Here at GetReligion, we analyze how well the media handle religion news. Last week was not one of those weeks that make me proud to be a journalist. Generally speaking, reporters and their editors provide a valuable service and deliver news day after day under never-ending deadlines. We rarely lack for things to analyze here, but last week was a particular low point. In covering Planned Parenthood's PR campaign against Susan G. Komen, far too many reporters failed to do their jobs and instead engaged in advocacy on behalf of Planned Parenthood.
If you were discouraged by what you saw, read or heard, believe me when I say I understand. But if there's any positive that I can think of, it would be that if religion and values reporters had covered this story more, we would have seen much better coverage. Even take this early New York Times story on the Planned Parenthood campaign. It wasn't good, but the one thing I can say for it is that at the end of the story, it mentioned that some pro-lifers were pleased with the initial news about Komen not funding Planned Parenthoood. Considering how much of the rest of the media failed to even acknowledge the existence of pro-lifers (or talk to them, quote them, etc.), this mere mention is notable. And did you catch who was contributing to the piece? “Douglas Quenqua and Laurie Goodstein contributed reporting.” Goodstein is, of course, the religion reporter at the Times. Now, the story was still awful – although not as bad as the follow-up – but at times like this, you have to take what you can. See: it could have been worse!
I was curious how the media would respond to Andrea Mitchell's “interview” of Nancy Brinker, the CEO of Komen. It wasn't an interview so much as a diatribe, where Mitchell passionately delivered Planned Parenthood talking points and refused to let Brinker answer. (I've embedded it below.) By comparison, please watch this embedded video above where Mitchell permits Sen. Barbara Boxer -- a high priestess in the Church of Planned Parenthood -- to monologue without interruption while thanking Mitchell for her work on behalf of Planned Parenthood, demonizing pro-lifers, issuing straw man arguments and general politicking. One of the things she says -- that is unworthy of interruption, apparently, is that "the far right wing that just don't believe -- this is a fact -- that women should have reproductive health care." Mitchell ends, and I am in no way joking, by thanking Barbara Boxer for her work on behalf of Planned Parenthood.
What was the journalistic defense for this advocacy? Would there be any? Well, I'm sad to report that some in the media seemed to cheer Mitchell on. I keep wanting evidence that all of these media folks aren't
communicant members evangelists apologists in the Church of Planned Parenthood, but it's hard to find.
Politico reporter MJ Lee continued with the Church of Planned Parenthood meme of pretending that the half of the country that's pro-life just doesn't exist. "MSNBC host personal about Komen," we learn. We're told that Mitchell's diagnosis of breast cancer enabled her to express "the anger of a lot of people" about ending grants to Planned Parenthood. We're never told how breast cancer equates to support of the country's largest abortion provider -- it's just assumed.
It wasn't enough. The next day, MJ Lee proselytized some more:
Susan G. Komen-Planned Parenthood showdown: Andrea Mitchell brought passion to story
For Andrea Mitchell, reporting on the showdown between Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Planned Parenthood was a wrenching experience — “one of those stories you really don’t want to be covering,” she says — but the MSNBC correspondent drew strength from knowing she was providing a voice to fellow breast cancer survivors.
Isn't that amazing that pro-lifers don't get breast cancer? Or so I assume since this reporter seems to indicate that all people with breast cancer love Planned Parenthood. Which will be news to the dozen or so women I know who've had breast cancer and oppose Planned Parenthood. Politico doesn't mention any journalistic critiques of Mitchell's performance. Politico doesn't mention that any pro-lifers might have been less than pleased with her treatment of the topic. Time takes a similar approach in its treatment of the interview.
But remember, pro-lifers don't exist. We discussed that last week. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat -- the lone pro-lifer there -- noticed some of these same problems:
[I]n the first Gallup poll to show a slight pro-life majority, conducted in May 2009, half of American women described themselves as pro-life.
But if you’ve followed the media frenzy surrounding the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation’s decision — which it backpedaled from, with an apology, after a wave of frankly brutal coverage — to discontinue about $700,000 in funding for Planned Parenthood, you would think all these millions of anti-abortion Americans simply do not exist.
From the nightly news shows to print and online media, the coverage’s tone alternated between wonder and outrage — wonder that anyone could possibly find Planned Parenthood even remotely controversial and outrage that the Komen foundation had “politicized” the cause of women’s health.
You really should read the whole thing. He gives some examples -- he, too, noticed the ABC News report and Andrea Mitchell speech -- and writes:
Conservative complaints about media bias are sometimes overdrawn. But on the abortion issue, the press’s prejudices are often absolute, its biases blatant and its blinders impenetrable. In many newsrooms and television studios across the country, Planned Parenthood is regarded as the equivalent of, well, the Komen foundation: an apolitical, high-minded and humanitarian institution whose work no rational person — and certainly no self-respecting woman — could possibly question or oppose.
But of course millions of Americans — including, yes, millions of American women — do oppose Planned Parenthood. They oppose the 300,000-plus abortions it performs every year (making it the largest abortion provider in the country), and they oppose its tireless opposition to even modest limits on abortion.
He gives quite a few facts and figures that don't make it into mainstream media reports, pointing out that Planned Parenthood referred women for adoption 841 times during the same year it performed 329,445 abortions. Journalists betray their calling when they ignore truths about a story, he notes. He mentions three -- that while the fight against breast cancer is non-controversial, provision of abortion is; that it's no more "political" to disassociate from the country's largest abortion provider than it is to associate; and that for the Americans who were enraged by Komen's decision, there were others who were elated. (For a dissenting view, try out this Religion Dispatches piece.)
It's fine for the Planned Parenthood PR team to claim that disassociating with the largest abortion provider is to engage in politics while associating with the largest abortion provider is not. That's what PR teams do. It's fine for the 26 Democratic Senators to issue a press release praising Komen for backtracking on the Planned Parenthood and for putting "politics aside" while also claiming credit for political pressure getting them to change that decision. That's what politicians do. They speak outside of both sides of their mouth. It's fine for pro-choice activists throughout the country to say that Komen should always associate with a $1 billion organization that performs 330,000 abortions a year ... or else. Pro-abortion-rights activists can say whatever they want (although they shouldn't have hacked into Komen's web site and claimed that the breast cancer research giant kills women).
But what's not OK is for the media to join this abortion-industrial complex. You don't have to be pro-life to oppose what happened last week, and certainly there are pro-choice people who condemned it.
After Komen seemed to reverse course, press critic Jay Rosen said that he'd wanted to write up something about Mitchell's speech but that he wasn't sure if it was moot now. I encouraged him to write it up, saying that he couldn't ignore the Church of Planned Parenthood's "Here I Stand!" speech. He did write it up and one reporter noted that it seemed like he and I watched different speeches from Mitchell. I don't think so -- I think he just writes from within the Church of Planned Parenthood while I write from outside it. Also, his approach to media criticism includes evaluating the performances of interview subjects. I focus on journalists. He tweeted:
Two views of that trainwreck interview with CEO of Susan G. Komen. Mine: http://bit.ly/xSwI8l Catholic, pro-life writer http://bit.ly/ADfIl5
When you don't know much about people who oppose abortion, I guess we all look alike! Just kidding -- he's noted he was wrong about my religious affiliation. I have absolutely no idea why he felt it necessary to characterize my professional work and media criticism in terms of my religion, but I didn't go to journalism school.
Anyway, Rosen is known for criticizing "the view from nowhere." He is consistent, then, in praising Mitchell's view which comes from within the Church of Planned Parenthood. He also blames the victim:
Brinker seemed to approach Mitchell as “one of us,” a sympathetic ear who of course had a job to do but someone who also held the mission -- fighting breast cancer -- sacred. Herself a survivor! But Brinker never considered that this could cut two ways. Mitchell’s enormous stake in the work of the Foundation could incline her to sympathy for Brinker’s position. It’s plausible. But it could just as easily place her among the millions of women enraged that the Foundation had somehow stumbled into the politics of abortion without a clue as to what might happen if it cut off funding for Planned Parenthood. Equally plausible. A shrewd executive, well briefed, would understand that.
See, from within the Church of Planned Parenthood, you only stumble into the politics of abortion if you don't give hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to an abortion company. You do not stumble into the politics of abortion while funding abortion organizations. That is dogma.
Anyway, I am curious how Rosen would compare the video embedded above with Mitchell's performance that he praises. Either way, you should read his media criticism of the woman interviewed by Mitchell.
There's so much to write about what happened last week that we could go on for days. I should probably write something about how there's good indication that everyone in the media (including me) got the story wrong, both in falling for the Planned Parenthood PR campaign and in writing that Komen backtracked. Not wrong, maybe, but certainly not right.
There are some interesting facts and figures documenting how the mainstream media is ignoring the HHS scandal while hyping the Planned Parenthood PR campaign. There are more examples of awful stories. And there are stories that weren't bad and deserve to be highlighted.
No matter your views on abortion, Planned Parenthood or Komen's handling of this crisis, this has been a terribly interesting week in media coverage. Did last week affect your view of the media at all? If so, how? Did you enjoy their advocacy on behalf of Planned Parenthood? Or were you disappointed?