Massive religious liberty lawsuit, minor broadcast coverage

Do you remember the conflagration that erupted in the mainstream media, fueled in part by members of the mainstream media, when the Susan G. Komen Foundation decided to stop voluntarily giving a small portion of its budget to the even larger Planned Parenthood? Do you remember some of those nightly newscasts?

It doesn't require a degree in media criticism to have noticed how biased the coverage was. But one of the things I found striking about the second day of the story was how the nightly news casts played it. Or as ABC's Rick Klein tweeted at the time:

Backlash at Susan G. Komen over Planned Parenthood move leads @ABCWorldNews & NBC; CBS starts with Afghanistan war

It led the news that night. A decision by a women's breast health charity to stop giving a few hundred thousand dollars a year to the nation's largest abortion provider was massive news. And the stories that were done -- for instance, by ABC, were just horrible. ABC's report ran for three and a half minutes.

So earlier this week, one of the largest religious lawsuits in American history was launched. For all I know, it may be the largest religious lawsuit ever launched in history. It involves, as savvy readers probably know by now, 43 Catholic dioceses, schools, hospitals, social service agencies and other institutions. They all filed suit in federal court to stop various government agencies from implementing a mandate that would require them to cover contraceptives, sterilization and some abortion drugs in their health plans.

How many minutes did ABC World News give this story when it opened the broadcast with this news? Well, it turns out that they didn't open their nightly news with this lawsuit. That's understandable, I guess. I mean there were other major stories they featured, judging from their Twitter feed, such as "Meet the First Lady of Facebook: Priscilla Chan," and "Yemen Suicide Bombing Death Toll Nears 100" and "Dharun Ravi Sentenced to 30 Days in Jail." I don't know which story they led with, if any of those. Maybe someone who watches that program can tell us. But it wasn't the religious liberty lawsuit.

So where did the religious liberty lawsuit get placed in ABC's nightly news and how long did it run?

I'll let you guess on placement before we find out the answer. Did you guess?

You are 100% correct: They didn't get around to mentioning it. On Monday or Tuesday. At this point, I'm just wondering how someone who gets their news exclusively from ABC World News views the world. I don't really watch network news (I save up my TV time for important stuff such as Community and Top Chef) so I don't know the answer to it, but it's just really interesting to me.

Anyway, how did other networks do? From

ABC on Monday and Tuesday completely ignored 12 major lawsuits filed by Catholic groups over the Obama-imposed birth control mandate. NBC allowed a mere 20 seconds to the topic.

CBS This Morning, however, was the only show on the networks to devote a full report to the lawsuits. Co-host Charlie Rose allowed Cardinal Timothy Dolan to make his case that the mandate limits religious liberty. Rose wondered, “What is it you want the administration to do?” However, co-host Erica Hill pushed the responsibility on Catholics: “So, have you reached out specifically to President Obama to again plead your case and say, here’s where my problem is?”

After Dolan insisted that the Catholic Church has been unable to sway the President, Rose badgered, “But, I mean, he’s a phone call away for you.”

On the CBS Evening News, anchor Scott Pelley got to the topic 18 minutes into the program and allowed 19 seconds.

The only mention on NBC came when Today news reader Savannah Guthrie briefly explained, “In their largest challenge yet, dozens of Roman Catholic schools, dioceses and other institutions filed lawsuits Monday against the Obama administration’s birth control mandate.”

We're told that ABC skipped coverage of the lawsuit on its World News, Nightline and Good Morning America programs. The latter, we're told, did include segments on Pink's feud with Chris Brown and a lengthy segment on how things are going with Dancing With The Stars.

I do have to mention a note we received from one reader:

Is it me, or does it seem as if 43 Catholic organizations -- including Notre Dame -- filing suit against the government is a non-story? I can't remember the last time that happened, probably because it never did. ... No news alerts that one of the largest law firms in the world is representing 43 Catholic organizations in 12 federal lawsuits pro bono, though I will get news alerts about pitcher so-and-so throwing a perfect game. Any reaction?

I don't know, maybe we should cut the networks some slack. When the original story about Catholic bishops fighting the mandate broke at the beginning of the year, some of the networks got around to mentioning it a few weeks later. I'm sure we'll hear more about this lawsuit in mid-June or so.

The thing is that this lawsuit is a big deal and it's got tons of interesting angles in terms of players, supporters, analysis and possible outcomes. And as I like to point out, it's certainly not a slam dunk legal case that the religious freedom advocates are pushing. However, it's probably like the other mandate lawsuits -- regarding people having to purchase insurance -- that were in the news. They were treated as unserious by many in the mainstream media right up until the Supreme Court took the arguments extremely seriously. We're seeing a similar pattern here. It's also worth noting, as tmatt was getting at yesterday, that these aren't the first lawsuits in the battle and the first lawsuits were somehow not filed by Catholics (they didn't get the media narrative memo on these things, I guess).

Also, though, no coverage at ABC and other outlets doesn't mean that every media outlet ignored the story. Embedded above is a long interview of Cardinal Timothy Dolan on CBS Morning News. It's just him talking about the lawsuit with two interviewers, so there's not a lot of balance, but it was still pretty interesting. They keep trying to get him to say mean things about Obama and he keeps failing to do so. The interview format enables a more substantive look at precisely what the bishops are upset about. There's also a print write-up of the interview that concludes with how interviewer Charlie Rose asked Dolan about Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius appearing at Georgetown last weekend. Here's the last paragraph:

Sebelius is a practicing Catholic and mother and spouse of Georgetown graduates. Georgetown University President John DeGioia defended the university's decision to invite Sebelius as evidence the university "is committed to the free exchange of ideas."

This may be a question with an obvious answer but I wonder what "practicing" means in this case. I'm particularly curious about what it means to be a practicing Catholic given her unique circumstance of having been asked by her local bishop in Kansas to refrain from Holy Communion because of her "30-year history of advocating and acting in support of legalized abortion." Archbishop Joseph Naumann said he made the request only after speaking with her for two years about the issue. And when she moved to Washington, D.C. to take the job, the news reports indicated that the ban on Communion would be honored by the local bishop. Maybe I'm just completely behind the times but, given that Sebelius' rhetoric and actions on the issue have if anything ramped up, I don't imagine the ban has been dropped. Does anyone know? Should communion practice be part of the media definition of "practicing"? Or what do they mean by "practicing"?

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