Last night, I pointed out the Washington Post media writer Erik Wemple's rather odd attempt to defend mainstream coverage of the Planned Parenthood PR and fundraising campaign of the Komen foundation. One of the things he'd said was that Ross Douthat's New York Times column critiquing bad media coverage was "bunk" because you could find good coverage, too. Specifically, he pointed out, this Dallas Morning News story ("which carefully laid out both sides of the dispute"). How carefully, you ask? This carefully. Here's the lede:
The backlash Wednesday was swift and strong — coming by phone, email and every form of social networking.
Women were angry, disappointed and worried that Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a Dallas-based foundation, had withdrawn its funding from Planned Parenthood’s nationwide organization.
Yes, that lede carefully lays out both sides of the dispute -- not just the women who were angry at Komen but also the women who were disappointed and worried. It may have gotten better if you read beyond the lede (which few readers do, of course) but it's behind a pay wall now.
Anyway, Wemple's defense of the Dallas Morning News isn't even accepted by a member of that paper's staff. Editorial writer Rodger Jones has a piece headlined "Media's blind spot on abortion, Obama's contraceptive edict and church issues."
He begins by quoting MSNBC's Joe Scarborough on Morning Joe today. He apparently said, "The media has a blind spot on social issues." Former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller might say it's not a blind spot at all but, rather, an intentional bias on moral, cultural and religious issues.
Jones gives six examples of his paper's blind spots, including.
1) There has yet to be any news coverage of Bishop Kevin Farrell's pledge to defy the White House on its HHS mandate.
2) There has been no news coverage of how North Texas Catholics or employees of Catholic institutions think about the HHS mandate.
3) And yet a handful of people who invited the press to their protest at Komen got a front page picture and more inside the paper. But, then again, why didn't the 8,000 marchers in Dallas at the previous month's March for Life get even a single mention in the paper?
4) painting the dispute between HHS and religious liberty as a partisan issue.
There has been no news coverage about what North Texas Catholics in the pews or employees of Catholic institutions think. I have no doubt that many workers would welcome free contraceptives, and I wonder how they square that with church teachings. That's a story to approach with sensitivity, and it's worth the trouble by thoughtful journalists.
Catholics in the pews are not hard hard to find. The typical church has several Sunday masses. At some churches they run from Saturday afternoon to Sunday evening. There's one to fit any reporter's schedule. The location of the nearest church is just a click away, on the diocesan website's Parish Finder. Put in a ZIP code and take your choice.
Within walking distance of our offices downtown are the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe and, even closer, St. Jude's Chapel on Main Street. Both have noontime masses.
It is easier to wait for the interest groups to call and deliver your points for the story, but Jones is correct that this reporting isn't that difficult either -- even if it does require some knowledge of church teachings and some sensitivity.
In many ways, the coverage we've seen in the last week is a powerful reminder of how important the religious and values beat is to covering a story fully and accurately and with added value.
Wasn't it Chesterton who said "In truth, there are only two kinds of people; those who accept dogma and know it, and those who accept dogma and don't know it." I would argue that if any beat understood the truth of that quote, it would be people who get to talk to those who know they accept dogma every day. This is one of the many reasons why the religion beat is so important. The errors we saw in the last week could be chalked up to a group of people who accept a particular dogma fervently and just had no awareness that their views weren't universal.
Anyway, the last week has also seen wonderful comments here at GetReligion (as well as many kind notes from reporters and others). I wanted to highlight this one from Kris D. that made a great point:
Here is a link to an old NYT Magazine column, “The Ethicist”. In it, Randy Cohen states that to support Curves if one is pro-choice is basically an unethical thing to do since your membership dollars support pro-life causes that you don’t believe in. Contrast this with the “apolitical” funding of PP by the Komen foundation as the MSM reported it & you really do have to wonder why the media’s blindspots aren’t recognized. Sauce for the goose apparently isn’t sauce for the gander.
Sometimes you can see the dogma you accept and sometimes you need to have it pointed out to you. If reporters know where their blind spots are, they can work to avoid missteps in the future.
Blind spot image via Shutterstock.