Earlier this week, I noted the surprisingly restrained coverage of the Obama Administration's mandate that religious institutions provide health insurance that includes subsidized contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if that coverage would violate their religious beliefs and consciences. Even when Catholic bishops came out en masse against the Health and Human Service's regulation, the coverage was pretty subdued, if it was even found. Turns out that the media restraint wasn't due to lack of interest in abortion or related issues (you probably already knew that). See, on Tuesday, Susan G. Komen for the Cure announced a new policy about which groups it would fund. The prominent breast cancer charity is one of the best funded and most popular charities out there and it has raised and distributed nearly $2 billion in funds for breast cancer research, education, advocacy and health services.
The new policy, which implements more stringent performance criteria, means that Planned Parenthood is not currently eligible to receive funding from the group. Now, Planned Parenthood is, of course, the country's largest abortion provider, a $1 billion operation that ends about 330,000 pregnancies each year. This makes them unbelievably controversial. That Planned Parenthood doesn't offer mammogram services (unless you count referring women to go get mammograms at places that do offer them) made the relationship with Susan G. Komen quite troubling to many people. All of this, however, was apparently completely unknown to the mainstream media.
Allow me to share a brief story. The woman I called my grandma (out of great affection rather than actual familial ties), died of breast cancer in 2004. Her awesome son made a goal of walking in all 14 3-day Susan G. Komen walks in 2011 (a goal that was almost derailed when Grandpa H. died on the eve of one walk in mid-November). He succeeded in that goal and you can read about it here or watch him talk about it here. When he started his fundraising, I offered some ideas and put a note about the goal on Facebook with a link to his donation site. Instantly, I was bombarded with alarmed notes from friends and family. Did I know, they asked, about Komen's grants to Planned Parenthood? They gave me links and documentation and I shared them with my friend. He felt that the money offered to Planned Parenthood would not go to support abortions and therefore was not a dealbreaker. I could not in good conscience support a group that supported Planned Parenthood, even though I really wanted to support him in honoring his mother. Now, I can (and already have and will continue to do so). See, Planned Parenthood is an extremely controversial organization that inspires strong feelings from those who support it and those who don't. If you were familiar with Susan G. Komen for the Cure but weren't familiar with the fact that this funding arrangement was extremely controversial, something is off. If you are currently uncertain about the polarizing or political nature of Planned Parenthood, you might check out the video below, put out by a Planned Parenthood affiliate a few years ago.
And yet the mainstream media apparently only realized that Planned Parenthood was a lightning rod after Komen made changes to their funding policy. I'm not exaggerating. Take this amazing Politico story by Kate Nocera headlined:
Did Susan G. Komen turn itself into a lightning rod?
Turn itself into? Turn itself into? Help me out here. Funding a group that terminates 330,000 pregnancies a year is not controversial but deciding not to fund that same group is? In what world? It's important to note that Planned Parenthood doesn't just do abortions. But many of the other things they do -- teaching kids about sex through a text-chat program, receiving hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, spending high sums on fundraising and public policy to fight political opponents, selling or otherwise distributing contraception and abortifacients -- are also controversial. Giving a woman a slip of paper to get a mammogram somewhere else is not controversial, unless by the standard that it's not sufficient work for scarce breast cancer dollars, but you have to put the controversy in context.
Kate Nocera knows none of this controversy about Planned Parenthood, apparently. Here's the top of her report:
Susan G. Komen for the Cure says there wasn’t anything political about its decision to stop giving grants to Planned Parenthood.
But in Washington, every decision is political — and now the cancer-fighting organization may have turned itself from a “safe” charity into just another political lightning rod.
It may have ruined its fundraising, too, as its Facebook page filled up with messages from Planned Parenthood supporters promising they’ll never give a dime to the charity again.
There's a word for so many unsubstantiated uses of the word "may" in the first three sentences of a report and that word is not journalism. It's unfiltered advocacy. Clueless and unfiltered advocacy. Now, perhaps people who prioritize funding Planned Parenthood over funding Komen's breast cancer work will lower their funding. People such as myself are only now eligible to fund Komen in light of this week's reform. Will it all balance out? Will it cause problems? Who knows? But using, of all things, Facebook rants to predict funding streams is not reporting.
Further, only seeing (and deriding) "political pressure" when viewing the issue from one side has colored not just this report but many others. You can probably pick any story at random to see that.
Take this New York Times report that begins:
Pink ribbons have for decades been a symbol of resolve and compassion in the face of the deadly disease of breast cancer. Now, that nearly ubiquitous icon has many women seeing red.
See, there's this whole chunk of America who have been seeing red about the Planned Parenthood funding Komen for years. Did reporters cover that? I figure they must have, somehow, somewhere, but I don't recall seeing it. I read a lot about it in the pro-life press. There were the LiveAction stings such as the one embedded above, for instance, although those were in response to Planned Parenthood claims about federal funding. Here's a USA Today piece on that angle from last year, for instance. Anyway, at the very end of this article, after some dramatic language about betrayal and counter-betrayal do we learn:
Foes of abortion and Web sites critical of it have criticized the Komen foundation’s financing of Planned Parenthood for years. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis and several bishops in Ohio issued statements last year raising concerns about donating to the Komen foundation. In December, LifeWay Christian Resources, which is owned by the Southern Baptist Convention, said it was recalling a pink Bible it was selling because a dollar per copy was going to the Komen foundation.
“We are very grateful Susan G. Komen for the Cure will no longer fund Planned Parenthood affiliates,” said Thom S. Rainer, president of LifeWay.
You don't say.
It's just so interesting to me that when millions of Catholics were read letters from their bishops about the HHS mandate targeting Catholic groups, it took days for a few stories to trickle out. When Susan G. Komen announces that roughly $700,000 in grants will be targeted to groups other than Planned Parenthood next year, it couldn't be bigger news. There are thousands of stories already written. It says something about what the media prioritizes as well as what it considers sacred. There's an almost religious fervor at play here. Looking at which stories capture that frenzy and fervor are interesting, no?