Culture War Night at Kauffman Stadium: Kansas City Royals draw criticism for anti-abortion ads

"Thank you, God, for the Kansas City Royals," my friend Cheryl said on Facebook recently.

Like me, Cheryl is a devoted and long-suffering Texas Rangers fan. Sadly, our team is off to a rotten start this season. But at least the Rangers are doing better -- but just barely -- than the Royals, who have the worst record in the American League. (Except, as my friend Murray will be quick to point out, Kansas City won the World Series in 2015, something Texas never has done.)

But forget that baseball religion angle for a minute. This week, the Royals are receiving a bit of national media attention unrelated to their 25-32 record.

A welcome diversion perhaps? Probably not. Yes, there is a non-baseball religion hook here, too.

It seems that Tuesday turned into a sort of unofficial Culture War Night, as USA Today reports:

A national women's advocacy organization says it will fly a banner over the Kansas City Royals’ Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday, protesting the team’s advertising agreement with an anti-abortion group. The banner will appear before the Royals’ game against the Houston Astros.
The advocacy group, UltraViolet, is calling for the Royals to cut ties with the Vitae Foundation, an anti-abortion group based in Jefferson City, Mo., that has branded ads on video boards at Royals games and is advertising on the team’s radio broadcasts.
The banner, which will read, “ROYALS FANS DESERVE TRUTH — DROP VITAE,” comes as a result of the Royals’ continued affiliation with Vitae.

Since we focus on journalism here at GetReligion, I have three questions about this story. I'll try not to swing and miss, but I can't promise that.

1. Is this really national news?

Maybe. Maybe not. I mean, it involves a major-league franchise that has seen its national following grow with the team's success in recent years (this season notwithstanding). 

On the other hand, it's not exactly man-bites-dog news: What are the odds that a pro-abortion-rights group (even if USA Today doesn't use that description) would be upset about an anti-abortion? Hint: They're probably higher than my Rangers' chances of making the playoffs.

It would be interesting to apply tmatt's mirror-image question to this story: Would USA Today cover the criticism in the same way if a pro-life group were complaining about a team allowing ads by Planned Parenthood? (Regular GetReligion readers know that news stories heavily favoring the pro-choice side are a longstanding and indisputable problem.)

2. Is this story fair to both sides?

To some extent, maybe it is. But it seems — in my humble opinion — tilted toward the pro-abortion side. The pro-choice group gets top billing as far as placement in the story and how it's quoted. 

After the lede that I shared above, there's this quote from the pro-abortion group:

“The Vitae Foundation lies and manipulates the public by spreading extreme, deceptive anti-choice propaganda not only to those seeking reproductive health care options, but also to young children,” UltraViolet chief campaigns officer Karin Roland said in a statement. “This partnership is part of a deceptive anti-choice agenda, and the Kansas City Royals are not only condoning it, but willingly participating and amplifying it.”

Vitae's response? Readers have to wait a little longer for that, as the story turns first to the Royals' defense:

The Royals said in a statement to USA TODAY Sports: “We entered into an agreement with the Vitae Foundation at the start of the 2016 season. It is primarily a radio advertisement buy. Vitae has similar agreements with other properties and media outlets. Separate from the ad campaign and as a general manner of practice, the club takes no official position on culturally sensitive issues.”

Then comes Vitae's response:

Vitae Foundation, in a statement released to USA TODAY Sports, termed itself an organization that utilizes "research-based messaging and media to inform women facing an untimely pregnancy about local pregnancy centers; educating the public about the value and sanctity of human life; and restoring the value of life as a core belief in the American culture.  Vitae has used radio and sports advertising to distribute educational messages for 25 years.

There's more to what Vitae says if you click the story link, but I probably should avoid copying and pasting the entire story (copyright law and all that).

Did you notice any subtle difference in how the pro-abortion group was quoted as opposed to the anti-abortion group? The pro-abortion group is quoted as "said in a statement" whereas the anti-abortion group is quoted as "termed itself an organization that utilizes..."

Why not simply say "said it utilizes...?" Is there any chance that the paper is trying to stress to readers that "this may be what the anti-abortion group claims, but we're not so sure about that." Or am I reading bias into the wording that isn't actually there?

3. Is the report complete?

By complete, I mean: Does it tell the full story? Does it provide adequate context and background to help readers full understand the facts, setting and circumstances?

For example, the story noted:

UltraViolet primarily objected to an essay contest sponsored by Vitae that was affiliated with the Royals. The contest encouraged grade school students to submit essays about, “What it means to be a Champion for Life. How can we make abortion unthinkable?”

A crucial question that USA Today fails to address: Was the contest open to all grade school students? If you click the link that the paper (to its credit) provides, you'll notice that the contest was open only to "students in a school of the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas."

That seems like an important distinction, and it's one that the Kansas City Star — in an earlier report -- included:

The contest, which closed May 1, was open only to the 33 Catholic grade schools within the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, according to a flyer about the contest.

But on a more macro level, I wonder whether USA Today considered putting any details in this story about baseball's approach to social issues — either as a sport or by individual teams such as the Royals. Surely this Twitter user isn't the only reader who had this thought?

Is there, just perhaps, a deeper, more involved story here than the one USA Today chose to tell? Is there any kind of a double standard at play here?

As we say around here: Just asking.

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