We heard a few comments last week about NPR's coverage of various nun issues. Some thought it was one-sided or too shallow but I was intrigued by this report claiming that NPR devoted 14 minutes on Friday to support of nuns who've been criticized by the Vatican for failing to uphold Catholic teaching. I wondered how many minutes were devoted to religious freedom rallies that were held nationwide on Friday. And while I'm not sure if I'm doing the Google thing correctly, I think it looks like zero minutes. NPR did throw an Associated Press story up on the web site, but I can't find anything else. How did other outlets do? Well, I can report that they weren't as bad as this alt-weekly blog posting that one long-time reader jokingly submitted as the "best" report on the religious freedom rallies (forgive me, "religious freedom" rallies) that were held across the nation last week (the factual errors in that blog posting were far more offensive than the headline or slams against religious adherents contained within). But there's plenty of room for improvement.
I'm going to share the top of this account of the Chicago rally posted on the event page itself:
A Dixieland jazz band. A swing dancing flash mob. Stirring speeches by members of the Jewish, Muslim, Protestant, and Catholic faiths. All of these and more were part of the Nationwide Rally for Religious Freedom’s flagship event today in downtown Chicago’s Federal Plaza.
A record crowd of 3,500 attended the rally—far surpassing the crowd of 2,500 that attended the city’s first Stand Up Rally on March 23.
This 40% increase in attendance is a clear sign that opposition to the HHS Mandate—not only in Chicago, but nationwide—is showing no signs of slowing down.
Here's how Reuters wrote this same event up:
More than 500 people, some carrying crucifixes and pictures of religious saints, rallied in Chicago on Friday to protest a government regulation that requires employers to provide health insurance coverage for contraceptives to employees.
The regulation, which is part of President Barack Obama's healthcare reform law, has sparked a dispute between the administration and the Roman Catholic Church, which opposes artificial contraception.
OK. I take it back. That's a worse lede, at least, than the snarky alt-weekly blog posting. And I have no idea why the Chicago Tribune couldn't send a reporter down to the event rather than use a Reuters dispatch that gets basic facts about the mandate and the rally so obviously wrong. They also missed the previous rally, I seem to recall, from the folks who complained to us about it back in March. But as for this report, we're not told who estimated the crowd size (although, technically, "more than 500" could be accurate no matter how large the crowd). We're given the impression that not only is this simply a rally featuring Roman Catholics, and not Protestants, Jews and Muslims, but a particular strain of Catholic that goes around hoisting crucifixes and "religious" saints (not the other kind). We're told that the mandate simply requires employers to provide insurance for contraceptives and not that the requirement is that these things be provided at no cost to the employee. (Actually, after viewing this photo stream of the event, I'm almost wondering if Reuters was there. Just kidding, but it works best to read the top of the Reuters story while also flipping through the photos.)
At this point, I want to mention how weird it is that I saw little mainstream media coverage in advance of the rallies. It was complete news to me that DC was holding a rally, much less nationwide (admittedly, I was traveling last week so that might be part of the problem). So special props to Niraj Warikoo who wrote that the rallies would be held that day and then reported that they were held. There was a paragraph in that piece that is worth noting:
After an uproar, the White House modified the plan so that insurance companies, not religious employers, would pay for the contraception. But some religious groups say the change doesn't go far enough.
That first sentence is certainly the talking point the White House issued after the initial uproar. But it's in dispute and the religious groups opposing the change actually don't say it "doesn't go far enough." They say it's a shell game. They say that the floated insurance mandate wouldn't change their moral objections at all. And, they say, since it doesn't include the thousands of self-insured religious institutions, even the accounting requirement wouldn't change their opposition. Or, to quote them:
In the final analysis, the so-called “accommodation” still forces religious institutions to provide employees with health plans covering free “services” that violate their religious convictions—or face crippling fines should they refuse.
Moreover — despite their rhetoric about making an “accommodation” — the Obama Administration actually finalized the original HHS mandate as originally drafted, leaving intact all of its provisions and making no changes to the exemption, the narrowest protection for conscience known in federal or state law.
It turns out that the implementation of the “accommodation” will be left until 2013 — long after the federal elections in November.
So it's fine to give the White House perspective, but it should be attributed as such. And the perspective of the objectors should be accurately conveyed as well.
Religion News Service covered the rally and they used their scare quotes in the headline but not in the body of the piece:
Conservatives rally across U.S. for ‘religious freedom’
I thought this was an interesting way they chose to describe Lila Rose, one of the event's speakers:
Rose, who's been criticized for her undercover tactics against abortion providers, said opposing the HHS mandate is not part of the “war on women,” but instead, “The real war on women is what’s happening every day in abortion clinics across the country.”
I mean, I know she's been criticized. I'm one of the people who has criticized her, although I don't think they're referring to me (particularly since I'm one of those few media types who generally opposes all undercover journalism and not just the ones that target media organizations or Planned Parenthood). The passive voice there is mildly frustrating. Who's criticizing her? And is criticism the dominant thing she provokes, outside of Planned Parenthood offices? I mean, should we mention that Rose is a freaking rock star among many pro-lifers, particularly young pro-lifers?
Or maybe I should just be happy that RNS is mentioning that Rose has done undercover work against abortion providers, even if I haven't seen that work covered there in over a year. Most media outlets have apparently been sworn to silence on her new videos showing abortion providers arranging for abortions targeting unborn girls simply because they're girls.
Anyway, let us know what you thought of the coverage. I'm sure there were many stories I missed, both good and bad. How was the coverage in your town?
Photo via Life Balloon's Picasa stream.