Sebelius for HHS: The George Tiller False Attack in the MSM
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is President Obama’s nominee to head the Department of Health and Human Services. Under her leadership in Kansas, abortions dropped by more than 10%. While pro-choice, she is personally opposed to abortion and has worked to reduce the number of abortions in the very red state where she, a pro-choice Democrat, was elected twice as governor.
THE FALSE ATTACK:
While this record has brought Gov. Sebelius praise from many religious leaders, including Catholics and Evangelicals, she has drawn heat from right-wing groups. One of their main pillars of attack is based on her alleged “close” connection to Dr. George Tiller, a late-term abortion provider in Kansas who’s now facing criminal charges. Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, for example, FRC claims that “she has had a close personal and financial association with the nation’s most infamous abortion doctor, George Tiller, who specializes in late-term abortions.” The Liberty Council claims, “Sebelius has close ties with late-term abortionist George Tiller…Sebelius honored Tiller and his entire abortion clinic staff at the Governor’s mansion in April 2007. Tiller has contributed thousands of dollars to Sebelius and to her PAC.” Operation Rescue President Troy Newman went so far as to put it this way: “With Obama’s appointment of Gov. Sebelius to the Department of Health and Human Services, he might as well be appointing George Tiller…”
George Tiller purchased the right to attend a reception at the governor’s mansion with Gov. Sebelius by buying a table for the reception in a fundraising auction. Gov. Sebelius did not invite him to attend. Gov. Sebelius has not taken financial contributions from Tiller as a gubernatorial candidate or as governor and she appointed the state Attorney General who is prosecuting the case against him.
THE FALSE ATTACK IN THE ECHO CHAMBER:
Unfortunately, the misinformation isn’t limited to fringe groups. Major news outlets are repeating it.
New York Times: “Anti-abortion leaders also criticize her for hosting a reception at the governor’s mansion in 2007 attended by George Tiller, a prominent Wichita abortion provider. At the time, Dr. Tiller was under investigation and now is about to go on trial for 19 misdemeanor charges of violating state restrictions on late-term abortions, according to news reports.”
This report misrepresents the reception, which Dr. Tiller purchased the right to attend, and fails to note that Gov. Sebelius appointed the attorney general investigating Tiller for those charges of violating state restrictions on late-term abortions.
The Hill makes a virtually identical mistake.
Fredericksburg (Va.) Free Lance-Star: “The governor also has an oddly close relationship with George Tiller, a Wichita doctor who brags on his Web site that he has performed more than 60,000 late-term abortions since 1973. He’s now facing trial for 19 counts of performing illegal abortions. A major contributor to Democratic campaigns, Mr. Tiller has been fÃªted at the governor’s mansion.”
The governor’s relationship with Dr. Tiller isn’t “oddly close” and she hasn’t “fÃªted” him. Tiller purchased the right to attend the reception at the governor’s mansion and she has not accepted donations from him as a gubernatorial candidate or as governor — key facts the story doesn’t mention.
Fox News: “Kansas-based Operation Rescue says it will launch a full-out campaign against Sebelius because, as governor, she has had the support of Dr. George Tiller, who has been indicted for allegedly performing late-term abortions on underage girls.”
Later on in the story, Fox provides a bit more context, but in the lede of this story, the connection between Gov. Sebelius and Dr. Tiller is misstated, for the reasons listed above.
Sidebar: Fox News gets it wrong on the Bush “conscience” rule: “Sebelius’ opponents point out that HHS already is in the process of undoing a Bush administration regulation that allows medical personnel to refuse to provide abortion or sterilization services based on religious or moral grounds.”
HHS is not, in fact, in the process of undoing regulations that allow medical personnel to provide abortion. While the Bush “conscience” rule (which went into effect at the midnight hour of Bush’s presidency on January 20, 2009) is currently being reviewed by the Obama Administration, there is a 30-year history of legislation, which Obama supports, that protects medical providers from being forced to provide abortions against their personal moral or religious beliefs.
CORRECTING THE RECORD:
On a more positive note, CNN, which originally misreported the Sebelius/Tiller story, has now corrected it. Originally, the CNN story read: “Another lightning rod for Sebelius is a 2007 reception she held for Dr. George Tiller at the governor’s mansion in Topeka. Tiller, who specializes in late-term abortions and who once received the National Abortion Federation’s highest honor, is presently facing charges relating to his practice.”
After FPL contacted them with the facts, they fixed the story . It now reads: “Another lightning rod for Sebelius is attendance by Dr. George Tiller and his staff at a 2007 reception she held at the governor’s mansion in Topeka. The doctor, who specializes in late-term abortions and once received the National Abortion Federation’s highest honor, won the reception at a charity auction held for the Greater Kansas City Women’s Political Caucus, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.”
Other reporters need to follow CNN’s lead and fix factual errors in their stories on this attack. Americans deserve accurate information about the president’s pick for such an important post.