give birth to premature babies at enormous cost to themselves and to my hospital. We accepted everyone regardless of ability to pay. Many costs like these wind up being shared by everyone because hospital charges often reflect the hidden expense of unreimbursed care. This eventually gets passed on in higher insurance premiums.

So it makes me mad when I hear political pundits say inane things like the 1994 health reform effort failed because Hillary and her staff were secretive.


The plan failed for a number of complex reasons, not least of which was opposition from insurance companies who, afraid of reduced profits, scared the public with their infamous "Harry and Louise" ads.

It would take another 16 years of escalating greed before the political climate changed enough to pass the Affordable Care Act.

But Hillary didn't give up. She worked with Sen. Ted Kennedy to pass the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that provided health care coverage for millions of vulnerable children whose families didn't qualify for Medicaid.

I'm appalled by the unrelenting media bias peddling a false narrative that Hillary Clinton is secretive and untrustworthy. Never mind that Jill Abramson -- an investigative journalist who covered Clinton "scandals" for decades -- finds Hillary "honest and trustworthy." Never mind that Politifact rates the majority of Clinton's statements as true or mostly true compared to just 15 percent of Donald Trump's. 

Years of politically motivated (and tax payer-funded) investigations from Whitewater to Benghazi to email servers never found one shred of illegal activity on Hillary's part. But some of the mud stuck, and it provides a rich soil for voracious media ever in search of sensational stories and higher ratings.

E.J. Dionne recently called media bias a "new crisis of credibility":

Trump is being held to a much lower standard than is Hillary Clinton, which, in turn, means that while relatively short shrift is given to each new Trump scandal, the same old Clinton scandals get covered again and again.

Recently the Boston Globe, Washington Monthly, CNN, and other media outlets harshly criticized the Associated Press over its "drummed up" non-story alleging donors to the Clinton Foundation were inappropriately given State Department access on Hillary's watch.

Michael Cohen from the Globe called the AP story "pure fiction":

The scandal here seems to be that people who gave money to the Clinton Foundation had emails sent to the Clinton State Department requesting favors that were repeatedly denied. Still, evidence has never been the key ingredient of a Clinton scandal. Optics and the appearance of scandal are always where the action has been.

No wonder Trump has seemed impervious to fact checking. Our journalists are failing us. Ordinary people trust the media to provide accurate information, but when even the Associated Press grossly distorts the facts, whom can you trust?

Why is there such vicious opposition to this good woman who has given her life to public service and to the marginalized among us?

Are heavy-hitting financial interests really so fearful that she will succeed in narrowing the gap between the haves and the have-nots? Are Hillary haters impervious to fact checking themselves? 

Or do people just hate (or fear) smart, competent, "uppity" women?

As someone of a certain age who lived through the "women's lib" movement, I've seen a fair amount of sexism in my time -- starting with my Catholic high school when the class valedictorian had to be a boy even though nine girls had better grade averages than he did. (I know, because I was one of those girls.)

Matt Lauer's penchant for repeatedly interrupting Hillary Clinton while allowing Donald Trump to natter on unchallenged is a good example of (presumably) unconscious sexism. He also asked Clinton more challenging questions and questioned her statements more often.

Unfortunately extensive research about gender stereotypes and discrimination reveals that Lauer's behavior is not atypical.

In a 2014 study, Adrienne Hancock of George Washington University found if a man's conversational partner was female he interrupted her significantly more often than if he was speaking with another man. Women were less likely to interrupt men then they were other women.

On the plus side, I suppose it is good that latent sexism is being brought to light. But we are also seeing racism; bigotry, blatant lies, and xenophobia crawl out from Donald Trump's dark side. And he validates that darkness in others like him.

It is all very scary.

But it is even scarier when media professionals abandon their responsibility to the truth and/or imply there is any moral equivalence whatsoever between these two candidates.

At election time, Catholics are guided by Catholic social teaching:

It is imperative that no one, out of indifference to the course of events or because of inertia, would indulge in a merely individualistic morality. The best way to fulfill one's obligations of justice and love is to contribute to the common good according to one's means and the needs of others, and also to promote and help public and private organizations devoted to bettering the conditions of life.(Gaudium et Spes: Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, article 30)

I'll leave it to you to decide which candidate has contributed more to the common good.

[St. Joseph Sr. Christine Schenk served urban families for 18 years as a nurse midwife before co-founding FutureChurch, where she served for 23 years. She holds master's degrees in nursing and theology.]

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