- - Friday, February 24, 2012

This year’s presidential election will be a contest between truth and lies. Don’t think it’s that stark? Let’s compare how the media handled two incidents. On Feb. 16, philanthropist Foster Friess, a major backer and adviser to Rick Santorum, cracked a joke that became a media sensation.

In an MSNBC interview with Andrea Mitchell, who asked him if Mr. Santorum’s socially conservative stances would harm his “viability,” Mr. Friess lamented that other issues, such as the economy and national security, were being eclipsed by the focus on sex. Then he quipped, “You know, back in my days, they’d use Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly.”

That’s an old one, but because it raises the issue of moral volition, all but humorless feminists usually chuckle. But listen to this from The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart: “Friess‘ stupefying, backward and dangerous response had jaws dropping from coast to coast. … The view espoused by Friess is dumb and grim.” He finished by describing the idea of Mr. Friess having White House access someday as “terrifying.”

Mr. Capehart is also terrified by defining marriage as a bride and a groom, so it’s not all that surprising that Mr. Friess‘ joke scared him silly.

Over on CBS.com, Lucy Madison reported the incident with a headline proclaiming, “Foster Friess: In my day, women ‘used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives.’ “

Ms. Madison explains, deadpan: “Friess‘ implication is that if women hold aspirin between their legs, they won’t open them.” Ah, now we get it. Thanks, Ms. Madison.

Likewise, the Associated Press’ Julie Carr Smyth and Steve Peoples reported: “Foster Friess, the main donor behind Santorum’s ‘super PAC,’ created a stir Thursday when he suggested on national television that aspirin used to be an acceptable method for contraception.”

No, he didn’t. He told a joke. Mr. Friess, whom I know as a friend, often cracks jokes to lighten very serious discussions. He regards a sense of humor as one of God’s finest gifts to us.

Contrast the media’s thrashing of Mr. Friess with the kid-glove treatment they gave North Carolina Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue after she got caught on tape Sept. 27 saying, “I think we ought to suspend, perhaps, elections for Congress for two years and just tell them we won’t hold it against them, whatever decisions they make, to just let them help this country recover.”

The tape reveals that she was serious, without a hint of irony. But the Raleigh News & Observer’s political blog ran this headline: “Perdue jokes about suspending congressional elections for two years.” The article itself said it was “unclear” whether Perdue was “serious.”

USA Today’s Catalina Camia, under the headline “N.C. Gov. Perdue: Suspend elections for Congress,” began her report with this benefit-of-the-doubt lead:

“Was North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue joking when she suggested holding off on elections for Congress?”

Two weeks ago, President Obama showed how to play this game. Caught in a hurricane of reaction against his administration’s tyrannical order to Catholic hospitals to offer insurance covering contraceptives, abortifacients and sterilizations, he pretended it was still being negotiated. “It became clear,” he told a hastily arranged Feb. 10 news conference, “that spending months hammering out a solution was not going to be an option.”

Reality check: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in January gave hospitals one year to comply - or lose federal funding.

A Wall Street Journal editorial noted that when a reporter had asked, “Just to be clear, so it’s giving them a year to comply rather than giving them a year to in any way change how they feel or the administration to change how it feels,” a senior official replied, “That is correct. It gives them a year to comply.”

Story Continues →