Scaring people away from religious freedom

I guess it was only a month or so ago that I had the weird experience of watching a nightly newscast and screaming. What sent me over the edge was an ABC News piece that was so riddled with errors and bias it enraged me. There was also the concurrent issue of Andrea Mitchell being so in bed with Planned Parenthood that after she unprofessionally monologued and berated a woman she was ostensibly interviewing, Sen. Barbara Boxer actually thanked her for her work on Planned Parenthood's behalf. I criticized Mitchell's poor journalism but I wasn't sure how serious to take it since some of it appeared on MSNBC.

But this piece embedded here is more of the same from the Church of Planned Parenthood. From Andrea Mitchell and NBC Nightly News. Brian Williams introduces the segment on what he calls "a push to limit women's access to contraceptives and abortion."

Now, let's be clear about something. The reason why this topic is news is not because Catholic bishops or anyone else out there "pushed" to "limit" anything. The reason why we're dealing with this political battle is because an entirely different group of people "pushed" to "limit" something. What they pushed was a mandate by the Health and Human Services administration to limit religious freedom. The status quo right now is that people are not forced to fund abortion drugs, sterilization or contraception. But they will be, because of actions taken by the current administration.

That is not how the media has framed this battle. But that's who instigated this action. It is a deliberate misrepresentation to state otherwise.

At the very least, one has to note that there are two ways of looking at this issue, two arguments being made in the public square. If the goal is journalism, both of these arguments must be covered and covered accurately.

Meanwhile, the embedded piece is an absolute train wreck. There are audio and visual flashes on "the war on women's health" and some of the most disingenuous clipping, editing and eliding I've seen. State legislature proposals are characterized in the most bizarre and partisan ways possible and Rick Santorum's views on birth control are more or less lied about, with Mitchell suggesting that Santorum's fidelity to Catholic doctrine means he's on the march to force everyone else to become practicing Catholics, too. (This is willful misrepresentation of his stated views.) It's a hit piece.

There's a lovely sit-down with Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards where she says that the bad people are motivated by a desire to "shame" women.

Oh, and to counter the brutal attacks on Santorum, Mitchell pumps up her own interview with Eva Longoria (don't worry, in that interview, she used the most gentle Planned Parenthood-approved kid gloves out there, guys) who also opposes Santorum.

So, yeah, great work there Mitchell. I'm sure Richards and Boxer and Longoria are all high-fiving you in the green room or whatever, but cheerleading for abortion rights is not what your job is supposed to be. At all, really.

What are some other ways that the media are having trouble covering religious freedom?

Well, later today there will be rallies for religious freedom in some 150 cities across the country. This has received almost no mainstream media coverage. I'll be heading out to the DC one later today with a friend who is a fellow libertarian and a graduate from UC-Berkeley. I found out about this gathering from a woman who is an attorney who specializes in religious liberty. I said I had heard nothing of it. Whenever I mention it to other people, they say they have heard nothing of it. I just find it interesting at how little coverage these rallies have received. Obviously some of that blame might be placed on whoever is doing the public relations for the rally. The atheist rally the next day has done a great job of making it easier for the media to cover it, with press conferences and availabilities for famous participants and the like. The one mention I saw for the local religious freedom rally in the Washington Post was a brief blog item on the Under God blog of the On Faith section there:

The Stand Up For Religious Freedom event will be held Friday in dozens of locations across the country — noon local time for all. It was prompted by the White House’s announcement earlier this year that many faith-based organizations would not be exempt from the new health care law and its mandatory coverage of contraception and other reproductive services. The rally is being organized by pro-life organizations and appears to be mostly Catholics, whose bishops have been the most vocal and visible critics of the mandate.

This is the first protest since the term “religious freedom” has come to be shorthand for problems some religious conservatives have with the Obama-backed health care law.

I'm sure you're like me and when you hear that this is a rally for the religious right, you imagine Catholic bishops, too. Just like the Post does. And note the euphemism for abortion drugs and sterilization, if you want.

But that second paragraph is just one for the ages, no? I joked a couple of days ago that I think that the one thing you learn in journalism school -- which I never attended -- must be the proper use of scare quotes. And I have to just sit back and admire how religious freedom was put in scare quotes and then further diminished as "shorthand for problems some religious conservatives have."

It's true. Religious freedom is a kind of shorthand for religious liberty concerns. Oy.

The scare quoting of religious liberty and religious freedom is not limited to the Post, although I see they did it last week, too.

Catholic bishops: Birth control debate about ‘religious freedom,’ not access to contraceptives

It almost seems like since no one in the debate is trying to limit "access to contraceptives" (see what I wrote above) that maybe that's the phrase that should be put in scare quotes if you're going to pick one, you know?

Here's Religion News Service upping the scare quote ante in their recent report on Bishop Lori:

Bishops’ point man on ‘religious liberty’ gets a promotion

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (RNS) If there is any Catholic bishop in the U.S. who probably didn't need a bigger platform, it would be William E. Lori, who was named Tuesday (March 20) by Pope Benedict XVI as the next archbishop of Baltimore.

For the past decade, Lori has led the Diocese of Bridgeport in Connecticut's Fairfield County, but in recent months he's become the public face of the hierarchy's new signature issue: the fight for "religious freedom."

Or maybe since the media are so openly derisive of religious liberty in general, that lede could be reversed and be more accurate.

In a way it's helpful to know that in the battle for religious freedom, er, "religious" "freedom" (did I do that right?), the media announce up front that they don't think it's legitimate. It explains why the issue has been covered so terribly, if at all, and in such a partisan manner.

That religious freedom is ignored in nightly news reports that use the phrases "war on women" and "limit access to contraception" as if they're reporting facts or that the concept is put in quotes even when dealing with, say, the Catholic Church's point man on the issue is telling. And not in a good way.

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