Sixteen years later, media still peddle Bob Casey myth
For the past 16 years, news organizations have been repeating an obvious falsehood about the 1992 Democratic convention. According to countless news reports -- in The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Associated Press, ABC, NPR, Time, Newsweek, CNN, MSNBC, The Wall Street Journal, and on and on and on -- then-Pennsylvania governor Bob Casey was denied a speaking role at the convention because he opposed abortion rights.
That's false. And it's obviously false.
Here's all you need to know in order to know with absolute certainty that Casey's views on abortion were not the reason he was not given a speaking role: that very same Democratic convention featured speeches by at least eight people who shared Casey's anti-choice position, including Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley Jr., Sens. John Breaux and Howell Heflin, and five governors.
This is really, really simple: if there were eight speakers at the 1992 convention who were "pro-life," then it cannot logically be the case that Casey was excluded solely because of his position on abortion.
Yet here's The New York Times, just last week: "Sixteen years ago, the Democratic Party refused to allow Robert P. Casey Sr., then the governor of Pennsylvania, to speak at its national convention because his anti-abortion views, stemming from his Roman Catholic faith, clashed with the party's platform and powerful constituencies."
No. That is not true. That cannot be true. It cannot be the case that he was not allowed to speak because of his views -- other people with the same views were allowed to speak. Forgive the repetition, but reporters at nearly every significant news organization in the country are inexplicably incapable of grasping this extraordinarily simple concept. And when Media Matters pointed out the error, did the Times run a correction? No. The Times apparently stands by its transparent falsehood. That is not a sign of a newspaper that gives a damn about the truth.
Not that the Times is alone in its willingness to traffic in obvious falsehoods. The Associated Press joined in this week, embellishing the claim: "the late Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey ... was not given a marquee speaking spot at the 1992 convention because of his anti-abortion views." ABC put it similarly: "Casey ... was denied a prime speaking spot at the 1992 convention because of his opposition to abortion rights."
Those reports contained a new twist to go along with the old falsehood: They assumed that absent Casey's views on abortion, he would have been entitled to a "prime" or "marquee" speaking spot at the convention. But there's simply no reason to think that is the case. Casey wasn't a nationally renowned orator like convention speakers Mario Cuomo, Ann Richards, and Zell Miller, or the governor of the host state like Cuomo, or a leader influential with a large party constituency like Jesse Jackson.
Casey certainly wasn't a nobody -- he was the governor of Pennsylvania, and that's a significant thing. But it isn't something that would have entitled him to a speaking spot at the convention, much less a "marquee" spot. Not everybody gets to speak at a national party convention.
And based on contemporaneous media coverage from the months preceding the Democratic convention, there simply wasn't a widespread assumption that Casey would speak -- or even speculation that he might. In fact, a review of the news reports available in the Nexis database that mention Casey's name within 20 words of the word "convention" for the several months preceding the party gathering suggests that the only person suggesting that Casey might speak was ... Bob Casey himself. It seems from the public record that Casey wasn't "denied" a speaking spot because of his views on abortion -- he was never really considered, and nobody was suggesting he would be a good choice to speak. (By contrast, there were scores of news reports about Democrats wanting Cuomo to speak at the convention before an announcement was made that he would do so.)
People involved in planning the 1992 Democratic convention have long maintained that Casey was not given an opportunity to speak because he refused to endorse Bill Clinton, who was to be nominated at the convention. That's what they said at the time, too. The Washington Post's first report on Casey's request for speaking time included a quote from the Democratic National Committee's press secretary: "anyone who is speaking at the convention will have endorsed Governor Clinton by the time of the convention and Governor Casey has not."
It should be noted that it wasn't merely that Casey hadn't gotten around to endorsing Clinton. He was arguing that Clinton had only a "flyspeck" of support and that the party should consider nominating someone else at the convention.
Of course, only those involved in the decisions about who would speak at the convention know for certain if Casey's refusal to endorse Clinton was the reason he wasn't given a speaking role. But we do know that as soon as Casey asked for one, the Democratic Party publicly indicated that his failure to endorse Clinton would prevent him from speaking. If the convention organizers were making a bluff, Casey could have called it by simply endorsing Clinton. He chose not to. Instead, he began denouncing the party for having a "radical, extreme position" in favor of abortion rights and claiming it was bowing to "the radical far left." Members of his own delegation were quoted saying he was "being a jerk" and said they were considering removing him as head of the delegation.
It's also important to keep in mind that Casey didn't merely want to speak at the convention. He wanted to devote his entire speech to opposing the Democratic Party on a single issue. After the convention ended, Casey released the text of the speech he would have delivered had he been given the chance. The speech ran more than 1,000 words -- and not one of those words was "Clinton." Nor was the word "Gore" mentioned. Casey's speech did not include a single word of praise or support for the ticket being nominated at the convention he wanted to address. Instead, it accused the party of being "far out of the mainstream and on the extreme fringe" on abortion. That's what the entire speech was about: disagreeing with, and insulting, the Democratic Party on abortion.
And yet the media pretend Casey's lack of a speaking role at the 1992 convention tells us something about the Democratic Party. OK, quick: Name a single example in modern history of a Republican who has not endorsed the GOP nominee being given time to give an address at the party's convention -- an address that does not support or even mention the nominee, but rather consists solely of arguing against and insulting the party's position on abortion. You can't name one, because it has never happened. Nor do I recall many speeches at recent Republican conventions arguing in favor of gay rights or against the Iraq war. Nobody points to that as evidence of the Republicans' intolerance of divergent viewpoints.
And yet, ever since the 1992 convention, the news media have portrayed the lack of a speaking role for Casey as evidence of the Democratic Party's supposed intolerance of anti-choice politicians -- a portrayal gleefully encouraged by Republicans. As ABC reported this week:
The 1992 snub has become a symbol over the years of the Democratic Party making support for abortion rights a litmus test. In 2004, Republicans contrasted the Casey snub with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, R-Calif., and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, R-NY., two Republicans who support abortion rights, speaking to their convention.
But unlike Casey, Giuliani and Schwarzenegger had endorsed their party's nominee. And neither Giuliani nor Schwarzenegger delivered a speech that consisted solely of disagreeing with the GOP's position on abortion. Instead, they delivered strong endorsements of George W. Bush. The situations aren't even remotely comparable. The Republicans' granting of convention speeches to Schwarzenegger and Giuliani isn't a contrast to the Democrats' not giving Casey a speech; it is instead a direct analog to John Breaux and Howell Heflin and other anti-choice Democrats who have spoken at Democratic conventions. The comparison of Giuliani to Casey would be laughable even if it were true that Casey's position on abortion kept him from a speaking role. But ABC pretended the bogus contrast was apt.
If you spend a few minutes browsing through news articles available on Nexis, you won't have any trouble finding absurdities like this. Here's one particularly convoluted comparison, from a Buffalo News columnist writing in November 2004:
In August, Republicans paraded a squad of pro-choice speakers on prime time. They didn't talk about abortion rights there, certainly, but their prominence beckoned to the undecided. In the VIP box sat Vice President Cheney's lesbian daughter, Mary, and her partner, Heather Poe.
Contrast these shallow bows to cross-culturalism to what happened to the party of inclusion a dozen years before in the same building. The forces of then Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton barred Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Casey from making any address to the Democratic convention.
Casey was the most influential anti-abortion voice in the nation. He passed the country's most stringent abortion controls and won re-election by more than a million votes.
Whatever one's views on abortion, it is undeniable now that the Republicans have handled their relationships with social-issue constituencies far more deftly than the Democrats have with theirs.
Got that? The 2004 Republican convention featured pro-choice speakers who didn't talk about abortion rights. And that's supposed to be an inclusive, tolerant contrast to the 1992 Democratic convention at which eight anti-choice Democrats spoke. Why? Because Casey (supposedly) wasn't allowed to give a speech that would have been entirely about his opposition to abortion. The Republicans handled things more deftly than the Democrats by doing exactly what the Democrats did -- featuring speakers who disagree with them on abortion, but who didn't give speeches about the topic.
Let's end where we began, by making this as simple as possible.
Eight Democrats who opposed abortion rights spoke at the 1992 Democratic convention.
Therefore, it cannot be the case that Bob Casey was prevented from speaking at the 1992 convention because of his opposition to abortion rights.
The fact that Rudy Giuliani, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and other pro-choice Republicans have spoken at recent Republican conventions does not in any way contrast with the way Casey was treated; their speeches were not devoted entirely to disagreeing with and insulting their party. Unlike the speech Casey wanted to give, Giuliani and Schwarzenegger devoted their convention addresses to supporting their party's nominee.
Giuliani, Schwarzenegger, and other pro-choice Republican convention speakers are, instead, directly analogous to the numerous anti-choice Democrats who have spoken at Democratic conventions in recent years.
This really isn't complicated stuff. There's no excuse for news organizations getting it wrong. They're just falling for bogus spin, and they don't care enough to get things right.