Pod people: Media campaigns and civility

Ben Smith reports that Democratic Senators were furious at MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” over how it covered the Obama Administration’s mandate affecting religious people and their organizations:

The Senate’s Democratic women are furious at “Morning Joe” hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski for their opposition to the Obama Administration’s contraception mandate, two sources told BuzzFeed.

California Senator Barbara Boxer and New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen both got in touch with MSNBC after the two hosts of the show that starts many politicos’ days were unanimous Monday in their criticism of the rule, which would require Catholic hospitals and other institutions to offer health care plans providing contraception to their employees.

“If the federal government can do this to the Catholic church, can they not do this to any church?” host Joe Scarborough asked. Brzezinski called the move an “overstep” and “wrong.” Guests, including conservative Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, agreed with them.

I recently highlighted NBC journalist Andrea Mitchell’s passionate advocacy on behalf of Planned Parenthood that occurred on an MSNBC “news” program. Later, we discussed how Sen. Boxer and Mitchell thanked each other — literally – for that work on behalf of Planned Parenthood and against the Komen foundation. This all took place on MSNBC, although a different program.

But the point stands, even if I’m not sure if Morning Joe is commentary or news: when everyone on the show agrees with one side in a hotly-contested dispute, redouble your efforts to find someone to advocate for alternate views. It’s really not that difficult.

An even more egregious example of this was sent in by many GetReligion readers. NPR’s Morning Edition broadcast a report so one-sided that it included not a single voice from someone opposed to the HHS mandate. Instead, listeners were treated to quotes and advocacy from Peggy Mastroianni, general counsel at the EEOC, known in recent months mostly for losing a Supreme Court case on religious freedom, and Sarah Lipton-Lubet, whose recent work includes the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The report, by Julie Rovner, sounds much more like commentary than news.

We all know that people get worked up on issues of religious liberty and abortifacients, sterilization and birth control. It can be difficult to remain civil (I wrote a little bit about incivility this week here.). But journalism works best in a climate of civility and one where we aim to give the views of everyone a fair shake, particularly those with whom we disagree. It’s a testament to the GetReligion commenters how well you have remained civil and thoughtful even in the midst of strenuous disagreement with each other. I thank you for that.

All this to say that on this week’s Crossroads podcast, I spoke with host Todd Wilken about the media coverage of the Komen/Planned Parenthood controversy. If you’ve read my posts here, here, here, here, here and here, you’re familiar with what we talk about but it was fun to discuss in an audio environment, too.

As the above indicates, we’re seeing some struggles with good reportage on the HHS mandate and we’ll continue to look at those struggles in the week to come. Let’s redouble our efforts to find good stories in the midst of the problems. Please help us with that effort, too.

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  • Mark Baddeley

    The MSNBC Morning Joe show would be one of the few times in the last couple of years where one can legitimately point to an MSM news-like item that was utterly biased away from a progressive perspective. I agree that that shouldn’t happen either.

    However, if we can’t have balanced reporting in a single report, then a mix of unbalanced reports within the same news outlet would be the next best. Rather than people going to a particular outlet for their view, each outlet is a mix – much like how the Republicans and Democrats used to be before they began to try and become more ideologically consistent.

    First option is best, but even the second option would be better than what is normally the case now.

    Still, a report completely one-sided in a more conservative direction. That really is news.

  • Bill

    Mark (#1) has a good point. It is best to have balance in every story, but overall balance is important. Some stories by their very nature will tilt a certain way. Not every item on the menu has to contain every ingredient, but when everything that comes out of the kitchen tastes the same, it’s not a very good restaurant.

  • sari

    I’d opt for balanced reporting. Coverage severely slanted in both directions tells the viewer that the truth is simply not being addressed by either party. Averaging the two does not produce an accurate picture, since neither can be trusted.

  • michael henry

    There is not going to be balanced reporting, on virtually any subject, on any medium. “Balanced” reporting is the way of the Dodo I’m afraid. When the media allows a subject to be framed “Catholic” vs women, they are already unbalanced. There is hardly a peep about constitutional freedom, or free businesses being ordered to pay for something, and the unbalance just continues from there.

  • Bill

    Sari, I don’t disagree. What I’m thinking of is how, with limited space, trying to include everything makes a thin broth rather than a rich stew. For instance, a story about how the Catholic bishops anticipated the HHS mandate and formulated a response need not cover what supporters of the mandate think about the bishops’ decision. That has been covered in other stories. I’d rather keep the focus tight and bring more depth.

  • teahouse

    California Senator Barbara Boxer and New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen both got in touch with MSNBC after the two hosts of the show that starts many politicos’ days were unanimous Monday in their criticism of the rule, which would require Catholic hospitals and other institutions to offer health care plans providing contraception to their employees.

    Have I seen another episode of that programme? The show I saw had two hosts agreeing on their opposition to Obama’s decision and one panel member (not very convincingly but still) agreeing with Obama.

    What are they complaining about?

    I myself had by own problem with the programme: they (Sharpton and the hosts) repeatedly made this an issue “if a body takes money from the government” – the host repeatedly called this a dangerous argument (in case of future government might also use this). But the way I understand the Obama mandate is that every health care programme has to cover contraception etc., no matter whether someone takes government money or not.

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com mattk

    I thought it was intersting that NPR’s coverage (I isted to about 10 or eleven stories on the issue on KQED in San Francisco) never mentioned abortion. They framed the story as only about birth control pills, which according to them, 90% of american women take. I’ve been listening to NPR on KQED amost excusively (even when I worked for a competing CBS station) for 20 years, and even I was surprised by their one-sided presentation of the facts.

  • sari

    Bill,
    And I agree with you. There’s nothing the matter with in-depth reporting of aspects of an issue so long as a small nod is made to the fact that the issue is multi-faceted. The Komen/P.P. coverage slanted to the point of becoming a vertical line, because it gave no credence to the fact that there could be multiple viewpoints. No one has addressed the actual problems which will arise for women should the legislation stand as is or be modified to comply with the wishes of the RCC and other religious groups. It’s like it’s all hysteria all the time.

    Particularly appalling was the misuse of scientific data and statistics by all parties.

    Amd now I return to Turbotax

  • Julia

    Interesting to think of the off-air arguments that must be occurring between and amongst Andrea Mitchell, Chris Matthews, Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzynski and Ed Schultz. I saw one Hardball episode where Matthews ended his segment by railing against the HHS mandate and seconds later the Ed Show began with Ed angrily taking the opposite position. These MSNBC folks usually share the same opinions. Will MSNBC implode?

    Will MSNBC become more like what Bill is advocating?

    BTW I saw the Morning Joe episode and did not think that Mika was arguing the bishops’ position. There was also at least one guest that day who was trying to support the HHS mandate.


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