Planned Parenthood and media thank each other

Here at GetReligion, we analyze how well the media handle religion news. Last week was not one of those weeks that make me proud to be a journalist.

Generally speaking, reporters and their editors provide a valuable service and deliver news day after day under never-ending deadlines. We rarely lack for things to analyze here, but last week was a particular low point. In covering Planned Parenthood’s PR campaign against Susan G. Komen, far too many reporters failed to do their jobs and instead engaged in advocacy on behalf of Planned Parenthood.

If you were discouraged by what you saw, read or heard, believe me when I say I understand. But if there’s any positive that I can think of, it would be that if religion and values reporters had covered this story more, we would have seen much better coverage. Even take this early New York Times story on the Planned Parenthood campaign. It wasn’t good, but the one thing I can say for it is that at the end of the story, it mentioned that some pro-lifers were pleased with the initial news about Komen not funding Planned Parenthoood. Considering how much of the rest of the media failed to even acknowledge the existence of pro-lifers (or talk to them, quote them, etc.), this mere mention is notable. And did you catch who was contributing to the piece? “Douglas Quenqua and Laurie Goodstein contributed reporting.” Goodstein is, of course, the religion reporter at the Times. Now, the story was still awful – although not as bad as the follow-up – but at times like this, you have to take what you can. See: it could have been worse!

I was curious how the media would respond to Andrea Mitchell’s “interview” of Nancy Brinker, the CEO of Komen. It wasn’t an interview so much as a diatribe, where Mitchell passionately delivered Planned Parenthood talking points and refused to let Brinker answer. (I’ve embedded it below.) By comparison, please watch this embedded video above where Mitchell permits Sen. Barbara Boxer — a high priestess in the Church of Planned Parenthood — to monologue without interruption while thanking Mitchell for her work on behalf of Planned Parenthood, demonizing pro-lifers, issuing straw man arguments and general politicking. One of the things she says — that is unworthy of interruption, apparently, is that “the far right wing that just don’t believe — this is a fact — that women should have reproductive health care.” Mitchell ends, and I am in no way joking, by thanking Barbara Boxer for her work on behalf of Planned Parenthood.

What was the journalistic defense for this advocacy? Would there be any? Well, I’m sad to report that some in the media seemed to cheer Mitchell on. I keep wanting evidence that all of these media folks aren’t communicant members evangelists apologists in the Church of Planned Parenthood, but it’s hard to find.

Politico reporter MJ Lee continued with the Church of Planned Parenthood meme of pretending that the half of the country that’s pro-life just doesn’t exist. “MSNBC host personal about Komen,” we learn. We’re told that Mitchell’s diagnosis of breast cancer enabled her to express “the anger of a lot of people” about ending grants to Planned Parenthood. We’re never told how breast cancer equates to support of the country’s largest abortion provider — it’s just assumed.

It wasn’t enough. The next day, MJ Lee proselytized some more:

Susan G. Komen-Planned Parenthood showdown: Andrea Mitchell brought passion to story

For Andrea Mitchell, reporting on the showdown between Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Planned Parenthood was a wrenching experience — “one of those stories you really don’t want to be covering,” she says — but the MSNBC correspondent drew strength from knowing she was providing a voice to fellow breast cancer survivors.

Isn’t that amazing that pro-lifers don’t get breast cancer? Or so I assume since this reporter seems to indicate that all people with breast cancer love Planned Parenthood. Which will be news to the dozen or so women I know who’ve had breast cancer and oppose Planned Parenthood. Politico doesn’t mention any journalistic critiques of Mitchell’s performance. Politico doesn’t mention that any pro-lifers might have been less than pleased with her treatment of the topic. Time takes a similar approach in its treatment of the interview.

But remember, pro-lifers don’t exist. We discussed that last week. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat — the lone pro-lifer there — noticed some of these same problems:

[I]n the first Gallup poll to show a slight pro-life majority, conducted in May 2009, half of American women described themselves as pro-life.

But if you’ve followed the media frenzy surrounding the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation’s decision — which it backpedaled from, with an apology, after a wave of frankly brutal coverage — to discontinue about $700,000 in funding for Planned Parenthood, you would think all these millions of anti-abortion Americans simply do not exist.

From the nightly news shows to print and online media, the coverage’s tone alternated between wonder and outrage — wonder that anyone could possibly find Planned Parenthood even remotely controversial and outrage that the Komen foundation had “politicized” the cause of women’s health.

You really should read the whole thing. He gives some examples — he, too, noticed the ABC News report and Andrea Mitchell speech — and writes:

Conservative complaints about media bias are sometimes overdrawn. But on the abortion issue, the press’s prejudices are often absolute, its biases blatant and its blinders impenetrable. In many newsrooms and television studios across the country, Planned Parenthood is regarded as the equivalent of, well, the Komen foundation: an apolitical, high-minded and humanitarian institution whose work no rational person — and certainly no self-respecting woman — could possibly question or oppose.

But of course millions of Americans — including, yes, millions of American women — do oppose Planned Parenthood. They oppose the 300,000-plus abortions it performs every year (making it the largest abortion provider in the country), and they oppose its tireless opposition to even modest limits on abortion.

He gives quite a few facts and figures that don’t make it into mainstream media reports, pointing out that Planned Parenthood referred women for adoption 841 times during the same year it performed 329,445 abortions. Journalists betray their calling when they ignore truths about a story, he notes. He mentions three — that while the fight against breast cancer is non-controversial, provision of abortion is; that it’s no more “political” to disassociate from the country’s largest abortion provider than it is to associate; and that for the Americans who were enraged by Komen’s decision, there were others who were elated. (For a dissenting view, try out this Religion Dispatches piece.)

It’s fine for the Planned Parenthood PR team to claim that disassociating with the largest abortion provider is to engage in politics while associating with the largest abortion provider is not. That’s what PR teams do. It’s fine for the 26 Democratic Senators to issue a press release praising Komen for backtracking on the Planned Parenthood and for putting “politics aside” while also claiming credit for political pressure getting them to change that decision. That’s what politicians do. They speak outside of both sides of their mouth. It’s fine for pro-choice activists throughout the country to say that Komen should always associate with a $1 billion organization that performs 330,000 abortions a year … or else. Pro-abortion-rights activists can say whatever they want (although they shouldn’t have hacked into Komen’s web site and claimed that the breast cancer research giant kills women).

But what’s not OK is for the media to join this abortion-industrial complex. You don’t have to be pro-life to oppose what happened last week, and certainly there are pro-choice people who condemned it.

After Komen seemed to reverse course, press critic Jay Rosen said that he’d wanted to write up something about Mitchell’s speech but that he wasn’t sure if it was moot now. I encouraged him to write it up, saying that he couldn’t ignore the Church of Planned Parenthood’s “Here I Stand!” speech. He did write it up and one reporter noted that it seemed like he and I watched different speeches from Mitchell. I don’t think so — I think he just writes from within the Church of Planned Parenthood while I write from outside it. Also, his approach to media criticism includes evaluating the performances of interview subjects. I focus on journalists. He tweeted:

Two views of that trainwreck interview with CEO of Susan G. Komen. Mine: Catholic, pro-life writer

When you don’t know much about people who oppose abortion, I guess we all look alike! Just kidding — he’s noted he was wrong about my religious affiliation. I have absolutely no idea why he felt it necessary to characterize my professional work and media criticism in terms of my religion, but I didn’t go to journalism school.

Anyway, Rosen is known for criticizing “the view from nowhere.” He is consistent, then, in praising Mitchell’s view which comes from within the Church of Planned Parenthood. He also blames the victim:

Brinker seemed to approach Mitchell as “one of us,” a sympathetic ear who of course had a job to do but someone who also held the mission — fighting breast cancer — sacred. Herself a survivor! But Brinker never considered that this could cut two ways. Mitchell’s enormous stake in the work of the Foundation could incline her to sympathy for Brinker’s position. It’s plausible. But it could just as easily place her among the millions of women enraged that the Foundation had somehow stumbled into the politics of abortion without a clue as to what might happen if it cut off funding for Planned Parenthood. Equally plausible. A shrewd executive, well briefed, would understand that.

See, from within the Church of Planned Parenthood, you only stumble into the politics of abortion if you don’t give hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to an abortion company. You do not stumble into the politics of abortion while funding abortion organizations. That is dogma.

Anyway, I am curious how Rosen would compare the video embedded above with Mitchell’s performance that he praises. Either way, you should read his media criticism of the woman interviewed by Mitchell.

There’s so much to write about what happened last week that we could go on for days. I should probably write something about how there’s good indication that everyone in the media (including me) got the story wrong, both in falling for the Planned Parenthood PR campaign and in writing that Komen backtracked. Not wrong, maybe, but certainly not right.

There are some interesting facts and figures documenting how the mainstream media is ignoring the HHS scandal while hyping the Planned Parenthood PR campaign. There are more examples of awful stories. And there are stories that weren’t bad and deserve to be highlighted.

No matter your views on abortion, Planned Parenthood or Komen’s handling of this crisis, this has been a terribly interesting week in media coverage. Did last week affect your view of the media at all? If so, how? Did you enjoy their advocacy on behalf of Planned Parenthood? Or were you disappointed?

Print Friendly
  • Gail Finke

    This is a great analysis. Douthat is correct that among many people, Planned Parenthood is assumed to be “an apolitical, high-minded and humanitarian institution whose work no rational person — and certainly no self-respecting woman — could possibly question or oppose.” This story certainly revealed that! But for people in the media to NOT KNOW that Planned Parenthood is controversial is inexcusable. We are supposed to be objective, as far as humanly possible. But I don’ t think most people in the media believe that anymore. Journalists, thought of course they are like all human being biased in certain areas — used to pride themselves on at least TRYING to look at things with a cold eye, see bias and connections and influence that others were blind to, and generally take the part of the people against corporations and government. Now they have shifted and try to use those same skills to take the PART of whatever organization or government they agree with. I now own my own Catholic medium, but although I approach things from a Catholic perspective and I EXPLICITELY SAY THAT I DO, I also consider it my duty to examine everything I write for biases, and to examine the people I write about to see if they are, in fact, WRONG. I don’t see this in the coverage of this story.

  • sari

    Do you feel that you could have covered the Komen/PP debacle in an unbiased way for the MSM? A question, not a criticism.

  • Mollie


    Relative to how it was covered, I’m confident I could have done a million times better. Though I don’t personally want to support Planned Parenthood with either my tax dollars or my charitable contributions, I would vehemently defend the organization’s right to fair coverage in the media.

    I look at it vocationally. My job as a reporter isn’t to tell people to love or hate Komen or Planned Parenthood or anything else but, rather, to report the facts.

    When I write commentary or criticism, however, my job rightly involves persuasion. But not when reporting stories.

  • Stan

    Mollie, I disagree with you completely. I think last week was a great day for journalism. As a result of journalists, we learned a great deal about the Komen Foundation. We know now that it is basically a nest of Republicans who are paid huge salaries for doing very little to combat breast cancer. In acting ideologically, they opened the way for journalists to do what they should have done much earlier: tell us who these people actually are. This is very important to know.

  • Mollie


    Yes, if you look at the mainstream media like a denominational press outlet — which it was last week, for the Church of Planned Parenthood — one could argue it was a great day for sectarian journalism.

    We’re talking about how well the issue was covered *outside* the Church of Planned Parenthood. And if you’re not ideologically on board with the dogma, doctrines and sacraments of the Church of Planned Parenthood, or if you merely want a media that strives for facts over ideology or apologetics, it wasn’t so hot, obviously.

  • Jupiter

    “I have absolutely no idea why he felt it necessary to characterize my professional work and media criticism in terms of my religion”

    If you honestly want to know – it’s because you insert your religion into your professional work. One can’t read a single post of yours without having your anti-choice beliefs shoved in one’s face multiple times.

    The media did a terrible job of covering Komen. For example, it wasn’t even pointed out that Komen offered at least two different explanation for its actions. If we count GetReligion as being part of “the media”, it’s worth pointing out that Mollie completely ignored the first excuse Komen offered, which was that they couldn’t fund PPFA because of the faux investigation, and even made their second excuse before Nancy Brinker (R-Texas) did. Great anti-choicers apparently think alike.

    It turns out that Komen funds many organizations that are exclusively concerned with education, or screening – like Living Beyond Breast Cancer, Nueva Vida, Bioethics International, The Seton Fund, American Cancer Society, and many others. So even its second excuse is pathetic and hilarious. Why isn’t the media covering this? Obviously, the media has great trouble covering anything religious – it is too deferential to religious people.

    It’s very intellectually dishonest to claim that Komen had non-abortion-related reasons to defund PPFA. It’s a shame that the media isn’t exposing this. I’ve lost respect for sane conservatives like George Will, over their ridiculous defense of this idiotic decisions.

  • Martha

    “I have absolutely no idea why he felt it necessary to characterize my professional work and media criticism in terms of my religion, but I didn’t go to journalism school.”

    But Mollie! But Mollie! Don’t you know the only reason to breathe a single word of criticism about Planned Parenthood is because of religion, and don’t you know the only religion that opposes abortion is Catholiscism, so you must be a Catholic? Yes, I know what you’re going to say: Evangelicals. But you’re a journalist, which means you know how to read and write, so you can’t be an Evangelical, so that only leaves Catholicism.

    (Oh, how I wish I was joking about that, but just trawl through all the anti-intellectual jibes about Evangelicalism – which gets confused with Fundamentalism by those making the jibes – and you’re left with the impression of toothless mountain-dwellers who don’t cotton to that there electrickery stuff neither!)

    I wonder, though, if Planned Parenthood hasn’t hurt itself in this battle with the Komen foundation; it has sent out a very strong message to any potential corporate donors that should they even think of ending their association for whatever reason, then PP will destroy them with publicity campaigns. Maybe it might be better not to associate your company or business with PP in the first place?

  • Frank

    Once again your journalistic incompetence is showing. The Komen Foundation claimed they had a policy to suspend funding to any organization under state or federal investigation, but they refused to defund Komen’s $7.5 millon grant to PENN STATE, in spite of the ongoing investigation of child rape there.

  • Chris

    I thought coverage was an unsubtle debacle. There was no attempt to relate decisions by Komen and Planned Parenthood to facts about: 1. the demographics of breast cancer (a disease primarily of middle aged and elderly women) and whether Planned Parenthood was seeing the correct demographic, 2. how much money was actually involved, 3. The difference between cancer screening (I’d grant that PP probably does a ton of cervical cancer screening) and breast cancer screening (probably not so much), and 4) how non-profits make grant decisions.
    Frankly, it was a digital parallel to the Roman coliseum, complete with thumbs up (like) and thumbs down to determine the winner.

    On another note, journalists should be careful not to claim that abortion “causes” breast cancer. It is associated with breast cancer–that is why the investigators in the epidemiologic study you link to use an odds ratio (OR). So is delayed first pregnancy, and the length of time between menarche and menopause. All of these may have to do with the length of time of unopposed hormonal stimulation.

  • Julia

    Don’t you know the only reason to breathe a single word of criticism about Planned Parenthood is because of religion, and don’t you know the only religion that opposes abortion is Catholicism, so you must be a Catholic?

    And, of course, Catholics are only taking orders from The Vatican. Why else would anybody oppose women’s health care.

    People think theft is wrong without their religion telling them so – even though most religions teach that, too. Similarly, people can come to the conclusion that they are “pro-life” for ethical reasons in addition to or in spite of what a particular religion teaches.

    The tendency to brush off pro-lifers as being robotic idiots blindly obeying a diktat from a furriner is seen as the smart and intelligent thing to do. Of course, pro-lifers can be dismissed as not counting.

    It’s the same thing that happens to conservative African-Americans. Because of their positions they must be stupid and/or tokens and/or not really African-American and for sure traitors to their race – so they can be dismissed as not counting.

    Just like women who aren’t pro-choice. We’ve all seen pro-lifers dismissed as anti-woman and traitors to their sex. That’s the vibe towards Ms Brinker that I was getting from an astonished Andrea Mitchell, even though we don’t even know what Ms Brinker’s position is on abortion. The fact that she would de-fund PP of less than 1% of its budget is sufficient to prove she’s a traitor to her sex and therefore dismissable.

  • Jeff

    “Did last week affect your view of the media at all? If so, how? Did you enjoy their advocacy on behalf of Planned Parenthood? Or were you disappointed?”

    No, not in the least.

    It only confirmed my longstanding view — the view of anyone with eyes to see — that most of the mainstream media are at best collaborators with and at worst active instigators of the ongoing left-liberal effort to push the U.S. toward a kind of secularist fascism-lite cum secularist dhimmitude in which the freedom of religion guaranteed in the Constitution is replaced by the “freedom of worship” supposedly “enjoyed” in more “enlightened” societies like China, say.

  • Dave

    Mollie, you need to understand the metanarrative behind the narrative in the MSM.

    Defunding Planned Parenthood has been an open goal of the right wing for several years now. Anything that looks like that is cast in this frame and becomes a political story. Inner workings of Komen, as they relate to this move, become news; inner workings of Planned Parenthood, as they are apart from this move, are not news.

    So what we have here is not a failure to get religion, but a failure to apply an alternative metanarrative.

  • Julia

    Chris is right about being leery of putting a lot of emphasis on studied re: breast cancer and abortion

    I re-call from my pathology class at a Jesuit university long ago that there is some statistical indication that nuns are more prone to breast cancer. It was thought that all women who never become pregnant or never carry to term are more vulnerable. Because the milk processing function of the breasts never gets going or never completes to actual expression of milk after child birth. One of my professors described first pregnancy and childbirth as like taking a new car out to the speedway to check it out. It tests all the systems and gets all the fluids going.

    Don’t know if that theory has ever been verified, but I bring it up to show that there are lots of theories about what causes breast cancer or can make someone more vulnerable to it. Some of them might backfire if you are trying to use your theory for ideological purposes.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Like, Jeff, this media debacle only confirms to me the fanaticism, dishonesty, and ignorance of the pro-choice crowd. Nothing new here.

    I may have said this (I’m old and get to repeat myself, so there!), but I think 2012 will be a watershed year for American journalism. Newspapers are dying as cynicism rises about the integrity of journalists. Whether that’s fair or not, it’s happening: people are no longer dependent on what a reporter chooses to report or what an editor allows into print.

    The alphabet news networks are already campaigning for Pres. Obama and stories such as this contribute to the perception that reporting has become a matter of propaganda rather than journalism. The facts are there: claims for cultural acceptance of the hot-button issues are overstated. When subjected to a vote, same-sex marriage routinely fails. Polls are clear that about half of the country opposes abortion. If the president fails at re-election, the mainstream media will be revealed for widely irrelevant to real life in America, and the current media outlets will either re-tool or die.

    Finally, I commend The New York Times (mark the calendar) for keeping a commentator like Douthat on staff. I don’t always agree with him, but respect his honest voice.

  • Jeff

    Let me second Passing By’s commendation of Ross Douthat and extend it to everyone here at Get Religion. Those of us here who criticize the mainstream media don’t hate journalism and you, Mollie, shouldn’t be ashamed of journalism last week. What happened last week was *nor* journalism, anymore than much of what goes on in colleges and universities is scholarship or anymore than much of what goes on in the arts is … well … art. There’s nothing about what goes on in those places that should lead anyone to hate or to be ashamed of journalism, scholarship, or art. There are long periods in history when certain institutions are corrupted, prior to being reformed. We are living through one of those times. There are also long periods in history when points of light are kept alive in the most unlikely places amid the growing dark. We are also living through one of those times, and people like you all here and like Douthat at The New York Times are among the bearers of what’s left of the flame. It may be not much more than an ember now, but one day it will revive and our public life will be reformed and rejuvenated to vigor and health and integrity. So you, Mollie, and your colleagues should take some consolation from the fact that you are doing what is right and what will one day be more widely recognized to have been the right thing all along. Godspeed and all the best in your invaluable work.

  • R9

    This has clearly taught me that the enemy tribe is dishonest and hates truth, not like my side who are all quite rational and reasonable.

    (insert factions as applicable)

    Okay actually it’s only managed brief mentions here in the UK press, where thankfully abortion isn’t such an explosive topic.

  • Bill

    We’re told that Mitchell’s diagnosis of breast cancer enabled her to express “the anger of a lot of people” about ending grants to Planned Parenthood.

    Let’s see… I had cancer twenty years ago. Does that enable me to express “the anger of a lot of people” about one private organization ending grants to another? Or does that not apply because I’m a Catholic, a man and it wasn’t breast cancer?

    When I point out to Planned Parenthood missionaries that when a sperm meets an unfertilized egg a new and genetically different organism – a human organism – comes into existence, and that everything thereafter is simply growth, I’m told I’m basing my pro-life stance on religious superstition, ignorance and right-wing extremism. The PP acolytes in the press agree.

    As Martha points out, this incident is also a lesson that once you give to PP, you had better keep giving. Apostasy will by severely punished. And the media will sell tickets to your hanging.

  • Thinkling

    Without a doubt this incident has been a journalistic fail. J school textbooks 50 years from now may very well have a chapter on this incident and it’s follow ups as how not to do things.

    I do second the call to be prudent about claims of an abortion / breast cancer causual link. There seems to be no lack of evidence from either perspective, and so much of both kinds is contaminated by ideology. The journalistic segue here is that while I have seen reasonably balanced reflections on the he-said-she-said scientific perspectives, I rarely if ever see an acknowledgement that there is a lot of ideological corruption of much of the work, except in quoting either side saying the other side’s support is flawed in this way.

    I would encourage poster Fred to not overstate his case and underuse his civility, but the idea of examining the entire implications of Komen’s criteria amendments, not just the PP implications, is not something I saw examined at all. This seems like an actual oversight, and could easily cut either way. It may have overlooked discrepancies in application (Fred’s suggestion), or at least a major PR gaffe by Komen. And conversely it could be easily construed as avoiding making the PP grant changes seem like as much of a big deal.

    While the fair coverage of this incident had to resort to also including the non-traditional pro life blogosphere, it is interesting to note that most of their coverage had a similar weakness to essentially all of the traditional (pro choice) MSM. They overstated the significance of the original Komen change, as well as overstating that of the (so-called) retraction. Prolife blogger Theresa Thomeo was one, as was Thomas Peters after the (so-called) retraction. In reality what Komen did either time did not amount to that much, but you wouldn’t know it from reading nearly any coverage of it.

    Lastly, it is always comforting, when confronted with an article about an uncomfortable assertion (like this article), to see its comboxes offer ample demonstration of that assertion. Here the reach, and the tenacity, of the “Church of Planned Parenthood” are illustrated clearly in the comboxes.

  • Thinkling

    A clarification to my 12:57PM post. Tomeo and Peters are examples of coverage that did not overstate what Komen did.

  • Tragic Christian

    Jupiter, meet Nat Hentoff, distinguished former music critic for the Village Voice, First Amendment defender, Jewish through family but religiously an atheist. Also staunchly pro-life, which he sees as a civil rights issue:

    And David Harsyani, a right-libertarian columnist, also an atheist, who writes about the wrongs of abortion:

    There’s even an agnostic/atheist pro-life home page:

    But it’s a feminist issue? Well, how about feminists for life?

    … which also points out that Susan B. Anthony was against abortion. One of the major anti-abortion groups is the Susan B. Anthony List:

    Vatican agents, one and all!

    As a pro-life person — and yes, religious — whenever I make the argument, it’s about science, justice, and human rights. And whenever they can’t counter my arguments, they shut if off with “Well, you go to CHURCH!!!” My human DNA arguments notwithstanding.

    Pro-life is NOT a small tent, even tho’ PP and their fawning media would like you to think so.

  • CarlH


    Thank you for taking on this journalistic debacle. And it does take some courage, as the Susan G. Komen Foundation is not the only institution that has been subjected to, and knuckled under, to pressure carefully orchestrated by Planned Parenthood.

    I realize that the following is an op-ed piece, and from an advocate in a pending court case (an attorney for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty), but until I read it yesterday I had read nothing about the case involving the Washington State Board of Pharmacy’s elimination of a conscience clause in its mandate for filling “morning-after pill” prescriptions it had adopted in 2006, and the ensuing campaign–orchestrated by none other than Planned Parenthood–against a pharmacy and two pharmacists:

    Protecting rights of conscience

    When I tried searching for recent news articles about the trial, I found only one recent local article covering upcoming closing arguments in the trial, from The [Olympia, Washington] Olympian, plus op-eds in The Washington Times and The National Catholic Register.

    Talk about a constituency that doesn’t exist for the national press!

  • tmatt

    The crucial point in all of this, the heart of MZ’s work?

    It is not the job of journalists to do PR for Planned Parenthood.

    It is not the job of journalists to do PR for critics of Planned Parenthood.

    It IS THE JOB of journalists to accurately cover the debate between the two.

    In other words, it’s journalism stupid. There is a debate here. Don’t choose sides in basic news coverage. If the nation is divided roughly 50-50 on abortion, then it helps to contemplate how that might affect hard-news coverage.

  • John Petty

    Yet Barbara Boxer is a “high priestess in the Church of Planned Parenthood”?

    Planned Parenthood is not a church, and Barbara Boxer is not a “priestess.”

  • Tragic Christian

    …uh, John? It’s called a metaphor.

  • Stan

    I am amazed by the grievances felt by Molly and other commenters here. Is the media supposed to simply accept the Komen Foundation’s press releases? When they decided to defund Planned Parenthood, which has been the target of right-wing wrath for several years, it was entirely appropriate that they ask questions. The answers to those questions given by the Komen Foundation made no sense, and as the media probed more deeply, it also became clear that the Komen Foundation was not the nonpartisan foundation committed to curing breast cancer that it pretended to be. Indeed, it seems that its biggest commitment is to paying right-wing politicians very high salaries. We would not have known that had not the media done its job, which is to expose the mendacity of politicians and foundations that are not what they have pretended to be. This whole story has much less to do with the snarkily described “Church of Planned Parenthood” than it has to do with the lies of the Komen Foundation.

  • Mollie

    Isn’t it so interesting, Stan, that the media only felt compelled to go after Komen when Komen voluntarily decided not to fund Planned Parenthood? Were any of these things untrue the day before the Planned Parenthood PR campaign began? So terribly fascinating that Andrea Mitchell went from championing the cause to fighting it with every fiber of her being only when the funding to the abortion group was threatened.

    Such a fascinating story about what journalists choose to investigate, when, etc.

    Have any of these stories, for instance, noticed how many millions of dollars Planned Parenthood spends annually on Democratic politicians? How many recorded the high salaries of Planned Parenthood officials? And are the high compensation packages more interesting to note in a private charity or a quasi-governmental organization?

    We see how easily reporters are able to turn their investigative eye toward those who don’t support Big Abortion. Can they turn that investigative eye within?

    There should be no double standard — or, at least, there’s not journalistic defense for it.

  • Observer

    How is your language in this post – consistent use of the ‘pro-life’ label (rather than AP style), mantra like repetitions of the “Church of Planned Parenthood”, etc – compatible with any residual claim to fairness ? Is GetReligion now officially an advocacy site ? Is that what your mission has come to ?

  • Mollie


    Yes, I use ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-life’ time to time — which is not AP style. But mostly that’s just because it can get rather clunky to write out “abortion rights supporters” and “abortion rights opponents” and the like — and I’m not the world’s biggest fan of this framing in any case.

    As for advocacy, we are advocates … for quality journalism. So while we oppose the mainstream media simply rewriting Planned Parenthood press releases, we would also oppose the rewriting of anti-abortion press releases.

    If you see any examples of that — biased coverage in favor of opponents of abortion, do let us know.

    We’ve had a tsunami of examples this last week in the opposite direction, which is why we’re writing about it.

    As for Church of Planned Parenthood — I’m trying to capture the religious-like fervor of advocates within the media.

    Thanks for reading!

  • Mark Baddeley


    In answer to your set of related questions, my feelings are much the same as yours (although possibly more extreme). I think GetReligion, by highlighting good examples of journalism, has, over the last couple of years persuaded me that journalism is salvageable and the aspiration of objectivity can be met within reasonable allowances for bias etc.

    That has really taken a big hit this last week.

    And it’s not just the journalists. It’s watching people’s reactions to it. Reading Stan’s comments here (and he’s hardly alone in broader society on this) either ignoring the Mitchell interview or seeing it as *good* journalism (actually, seeing it as journalism at all) makes me think that maybe we’ve jumped the shark and it simply isn’t possible to just report *both* sides on anything that involves the ‘culture wars’. It has to be advocacy. It has to be either MSNBC or Fox.

    It’s not just that the journalists are blinded and blinkered, the citizens who read and watch and listen are as well. And, hey, you know, we’re all jiggy with that.

    That’s not an environment in which journalism’s unofficial role as the fourth estate in a liberal democracy can flourish. It’s basically just nothing more than an exercise in free speech – blogging on a bigger scale, but not reporting. And “the people” won’t allow it to be anything more.

    Mitchell should have been sacked after that interview for gross incompetence. Her name should be pariah among journalists no matter their views on abortion. It should have been the same if she pulled in the head of PP and harangued them in an interview. It is an abuse of her position as a journalist and as interviewer. But it’s an abuse that is considered desirable among the other journalists and among many of the consumers.

    Like government, people often get the journalism they deserve.

  • Tragic Christian

    Let me restate something I’ve stated elsewhere: AP and other news outlets convey their bias by the very words they choose to describe each side. Pro-life people prefer that usage; pro-choice people approve that usage. Abortion is an ugly word. AP and other news outlets (like NPR, which uses “pro-choice” and “opponents of abortion rights”) like to stick the ugly word with the opponents of abortion. Those who actually approve of abortion have the word scrubbed from their description: they get two positive words, “pro-choice,” when “pro-abortion” would be more accurate. Pro-life groups get two negatives, “anti-abortion,” or “opponents of abortion rights” (a trifecta!) in the stylebook. Myself, I think the fair thing is to start by accepting each sides’ description of itself. “Pro-life” vs. “pro-abortion” is not a fair description.

  • Tragic Christian

    Correction, “pro-choice” vs. “anti-abortion” is not a fair description. If we’re using “pro-choice,” two positives, we should also use “pro-life,” which is also two positives.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    “Pro-life” vs. “pro-abortion” is also not a fair description, so you were right there, TC. I’ve known pro-choice people who could be reasonably called “pro-abortion”, but certainly not all pro-choice people are. You can argue about the incoherence of that position, but it seems reasonable to accept the folk that hold it at their word.

    It does seem unfair to hide Stan’s comments. As ill-informed and mean-spirited as they are, at least Stan isn’t some stranger riding in on his hobby horse to pontificate on the failure of GetReligion and it’s fall into right-wing advocacy. Certainly “dislike”-able as comments go, but at least consistent.

  • Mollie

    We didn’t like the comment-hiding software at first either. We’re able to tweak it — we now require a higher negative to positive ratio before it gets hidden — but we’ve found that if there’s one thing that getting a comment hidden assures, it’s having every reader click to unhide it.

    Sometimes I only read the hidden comments!

    Not that I’m defending some of the over-the-top rhetoric we see in these comments … but also a thank you to everyone for doing a great job keeping on topic with regard to media coverage as opposed to the underlying issues. I think we all benefit when we can read thoughtful views that our different from our own.

  • Stan

    Mollie, I absolutely agree that the media should have set its sights on the Komen Foundation long before the issue of defunding Planned Parenthood came up. You are right that the Komen Foundation has been hiring Bush administration officials for years, and the media has not probed them sufficiently. They should have examined their ratio of money raised to the grants they actually make and they would have discovered that a pitifully small amount of money that they raise goes to cancer research and not much more to cancer screenings and treatment. That, it seems to me, is the good that has come out of the Komen Foundation’s disastrous gambit. They can no longer pretend to be “nonpartisan.”

  • Mollie


    The tricky part is whether you can see that the media should “set its sights” on Planned Parenthood. What questions do you think that they should ask of them? Should they note how overwhelmingly partisan the organization is — particularly how it compares to Komen? How political? How high the salaries?

    Tell us what questions you think need to be answered by Planned Parenthood?

    Or do they not allow such questioning if you’re a member of the Church of Planned Parenthood?

  • Observer

    Mollie & tmatt,

    may I suggest that you start explicitly marking some posts as opinion pieces/editorials ?

    To achieve three things:
    1) So that all your writers can let off steam, occasionally

    2) So that people like me, who really only care about intelligent analysis, not agendas, can skip them

    3) So that the other, non-editorialising posts can be cooler, calmer and fairer

    Examples would be this post, or this one, which I also found very “preachy to the choir”

  • Mollie


    All of our pieces are opinion pieces. We’re a media criticism site!

    Feel free to skip any or all posts, but that’s what we do. We offer our opinions about how well the mainstream media handles religion (and values) news.

    Feel free to disagree with something I’ve written (though I’d prefer you substantiate any and all claims rather than simply assert that my post was stupid) or skip it, but, again, we’re a media criticism site.

  • michael henry

    “Did last week affect your view of the media at all? ”
    No, it (coverage) was actually rather consistent with msm bias.

    ” Did you enjoy their advocacy on behalf of Planned Parenthood? Or were you disappointed?”
    No, it was outrageous, but not unexpected. I actually thought the backlash against Komen would come within a few minutes to hours instead of a day or two.

  • Will

    TC, you forgot Pagans for Life

    And there is Libertarians for Life
    Probably not a lot of Catholics and very few evangelicals there.

  • Stan

    Mollie, I think the media should also treat Planned Parenthood fairly: ask hard questions, reveal the salaries of its executives, let us know the relationship between the money spent on services and the money spent on administration, etc. I suspect, though I do not know, that Planned Parenthood has been subject to far more media examination that the Komen Foundation was before the last week or so.

  • Julia


    Anybody can view the IRS 990 of non-profits on-line at

    Info about 990s and to see the forms showing what kind of data is required, go to:,,id=96986,00.html,,id=249767,00.html

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Compare the volcanic level coverage given the Komen situation with the rare coverage of the tyranny Obamacare government power will unleash against church institutions (not just Catholic) that won’t grovel and start living by government mandated morality.
    You would think a hot dispute over the First Amendment and possible civil disobediance by some religious leaders would be a much bigger story than a dispute between two private charities.
    I finally heard on the radio a report on how Moslems in this country are reacting–with anger and determined opposition. But I bet the media is going to play up the story as a “Catholic” Thing and try to get every anti-Catholic, anti-religious bigot to line up against the First Amendment and support Obama’s decision.

  • Jeff

    “I bet the media is going to play up the story as a “Catholic” Thing and try to get every anti-Catholic, anti-religious bigot to line up against the First Amendment and support Obama’s decision.”

    They are going to try to polarize the public and to play on fear — both the fear of religious “others” and maybe even more so the fear of being ostracized from “polite,” haute-bourgeois society for standing against the coming secularist fascism-lite and the secularist dhimmitude.

    Of course, there are better things in life than being Stuff White People Like.

    Many and let’s hope most Christians will honorably pay what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “the cost of discipleship.”

    And many others in other religious and ethical traditions will honorably pay an analogous cost in their own ways.

    The good folks here at Get Religion are already paying the cost both as journalists and persons of faith.

    They ought to be commended for doing so.

    They offer good examples to us all.

  • Mollie


    This isn’t the place to discuss the HHS mandate itself but, rather, the media coverage (although not necessarily on THIS post).

    I would caution against painting with such wide brushes, though. While the initial coverage of the HHS mandate, the backlash it’s provoked among Catholics and cobelligerents, etc., was dismal, it’s definitely getting better.

    I hope to analyze some of the coverage, but the battle and the response has been receiving much more coverage in terms of quantity (not a difficult thing considering the relative absence of coverage initially!) but also in quality.

    Better late than never, of course, and these improvements are to be commended.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Added note–I saw it nowhere in the liberal mass media, but the 65 canonical Orthodox Christian bishops have unanimously come out in support of the Catholic bishops and in defense of the First Amendment.
    I saw it nowhere in the liberal mass media that bills in Congress to protect the First Amendment are receiving Republican support, but virtually zero Democrat support. Will trhe media hide the fact that Democrats are putting themselves in the position of being the anti-First Amendment Party or the trash the rights of all religions party.
    I saw it nowhere in the media, but a poll showed almost half of Protestants support the Catholic position defending the First Amendment.

  • Observer

    But mostly that’s just because it can get rather clunky to write out “abortion rights supporters” and “abortion rights opponents” and the like — and I’m not the world’s biggest fan of this framing in any case.

    Of course they are clunky, that’s rather the point. Avoidance of bias is hard.

    All of our pieces are opinion pieces. We’re a media criticism site!

    You are deliberately blurring the distinction between one-sided advocacy for a cause, and advocating for equal fairness to all causes.

    As soon as you say ‘pro-life’, you’re no longer doing critical analysis, you’re doing advocacy for a cause. As soon as you say ‘Church of Planned Parenthood’, you’re doing over-the-top advocacy.

    Can I get you on the record as saying that the standards of fairness that you demand from journalists do not apply to your own work ?

  • Mollie

    Deacon, I know that the Orthodox bishops are standing with Catholics, for instance, but could you please provide links when you cite things such as this? I’m not sure what you’re referencing in the subsequent claims …

  • Mollie


    I already copped to calling pro-choicers ‘pro-choice’ and pro-lifers ‘pro-life’ and why. It’s not AP style, I readily admit, but it’s neither advocacy for or against a particular abortion position. Unless calling pro-choicers ‘pro-choice’ means I’m suddenly advocating for abortion rights. I’m not. It works both ways, I’m sure you see.

    As for my metaphor regarding the collusion between Planned Parenthood and the media, it may be over-the-top advocacy in defense of journalism that doesn’t pick winners and losers, but I’m fine with such advocacy. It’s what we do here.

    If you can find where I asked the media to unfairly report on one side over another, by all means call me out. If you want to defend the MSM advocacy on behalf of Planned Parenthood, go ahead and attempt to do so.

    But I think you are confusing my full-throated and passionate opposition to the unhinged bias on display in the last week with a different type of advocacy …

  • Bill

    The coverage of the bishops’ response has not received the coverage it deserves. There was this online piece from the Telegraph:

    Short, but not a bad piece except for the choice of adverb in the lede:

    Roman Catholic leaders have furiously criticised President Barack Obama for approving new regulations that compel religious organisations to include morning-after pills and other contraceptives in employee health insurance coverage.

    The letter from Archbishop of San Antonio was read at Mass on Sunday. It was hardly furious. But it was emphatic. No way will the Church accept the HHS decree.

  • Jeff


    I hear your warning about broad brushes, put I think nonetheless that it’s partly some people’s willingness to call spades spades that may be forcing the media to back off the heavy-handed kulturkampf a bit and act a little more like journalists and less like apparatchiks for Planned Parenthood and Obama’s HHS. In other words, it may be forcing them to do their duty just a little bit — to do their d*** jobs. If that’s the case, then the effort to call spades spades was worth the risk of painting this picture with a(n) (only slightly) broad brush.

  • Mark Baddeley

    Jeff, I disagree. I think most people take criticism better when they know that the people making the criticism are ‘friends’ and not ‘enemies’. If, for example, Carl is right and journalists are all self-conscious foot-soldiers in the culture wars, then many/most of us can’t support them or that. And we have to call it as we see it, and that will have some effect. I would think that for many fair-minded journalists to read (for example) Carl’s blanket rejections of journalism-as-it-is-practiced should cause some soul-searching. Getting someone like him completely off-side is a signpost that there might be something wrong.

    Nonetheless, few people like to be corrected by their enemies. A change made under those circumstances will be grudging and likely result in even worse dynamics in the long term. The better approach is to be *genuinely* a friend who is critical of a lot of what happens in practice, but who is wholehearted in what can be found that is genuinely worth praising.

    Call it when it’s bad. Use every rhetorical trick in the book when it’s *really* bad (Church of Planned Parenthood – ROFL). But freely and ungrudgingly acknowledge what the media gets right as well. It’s a much better strategy unless, like Carl, one decides that mainstream journalism simply cannot be repaired.

  • Jeff


    I hear what you’re saying, but sometimes friends must stage an intervention to dispense some tough love if they want to save their friends — and I think we have reached that point with the MSM. If they didn’t hit bottom last week, on their own, then it’s time to intervene.

  • Stan

    Something that the mainstream media has not reported sufficiently about the Komen Foundation’s embrace of partisanship is that in addition to pulling funds from Planned Parenthood, it has also recently decided to stop funding embryonic stem cell research centers.

    It has rescinded grants of $3.75 million to the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, $4.5 million to the University of Kansas Medical Center, $1 million to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, $1 million to the Society for Women’s Health Research, and $600,000 to Yale University. That’s a loss of nearly $12 million dollars in research money to eradicate breast cancer this year alone.

    This is a new position for the organization which had previously supported all sorts of scientific research targeted at finding a cure for breast cancer and saving women’s lives. Its new position is that the organization will categorically no longer support any embryonic stem cell research.

    Interestingly, this decision got none of the attention that its severing of ties with Planned Parenthood received. I think that the media has more work to do.

    My source may be found here:

  • Mollie


    I don’t even blame you for this because, again, the media have done a wretched job of accurately writing about stem cell research that destroys embryos but … the real action and promise with stem cell research has been shown to be in those avenues that don’t destroy embryos.

    This is a media coverage issue, although likely not the one you think.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Here’s what the SGK foundation actually says about their funding of ESTR:

    Embryonic stem cells are currently considered to have the most potential for use in the regeneration of diseased or injured tissues. Whether embryonic stem cells will have a role or will be of value in the fight against breast cancer has not been clearly determined. To this point, embryonic stem cell research has not shown promise for application in breast cancer.

    Contrary to circulating online reports, Komen has not “de-funded” any grantee based on human embryonic stem cell research conducted at their institution.

    A little search on “Embryonic stem cell research and Susan G Komen foundation” turned up a lot of claims from the left, and a couple of complaints from the right, but only a couple of mainstream articles.

    Apparently, Nancy Brinker (Susan G Komen’s sister, I learned) has long-standing ties to the Republican Party. So she’s been performing against type for some years (although pro-choice is an accepted position among Republicans) but now that the foundation is making different decisions, it’s a move to “the hard right”. Interesting.

    Journalists could, of course, do real research into the actual science and potential therapeutic value of embryonic stem cell research instead of letting it stand as a surrogate issue for abortion. I recognize that it’s de rigour to define moral issues as “political”, but that’s propaganda.

    And one more issue: since both Planned Parenthood and SGK reported increased donations as a result of the split, why did the latter backtrack. Symbolism apparently trumps money.

  • Helen

    To date, the successful use of stem cells has been done with adult stem cells, sometimes taken from the person being treated (which eliminates immunity problems).

    Embryonic stem cell “cures” have so far proved elusive.
    However: “embryonic” stem cell research could be conducted without destroying a single embryo, by utilizing the stem cells which are abundant in the umbilical cords of new babies. These are almost universally discarded. One really wonders why this uncontroversial solution is neglected in favor of one that is a matter of conscience to so many people.

  • MikeD

    Don’t know if you saw it this morning, but NBC had Andrea Mitchell, of all people, do the report on the Catholic Church’s response to the HHS mandate. The report itself wasn’t terrible (they mentioned the 28 states with mandates but didn’t mention that very few have such a narrow exeption for religious employers, quotes from Bishop Dolan against the mandate, quote from press secretary in favor). But, they followed up the report with an interview of Rachel Maddow, to get her perspective on the issue and didn’t interview anyone else.

  • Rachel K

    I haven’t exactly been thrilled with the Washington Post’s coverage of this issue, but it hasn’t been the train wreck we’ve seen elsewhere. Not long after the decision to defund PP (I don’t remember if it was the same day, or the day after), they had an article where they interviewed Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life and breast cancer survivor, and she was positively rhapsodizing about how she could finally participate in Race for the Cure this year. They didn’t really talk to anyone else, and the fact that she was the president of AUL could be construed as making it seem like only the most hardcore pro-lifers are happy about this, but I’m just glad they talked to anyone.

    WaPo also responded to Ross Douthat here: I’m not convinced, but it’s nice to actually get a response.

  • Dave

    Passing By, again the metanarrative is that the right wing has bundled abortion and ebryonic cell research as political issues, and this guides the journalistic narrative.

    In clinical fact it would be surprising if stem cells were any use for breast cancer. Stem cells are to be used to replace missing, injured or failing tissues; cancer is tissue one wants to expunge.

  • cermak_rd

    I did not see Ms. Mitchell’s interview, so can’t comment about that. What I saw of this story was how the online community really came out about it. Mayor Bloomberg was out on twitter within minutes offering his matching donation for PP. I saw nothing from any rich pro-lifer offering such for Komen to stay the course. Why not? If pro-lifers are half the nation, there must be some rich ones who could have offered a match or couldn’t one of the pro-life orgs have rapidly put up a online donation site to create a match? I think that might have been a neat story for the media to pursue. Sure Komen saw a 100% increase in their donations with the change, but PP gained millions. The question I would have for both orgs is how many $$ are being referred to here and what is normal “business” like?

    Also, I would have liked to see some of the pink-ribbon product suppliers (e.g. Yoplait) come out and be interviewed about their involvement with Komen. I saw none of that.

  • Mark

    Mollie, I just read your column on, and followed the bread crumbs here. Very nice to meet you.
    I just want to say – I didn’t know that reading an editorial could be so satisfying. Your writing is very powerful, sister. I am grateful!

  • Dave_c

    > But what’s not OK is for the media to join this abortion-industrial complex.

    So you’re established the notion that news reporters mixed in their personal beliefs/opinions into the news report. Is it realistic to expect them to not inject their own biases into news reporting? I didn’t go to journalism school so I don’t know what they teach here, but what do journalists think their roles are? To report facts as objectively as possible, or using their reach to advocate for the “greater good”?

  • Nemo_from_Erehwon

    If you’ll pardon a quick meta-post, I am really irked by the hiding of unpopular posts. Yes, I too make a point of finding and viewing them, so the poster is still being read, but there’s just something juvenile about a feature that seems designed to slap at those who posy something unpopular.

    FWIW, I make it a point to add a “like” to any hidden post. I have yet top uncover one I liked, but I like them being displayed as prominently as the popular ones.