Pod people: Media campaigns and civility

Ben Smith reports that Democratic Senators were furious at MSNBC's "Morning Joe" over how it covered the Obama Administration's mandate affecting religious people and their organizations:

The Senate's Democratic women are furious at "Morning Joe" hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski for their opposition to the Obama Administration's contraception mandate, two sources told BuzzFeed.

California Senator Barbara Boxer and New Hampshire's Jeanne Shaheen both got in touch with MSNBC after the two hosts of the show that starts many politicos' days were unanimous Monday in their criticism of the rule, which would require Catholic hospitals and other institutions to offer health care plans providing contraception to their employees.

"If the federal government can do this to the Catholic church, can they not do this to any church?" host Joe Scarborough asked. Brzezinski called the move an "overstep" and "wrong." Guests, including conservative Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, agreed with them.

I recently highlighted NBC journalist Andrea Mitchell's passionate advocacy on behalf of Planned Parenthood that occurred on an MSNBC "news" program. Later, we discussed how Sen. Boxer and Mitchell thanked each other -- literally -- for that work on behalf of Planned Parenthood and against the Komen foundation. This all took place on MSNBC, although a different program.

But the point stands, even if I'm not sure if Morning Joe is commentary or news: when everyone on the show agrees with one side in a hotly-contested dispute, redouble your efforts to find someone to advocate for alternate views. It's really not that difficult.

An even more egregious example of this was sent in by many GetReligion readers. NPR's Morning Edition broadcast a report so one-sided that it included not a single voice from someone opposed to the HHS mandate. Instead, listeners were treated to quotes and advocacy from Peggy Mastroianni, general counsel at the EEOC, known in recent months mostly for losing a Supreme Court case on religious freedom, and Sarah Lipton-Lubet, whose recent work includes the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The report, by Julie Rovner, sounds much more like commentary than news.

We all know that people get worked up on issues of religious liberty and abortifacients, sterilization and birth control. It can be difficult to remain civil (I wrote a little bit about incivility this week here.). But journalism works best in a climate of civility and one where we aim to give the views of everyone a fair shake, particularly those with whom we disagree. It's a testament to the GetReligion commenters how well you have remained civil and thoughtful even in the midst of strenuous disagreement with each other. I thank you for that.

All this to say that on this week's Crossroads podcast, I spoke with host Todd Wilken about the media coverage of the Komen/Planned Parenthood controversy. If you've read my posts here, here, here, here, here and here, you're familiar with what we talk about but it was fun to discuss in an audio environment, too.

As the above indicates, we're seeing some struggles with good reportage on the HHS mandate and we'll continue to look at those struggles in the week to come. Let's redouble our efforts to find good stories in the midst of the problems. Please help us with that effort, too.

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