Who is Karen Handel, winner of that big Georgia race? Surprise! Press ignored a key angle

When you consider the oceans of ink poured out in coverage of a certain U.S. House of Representatives race down in Georgia, it's interesting how little attention was devoted to a powerful component in the life of winner Karen Handel.

Want to guess what was missing in the mainstream coverage? Hang on, because we will get to that (sssssshhhhhh, she's a Roman Catholic) shortly.

But first, I want to flashback a few weeks to a related controversy. You might recall that Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez made news when he proclaimed that

"Every Democrat, like every American," he said, "should support a woman's right to make her own choices about her body and her health. This is not negotiable and should not change city by city or state by state." In fact, he added, "every candidate who runs as a Democrat" should affirm abortion rights.

As you would imagine, Kristen Day was not amused. She serves as executive director for the Democrats for Life of America network. Neither were Catholics from all over the political and theological spectrum -- from Cardinal Timothy Dolan to Father James "Colbert Report chaplain" Martin. Day noted:

"Tom Perez needs to know that what he is saying isn't what lots of Democrats are thinking. It's not what Democrats are thinking in places like Nebraska -- places between the coasts where Democrats are trying to find candidates who are the right fit for their congressional districts or people to run for governor who fit their states."

Wait, she had more to say:

"The Democratic Party is pretty weak in large parts of America," said Day. "Can we really afford to push people away right now? I'm not sure that New York City and West Coast values are going to work with lots of voters in the heartland and down South."

Maybe this issue is relevant to the Georgia race? To be blunt, would Handel have had a tougher time winning if her opponent was a married, pro-life Democrat (or one interested in centrist compromises on that issue) from her district who could answer a question or two about his religious convictions in non-Nones language?

So, how much attention did mainstream news outlets devote to Handel's faith and moral convictions? The answer, of course, is zero, zip, nada, nul, niches, niente. Yes, that was one of the issues looming over my first post about the Georgia contest.

But after the win, several major newsrooms produced short, news-you-can-use, "What you need to know about Karen Handel" features. As you would expect, the New York Times piece is the perfect place to start. Read it all, while looking for information about her life, faith and moral convictions. The lede:

ATLANTA -- Karen Handel, a fixture in Georgia Republican politics, won surprisingly easily in Tuesday’s runoff to fill the House seat in suburban Atlanta vacated by Tom Price, the health and human services secretary. Ms. Handel turned back a well-funded Democratic challenger, Jon Ossoff, to keep a heavily conservative and affluent district in Republican hands.

This is followed, naturally, with material about President Donald Trump, Handel's political resume, more White House info and, eventually, her National Football League convictions (I am note joking). Oh, and there was this:

Ms. Handel first gained national attention in 2012 when she was a senior official at the Susan G. Komen Foundation, a breast-cancer charity. With Ms. Handel serving as a senior vice president for policy, the foundation announced its intent to cut funding for screenings with Planned Parenthood. An uproar ensued, and Ms. Handel, who opposes abortion rights, quickly resigned from the group. The foundation swiftly restored Planned Parenthood’s eligibility for grants. She faced fierce attacks from Democrats during the runoff for her role with Komen.

Now, that is certainly relevant. Anyone interested in doing media-bias research could dig into the Komen Foundation coverage for a decade or so and only scratch the surface (click here for some GetReligion background material).

But why did Handel have such strong convictions about breast cancer, abortion and related issues? 

Let's try the Politico. It's the same song, with fewer verses:

Perhaps most central to her conservative agenda was a staunch pro-life stance. Handel left a high-ranking position with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure charity in 2012 after the cancer-fighting organization decided to restore funding for Planned Parenthood, an organization she called “blatantly partisan.”

Maybe there is helpful background material at CBS News

In 2012, she gained national attention when she resigned from her role as a vice president at the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, after the board decided to restore funding to Planned Parenthood. Handel wrote a book in the wake of her departure -- "Planned Bullyhood: The Truth Behind the Headlines about the Planned Parenthood Funding Battle with Susan G. Komen for the Cure."
On the issues, Handel is a standard conservative Republican -- she is pro-life, wants a simpler tax code, pro-border wall and supports a strong national defense, according to her website. 

Of course, you can turn to alternative news sources to get the background for Handel and her convictions linked to Komen. For example, there is this at the All Roads Lead to Rome blog, produced by activist Scott Smith.

This is not the first time Georgia's new Congresswoman-elect has made headlines. Back in 2012 after an unsuccessful bid for governor, Handel was appointed the Senior Vice President for Policy of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Shortly thereafter, the Komen foundation cut ties and funding to Planned Parenthood. According to the New York Times, the change resulted in a halt of grants to 19 of Planned Parenthood’s 83 affiliates, which received nearly $700,000 from the Komen foundation in 2011.
A Catholic herself, Handel cited the dozens of Catholic bishops across the country that had been calling on their parishioners to boycott races sponsored by Komen because, in addition to the Planned Parenthood grants, the group gave money for breast cancer research to medical centers doing stem cell research.

Finally, over at the Catholic News Agency site, Kristen Day showed up again to connect the various dots in this dramatic game of political chess:

Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, insisted that promoting abortion rights continues to be a losing issue for Democrats in states outside of the Northeast and the West Coast.
“Any time you do that in a pro-life district, you risk alienating voters who might otherwise vote for you,” she told CNA.
“We need to be helping people, not spending $25 million on an election that we’ll lose,” she added, referring to the record-setting level of campaign spending for a single House race. "What are we doing to promote helping those in need? ... We’ve lost our focus on the little guy.”

So here is my journalistic question: Why was Handel's faith irrelevant to his high-stakes race, especially since it was linked to a key political issue? Why did Catholic News Agency connect the dots -- calling Democrats for Life -- while mainstream newsrooms covered every conceivable issue linked to this special election, other than the moral, cultural and religious themes?

Oh, after the fact, The New York Times did run this op-ed piece: "The Democrats’ Religion Problem."

News! Come on folks. It's possible to address these kinds of issues with real, live, accurate, fair-minded news coverage. Why settle for opinion pieces? #JournalismMatters 

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