Who ya callin' a liar?

456px-Rembrandt_Harmensz__van_Rijn_079We haven't seen a bill voted out of the House of Representatives yet, but the culture war about health care reform is in full tilt, with allegations from conservatives that bills will include federal funding for abortions -- not to mention "death panels" that will chose who will live, and who will die. Interestingly, President Obama, instead of attempting to soothe the troubled waters, has chosen to enter the fray at this point with some pretty strong language of its own.

The Presidude got my attention when I heard the way he characterized some of his more outspoken opponents in a phone call with the "religious left" yesterday. It's fascinating to see how various media outlets have handled the "false witness" call -- what they have chosen to emphasize, and what has been left out.

Let's begin with the lede of the straightforward story from CNN.com:

President Obama appealed Wednesday to faith-based groups to help garner support for his plan to overhaul the nation's health care system.

"I need you to knock on doors, talk to neighbors, spread the facts and speak the truth," he told religious leaders and reporters on a conference call that was streamed over the Web at faithforhealth.org.

"This debate over health care goes to the heart of who we are as a people," he said. "I believe that nobody in America should be denied basic health care because he or she lacks health insurance."

Some 140,000 people participated in the call, the coalition of more than 30 faith-based groups that organized the event said in a written statement.

Obama urged the listeners to reject misinformation about his plans, noting, "There are some folks out there who are, frankly, bearing false witness."

As you know, that's the Ninth Commandment (Exodus 20:16): "You will not bear false witness against your neighbor." In his words to the rich young man in Matthew 19, Jesus also refers to this commandment -- in other words, it resonates.

The CNN story really doesn't identify who is identified with, or who identifies themself as a member of the religious left. Of course, the "religious right" has been putting up with this kind of broad-brushing for decades. Here's a list of the faith groups behind the campaign "40 Days for Health Reform." But this still doesn't give us an idea of the movement's strength (which probably comes down to how many competitive ads they can run in which markets). Readers can glean some useful information about the make-up of the coalition here but, as with other cable outlets, they must consider the source -- and discount the code words. More and more, the burden is on readers to wade through opinion masquerading as fact to get to a few nuggets of information.

Take a look at the story in the New York Times. You don't often see reporters as experienced as Zeleny and Hulse tip their hand so broadly in the lede (italics mine):

President Obama sought Wednesday to reframe the health care debate as "a core ethical and moral obligation," imploring a coalition of religious leaders to help promote the plan to lower costs and expand insurance coverage for all Americans

Talk about strong language. Wouldn't you think, after reading this paragraph, that we have a President who is, at the least, losing momentum on health care reform? The writers spend little time talking about the faith context of the call, apparently seeing it as part of a broader strategy (which it obviously is). Another sign of a possible journalistic consensus is Reuter's Ed Stoddard's post on the blog FaithWorld which begins:

U.S. President Barack Obama enlisted the "Religious Left" on Wednesday to help galvanise public support for his faltering drive for healthcare reform, using the language of faith as he accused some of the critics of his biggest domestic project of "bearing false witness."

It's very possible that this is the reality --Obama's health care plans are "faltering." But it's also interesting to see how language can help shape reality for those not in the middle of the health care brawl. Stoddard's also put on an intriguing post on a new ad campaign by the Family Research Council -- the conservative group claims that "Obamacare" will help fund abortions.

On the right, CBN News White House Correspondent David Brody sees Obama's "bearing false witness" comment as a takedown of evangelicals. Meanwhile, on the left, this new coalition is the best thing since sliced bread.

Confused, yet? Sadly, it seems as though the "truth" is going to be very hard to sort out. Consider abortion -- will the new bill fund abortions, or not?

Maybe. And maybe not.

One thing we know -- the rhetoric and posturing in all sides is going to get worse before it subsides. And there either is going to be a health care bill -- or there isn't.

Take two tablets and call me in the morning (that's Rembrandt courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

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