Accuracy in Media

“Pro-life” apparently doesn’t mean pro-life. Fred Thompson has received the endorsement of the National Right to Life Committee even though he doesn’t favor a human life amendment to the Constitution, didn’t favor Terri Schiavo’s right to life during his November 4 NBC “Meet the Press” appearance, and once lobbied for a pro-abortion group.  

One conservative news service claims that Thompson has a 100 percent pro-life voting record. In fact, he got only 86 percent in the 105th Congress.  

Even more significant, Thompson has now flip-flopped on one of the most important issues of our time―whether disabled people should have the right to life.  

At a November 13 news conference at which the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) announced its endorsement of Thompson for president, NRLC executive director David N. O’Steen said, in response to my questions, that Thompson had provided “some clarifications” of his controversial “Meet the Press” remarks and that he now favors the right to life of disabled people like Terri Schiavo.   

Even if Thompson somehow manages to explain this flip-flop to the satisfaction of pro-life voters, he still has some other matters involving life and death that cry out for explanation.  

First, Thompson registered as a foreign agent for the deposed Haitian tyrant, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who had incited his followers to murder 27 people by necklacing, the barbaric practice of burning them to death by putting a gasoline-filled tire around their necks and igniting it.  

Second, Thompson gave advice intended to benefit two Libyans accused of killing 189 Americans, including college students, 15 active-duty military and 10 veterans, in the Pan Am 103 bombing. One Libyan was convicted in the case.   

This activity occurred on Thompson’s part when the “consistent conservative” was a Washington lobbyist.  

His flip-flop on the Schivao case is the more immediate problem. Ignoring the fact that Schiavo’s parents wanted her to continue to receive treatment and food and water, and that they wanted congressional intervention simply so they could continue to take care of her, Thompson said on “Meet the Press” on November 4 that it was an end-of-life private family matter. This is the view, of course, that prevailed in the courts and which enabled her estranged husband to order her starved to death. It was horrifying.  

O’Steen said that Thompson had since told NRLC that he supports measures to make sure that a person like Schiavo will be legally guaranteed treatment and food and water.  

“Legislation that we support, both on the state and federal level, to see that when patients want treatment, including food and water, or when their wishes are unknown, that institutions be required to provide this treatment until the patient can be transferred to a willing provider, he agrees with us,” O’Steen said. “And he believes that in cases where the patient wants treatment and the families want treatment, it should certainly be provided. He also believes…that in cases where the family is divided, he believes the benefit of the doubt should be given to life. He also voted against assisted suicide [and] made clear he opposes assisted suicide. He opposes euthanasia.”  

This is quite a flip-flop. He went from calling it a private end-of-life family matter (which it was not, since Terri Schiavo did not have a terminal illness, was not hooked up to any life-supporting machines, and her parents wanted her to live and to take care of her) to affirming her right to life. But why didn’t Thompson come down on the side of life to begin with?  

This is a time when the major media need to subject the candidates and the special interest groups backing them to some scrutiny. The conservative media and conservative blogs should lead the way.   

As for Thompson’s reported 100 percent pro-life voting record, that’s not how the National Right to Life Committee used to see it. As a senator from Tennessee, he got only an 86 percent rating from NRLC in the 105th Congress (1997-1998). He voted wrong, according to the group, when he voted for the McCain-Feingold “campaign finance reform” bill. “NRLC strongly opposed the bill because it contained provisions to severely restrict the right of citizen groups, such as NRLC and NRLC affiliates, to communicate with the public regarding the voting records and positions of those who hold or seek federal office, or regarding upcoming votes in Congress,” the organization stated. 

So by supporting Thompson, NRLC is now supporting a candidate who voted to muzzle NRLC.  

O’Steen told the news conference that Thompson now doesn’t think the law worked as planned, the Supreme Court has thrown out part of it, and it is not the most important pro-life issue anyway. But it was important enough that it figured in NRLC’s congressional voting scorecard.  

It would be nice to believe Thompson’s conversion is legitimate. But the Thompson campaign has been less than forthcoming on the abortion issue.  

As noted by Mike Allen of The Politico, Thompson initially denied that he had lobbied for a pro-abortion group. Then he said he couldn’t remember. Then he said he might have. It turns out he had. The truth finally caught up with him.  

The facts are that Thompson, then an attorney for the Arent, Fox, Kintner, Plotkin & Kahn firm, represented the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, which was trying to overturn a restriction on federal payments to clinics that offered abortion advice. The New York Times reported that “The family planning association became a client of Arent Fox through Michael Barnes, a former Democratic congressman who was then a partner at the firm.” Arent Fox is a heavily Democratic firm which had very close ties to the Clinton administration. 

It was through his association with Arent Fox that Thompson became a registered foreign agent for Haiti’s Aristide. Barnes was a major figure in the pro-Aristide lobbying campaign, which achieved success when President Bill Clinton’s administration returned the unstable tyrant to power in Haiti. (In a foreign policy success, the Bush Administration assisted in removing Aristide from power in 2004). During the same time, according to Jo Becker of the New York Times, Thompson provided advice intended to benefit an attorney for two Libyans accused of killing 189 Americans in the Pan Am 103 bombing. Thompson gave advice on Libya to John Culver, a partner at Arent Fox,who was advising the Libyan lawyer for the two suspects. 

Some of this may be considered foreign policy-related and of no concern to the National Right to Life Committee. But the NRLC has been very supportive of the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation. This has been a big issue for NRLC and pro-lifers in general. 

If Thompson doesn’t soon express in public the view that he gave to NRLC in private, more questions will be asked about his commitment to the pro-life cause. It is troubling that Thompson’s statement on getting the NRLC endorsement makes no mention of his new position on the Schiavo case.  

NRLC says one factor in its endorsement of Thompson is his ability to win. But how will double-talk on one of the most critical issues of our time assure victory?

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