The Briefing 03-15-17

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Fact checking Sen. Schumer at the Washington Post: No, Planned Parenthood does not provide mammograms

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Sore choice for liberal states under AHCA: Lose abortion coverage mandate or deny residents tax credit

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Changing the story? The background to Disney's new 'Beauty and the Beast'

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"Age compression": Why our children are getting older younger

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Transcript

The Briefing

March 15, 2017

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Wednesday, March 15, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Fact checking Sen. Schumer at the Washington Post: No, Planned Parenthood does not provide mammograms

The Washington Post, like so many other major American newspapers, now has what’s advertised as a fact checker column, and it’s always truly worthy of checking even if you don’t always agree with how they supposedly check the facts. But that particular column gave attention yesterday to a tweet that had been published by the Democratic leader of the United States Senate, New York Senator Chuck Schumer, and in that tweet the Senator had said,

“#Trumpcare cuts @PPFA funds [that’s Planned Parenthood Federation of America Funds], hurting millions of women who turn there for mammograms, maternity care, cancer screenings & more.”

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To its credit, the Washington Post decided to check that claim. And in terms of background the issue here is that the Washington Post had already checked similar claims and advertised a warning to Senators and other politicians less they make similar claims. Michelle Ye Hee Lee reports for the fact checker column at the Washington Post,

“There are some claims about abortion and Planned Parenthood that just won’t go away. One of them is the repeat claim about Planned Parenthood and mammograms. So of course, Schumer’s tweet caught our attention.”

The reporter then wrote,

“As Congress debates a GOP replacement for the Affordable Care Act, many Democratic lawmakers are coming to the defense of Planned Parenthood, whose federal funds would be cut under the House Republicans’ plan.”

Indeed that is the case. The current legislation proposed by House Republicans would strip the ability of Planned Parenthood to be recognized as a provider for medical services. That’s not because Planned Parenthood would be identified by name, it is because the legislation would prevent federal funds from going to any organization that is involved in abortion. Recently we talked about this and we talked about President Trump basically presenting Planned Parenthood, with a challenge in the form of a dare, saying that he would protect the roughly half billion dollars, that’s $500 million a year, of federal funding Planned Parenthood receives if it would only agree to drop abortion. But as we discussed on The Briefing, the response of Planned Parenthood was predictable and it was immediate. The organization said there was no way that it was going to drop abortion services, partly because, in the words of one spokesperson for the organization, that was one of their central values. That reveals a horrifying reality.

But we also have in this news story in the Washington Post evidence of the fact that the pressure is on Planned Parenthood and on the congressional defenders of that organization. Planned Parenthood is the central agency of the culture of death and it has plenty of political supporters, including of course the Democratic majority leader in the Senate, Senator Schumer. Now in his tweet the Senator was issuing a warning to Americans that if the Republican plan to replace ObamaCare were to go through, millions of women, in his language, would lose access to mammography and other critical medical services through Planned Parenthood. The mammography issue comes up again and again. That’s why the Washington Post in its fact checker column gave it so much attention. The reporter goes on to say,

“Mammograms have come to symbolize whether Planned Parenthood truly is a health-care organization, as supporters say, or mainly an abortion provider that masquerades as a reproductive health organization, as opponents say. Supporters of Planned Parenthood point to mammograms to illustrate the organization’s role in cancer screening and prevention for women.

“Supporters of Planned Parenthood often use slippery language to use this talking point. We previously gave Three Pinocchios [that is three marks of lying] to claims that Planned Parenthood ‘provides’ mammograms and other types of care for ‘millions of women.’”

In light of the Senator’s tweet, the column decided to review the facts again. These are the facts as stated by the Washington Post—remember the Washington Post, the major and most influential newspaper in the nation’s capital, is a very liberal newspaper and a stalwart defender of abortion rights and of Planned Parenthood. Thus, it’s particularly important that it is the Washington Post that sets the record straight in this way. I quote,

“Planned Parenthood does referrals for mammograms, and some affiliates host free mammography mobile vans for low-income and uninsured women. It does not have mammogram machines at its affiliate clinics. The Food and Drug Administration’s list, updated weekly, of certified mammography facilities does not list any [that is not a single] Planned Parenthood clinics.”

The column goes on to say that of the,

“2.5 million Patients [who] received 9.5 million services at Planned Parenthood affiliates [last year]… [most were] defined as ‘discrete clinical interaction.’

“Among all services, 7 percent were related to cancer screening and prevention and 13 percent were ‘other women’s health services.’”

Now I simply interject at this point to express appreciation for the gift of math, because if you add those together, that’s 7% and 13%, you’ll notice that altogether that’s 20%, which leaves the majority of these described as discrete clinical interactions as relating mostly to reproductive issues and, of course, abortion. Planned Parenthood as a minor part of its operation was involved in cancer screening, but as the Washington Post said, only about 3% of those screens resulted in a client referral for mammography, that’s 11,000. And here’s where the fact checker column goes back to Senator Schumer’s tweet pointing out that he said it was millions of women who turn to Planned Parenthood for mammograms. What we actually know is no one actually turns to Planned Parenthood for mammograms, they’re not even a certified mammography facility, and furthermore, in referrals only about 11,000 out of the multiple millions of what are described as clinical interactions.

In order to understand the most pressing issue we go back to the most important statement in this article. Michelle Ye Hee Lee wrote,

“Mammograms have come to symbolize whether Planned Parenthood truly is a health-care organization, as supporters say, or mainly an abortion provider that masquerades as a reproductive health organization, as opponents say.”

Now here in the middle of a giant moral controversy is the issue of language and description, and this is where intelligent Christians need to pay some very close attention. If you describe Planned Parenthood primarily as a healthcare organization, then it will be hard to understand why you would want to disqualify it if indeed it is helping millions and millions of women in terms of its main operation and ambition, including such things as cancer screenings. But in reality, Planned Parenthood is not primarily in this business at all. It is primarily about what the name of the organization makes clear, it is about Planned Parenthood. Actually, it’s even more about planning non-parenthood. And it is no mistake that abortion is identified as one of its central values.

I discussed on The Briefing before that the math is slippery in more than one way because even as they talk about multiple millions of discrete clinical evaluations, that actually involves every single conversation that a woman might have with anyone at a Planned Parenthood facility. Abortion looms large financially; it looms large operationally in terms of what Planned Parenthood does and why it exists in the first place. And furthermore, morally speaking, it looms larger than any other issue.

But credit here goes to the Washington Post and to the fact checker column for actually serving us well in identifying the crucial issue, and that comes down to whether or not Planned Parenthood is a medical health provider or primarily an abortion clinic that is masquerading as being in the healthcare business. And we also owe the Washington Post for having the courage to be very honest about the fact that Planned Parenthood doesn’t have a single facility that is recognized for offering mammograms. Thus Senator Schumer, though he may have somehow believed he was saying the truth, nonetheless was extremely misleading. And that in itself was no accident. The defenders of Planned Parenthood have to present it as something other than what it actually is. And they do so repeatedly. This time at least they got called on it.

Sore choice for liberal states under AHCA: Lose abortion coverage mandate or deny residents tax credit

But next before leaving this issue, the New York Times had a very important article in recent days by Kate Zernike. The headline was,

“Republican Health Care Bill Targets Abortion Coverage.”

Now of course it does; it is straightforward in doing so. President Trump was also straightforward on the campaign trail and in the White House as stating that this is one of his requirements of any bill that he would sign. But here you see in the New York Times, once again, a defense of Planned Parenthood and the entire edifice of abortion. But this article also points to something really interesting. As Zernike writes,

“For now, the proposal would create a big problem for two of the largest and most liberal states: California, where state law requires insurers to cover abortion, and New York, which has long encouraged coverage by including it in its model plan of what insurers have to cover. Massachusetts, too, has long indicated that insurers should cover abortion as ‘medically necessary.’”

It then goes on to say,

“The law, if passed, would all but make it impossible for Californians to use the new tax credits to buy health insurance.”

Gretchen Borchelt, who is Vice President for Reproductive Rights and Health, that’s her title, at the National Women’s Law Center said,

“States would be faced with this choice: Do we get rid of our abortion coverage requirement, or deny state residents all the tax credits? It’s putting states in a really terrible position.”

Well there you see the great cultural divide in America as represented in three states that are listed here—the states of California, New York, and Massachusetts—over against this new federal legislation as proposed. Yes indeed it would put those three states in a very difficult position, because they would have to make a very difficult choice. They would have to decide if they’re more committed to abortion or to the ability of their citizens to buy qualified healthcare plans. They won’t be able to have it both ways. But another way to look at this, of course, is to recognize that right now in those states, in so far as these plans are covered, all of the taxpayers of those states are now complicit in abortion, paying for abortion coverage even if it violates their conscience.

Most of the reporting on the Republican health care plan is paying attention to matters of administration and economics. Christians understand that those are not irrelevant issues, but at the center of our concern must be the understanding of what it means to be human, including what it means to be a human in the womb.

Changing the story? The background to Disney's new 'Beauty and the Beast'

Next, we turn to the continuing cultural conversation concerning Disney and the movie “Beauty and the Beast,” but our purpose in doing so is to look to a far bigger context and that is this: What does this conversation, what do these developments tell us about the true nature of our cultural moment? What does this actually tell us not so much just about one movie or about one production company, but rather about America as our culture now stands? In the New York Times, Brooks Barnes wrote,

“The mood at Walt Disney Studios here last spring was euphoric: A risky live-action remake of one of Disney’s most beloved animated films, “Beauty and the Beast,” was coming off without a hitch. Disney had assembled an all-star cast led by Emma Watson as Belle. A bet on untested technology to create a brutish yet empathetic Beast had paid off. A 90-second teaser trailer had generated a record 92 million views in its first day online, leaving Hollywood slack-jawed — not even “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” had attracted as much interest.

“But then came a tempest in an actual teapot.”

And this has to do with those who know the animated story at Disney concerning Mrs. Potts. It turns out that when you shift from an animated movie to a live action movie with real actors, it’s virtually impossible to create a human actor who looks like a teapot without making that actor look absolutely ridiculous. In the animated version of “Beauty and the Beast,” Mrs. Potts, as you know the character, was actually a teapot. But in the live action movie, we’re talking about a human actor merely named Mrs. Potts. There was an immediate backlash in terms of the change to the story, “a tempest is in a teapot,” explained the New York Times, but actually, as we’ve seen in recent days, the story has become a little more interesting and more troubling with the development of a gay character and a gay storyline in at least one part of the movie. “A nice little exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie” was the way the director had described it.

Brooks Barnes, the reporter then explained this way,

“For Hollywood, it’s a tale as old as time: Mess with memories, even with the best intentions, and face the consequences.

“Usually these brouhahas quickly blow over, as was the case with Mrs. Potts. In other instances — the recent dust-up over a gay supporting character in “Beauty and the Beast” comes to mind — online consternation can snowball into a potentially damaging news story.”

[He] then asked the question,

“Why did Disney decide that modernizing “Beauty and the Beast” was a risk worth taking? And what is behind the studio’s plans to do the same with “The Lion King,” “The Little Mermaid” and a host of other animated gems that fans hold near and dear?”

The Times goes on to say,

“Some people see a cynical money grab, a way to keep those theme park turnstiles clicking and little girls begging their parents for princess gowns. But the answer is actually a lot more complex.”

Well, the answer comes down to the fact that Disney is sitting on some huge cultural assets in terms of these classic films, and they would argue that they have a duty to their stockholders to whom they have a responsibility to increase value, to be good stewards of those stories, and that means, in terms of their definition, introducing a whole new generation to a new form of the movie that, yes, would have enormous spinoffs in terms of product recognition, sales, and all kinds of ancillary benefits. But tampering with the story is necessary, because if you’re going to remake the story, you’re going to have to change it in some way, even if in this case it was advertised at first that it’s basically a shift from “Beauty and the Beast” as an animated movie to “Beauty and the Beast” as a life action movie.

The New York Times article just goes into the fact that this is risky for Hollywood and for any production organization; it’s risky because people actually have an emotional investment in these stories. At just about the same time, USA Today had a story that wasn’t so much asking about why we mess with memories, but pointing to the fact that Belle in terms of the new live-action movie is now presented very differently than Belle was in the animated form. This Belle is quite more self-assertive and is quite more independent, and this Belle most particularly is not a princess. Just ask her. In the movie she makes very clear, “I am not a princess.”

The new Belle, as USA Today says, “would look more at home in a new Anthropologie store than in the old animated form of the movie.” Cara Kelly, reporting for USA Today says that this was Disney’s opportunity to remake the idea of the female lead in this particular story, and remake they did. And here we need to note that this tells us a great deal about at least how Disney understands the modern audience and, of course, the cultural influences that are exerting enormous pressure on anyone who would tell any story and would tell it to the American public. There is enormous pressure, especially in the artistic and cultural creative community, towards anyone who would tell any story. There are people who are counting every appearance of every female and male, every appearance of everyone who might be identified by identity politics and how anyone is treated, in particular those who are designated as minorities, including sexual minorities. That’s how we ended up with this storyline.

"Age compression": Why our children are getting older younger

But the really scary part in all of this is actually another article on Disney that was published just in recent days, again by the same reporter Brooks Barnes, this one comes with a more ominous and more important headline,

“As kids get mature faster, Disney adapts.”

Once again we see Disney and this controversy as an x-ray of sorts of the moral condition of our culture. Here we are told straightforwardly in this article in the New York Times that Disney is updating its stories because the audience is actually far more mature. Now how is maturity envisioned here? It is clearly saying that the audience, including the audience of younger viewers, is looking for more challenging content. It’s more sexually explicit, more ideologically charged, more dark in terms of themes and subject matter, than what we would previously have expected in terms of movies directed at an audience of the same age. The chief evidence that is brought forth in terms of this article is not actually “Beauty and the Beast,” but the Disney Channel in a sitcom, one of which is called “Andi Mack,” described as a comedic drama aimed at children ages 6 to 14 and their parents.

“While it is just one show, it represents a startling new direction for the squeaky-clean network, whose ratings are decaying as children, reaching puberty earlier and raised on the oh-so-cool Netflix, gravitate to live-action programming with more edge and authenticity.”

Now note those words “edge and authenticity.” This is another way of saying that now younger audiences in America want to press the moral boundaries. They expect that because they have been trained to do so by their exposure to other media, including what’s named here, Netflix. And then there is authenticity. To what does that refer? It refers to the fact that Disney and its audience are now understood to expect to reflect not so much an ideal that would be respected and emulated by the culture, but rather what might be described as the nitty-gritty reality of human life and of families in the United States. Barnes goes on to say,

“As storytelling tastes change and viewing habits shift, the predictable formulas are no longer enough.

“The internet has created more curious and progressive kids. That has led to what the industry calls ‘age compression’ — getting older younger. At the same time, Netflix in many ways has become the go-to outlet for families. YouTube has also had an enormous impact.”

For Christians there are important categories here to note, that inside the industry there’s the term called “age compression,” which means that children are getting older younger. That should be a major cue to us of something of incredible importance. Then there is also the straightforward argument here that the Internet “has created more curious and progressive kids.”

“Progressive” there, make no mistake, is a moral category. It is saying that the internet has produced a change in the moral viewpoint of younger Americans. That again is a very important cue. There’s a great deal of attention right now to the impact of the internet on all of us. There are some important new books that have just been written raising that very question. Those are getting a good deal of cultural attention, but for parents I can’t imagine anything that is more explosive than this.

Now let’s remind ourselves of the background. Here’s that article in the New York Times; it’s an article about how Disney as one company is adapting to a changing audience. But the changing audience is the big story here. Disney is adapting to a changing audience that it understands has been altered by age compression. It should be haunting to all of us that this tells us that children are now getting older younger. They’re not getting older, of course, chronologically younger; they’re getting older morally and in terms of their exposure to storylines and realities and of course ideological messaging as well. And it would be bad enough if that’s where it ended, but as we know we’re talking here about also more sexually explicit content, including exposure to pornography. Once a child has been exposed to that kind of sexually explicit content, you can understand why everything else appears rather childish. But that is heartbreaking. It’s exceedingly sad. And then you have the recognition in this article that the internet is not a benign presence in the lives of human beings and in particular in the lives of the young specifically, because right here in this article it’s simply taken for granted that,

“The Internet has created more curious and progressive kids.”

I honestly don’t think I’ve seen any statement like that in which it’s just taken for granted that the internet has led to a moral change in American adolescents, but there it is, right there in black and white in this article, and it’s an article that appears in a section of the New York Times devoted to business. This is supposed to be telling us how businesses are now adapting to a new audience reality. But for Christians, Christians who are seeking to think through a Christian worldview, the bigger lesson is this: That audience is made up of our own children and our own neighbors and our own grandchildren.

The battle for eyes includes the battle for our eyes. But here you have the reality that American children, producers are now recognizing—those who are getting ready to confront our children with cultural content and entertainment—they recognize that children are now getting older younger. If even Hollywood knows to pay attention to what it identifies as “age compression,” so surely must we.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing