As Fortnight of Freedom begins, media responds

A week ago I wrote a post headlined “Savvy PR firms drive coverage of HHS mandate.” I wrote it because it struck me that a Los Angeles Times story hewed pretty closely to the public relations campaign I’d been seeing — since first alerted to it by CNN — of a PR campaign orchestrated by Faith in Public Life, heavily funded by the Open Society Institute of prominent atheist billionaire George Soros.

Since then, a reader sent along, via email, a copy of the information Faith in Public Life sent to reporters on June 7, complete with narrative framework (bishops are being unreasonable and partisan) questions to ask bishops (who is funding you?) and sources for interviews. It turns out that the information sent to reporters matched up pretty well with the Los Angeles Times story written by Mitchell Landsberg. He even used for supporting quotes the first source that Faith in Public Life identified as a good person to speak with on the issue. I’ve said it before: Give Faith in Public Life’s PR campaign guy John Gehring a raise! I half want to call their funders myself and suggest they throw some additional funds in that direction. He’s doing excellent work at getting reporters to adopt the messaging campaign he’s suggesting.

Anyway, Faith in Public Life suggests in this June 7 email to reporters (typos original):

Reporters should consider asking about the Knights of Columbus, an organization with deep pockets lead by Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, who had a long career in Republican politics working with the late Rep. Jesse Helms and in the Reagan administration. According to reporting from Commonweal, an independent Catholic magazine, in 2010 the Knights of Columbus gave close to $2 million to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and $25,000 to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has played a leading role in lawsuits opposing the contraception mandate. Anderson faced a challenge from some Knights during the 2008 election for “dragging it’s 1.3 million members into tacit endorsement of the Republican candidate.”

I certainly would hope that reporters would ask who is behind both the fight for and against the HHS mandate, not just in terms of funding but in other associations as well. And I would hope that such reporting would put such funding in context. For instance, I know that Faith in Public Life was not just launched to support President Obama’s HHS mandate but was launched in 2004 in response to “values voters” failing to vote for John Kerry in the 2004 election. And I know that the Knights of Columbus have been highly involved in pro-life efforts, including marches and educational campaigns, as long as I’ve been aware of the movement, which is at least 25 years now. These aren’t exactly new dividing lines on issues such as abortion and progressive politics and what not.

Anyway, Tim Townsend of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch looked at a small portion of the funding issue when he wrote up a piece headlined “Who’s funding the Catholic bishops’ religious freedom campaign?.” It quotes Gehring and others about the topic that Faith in Public Life wanted pushed — Knights of Columbus funding of the bishops.

On Thursday, Catholics across the country will amplify what is an already loud outcry from the hierarchy over the federal government’s so-called contraception mandate.

With rallies, marches, lectures and special publications, the U.S. Catholic Bishop’s Fortnight for Freedom campaign will seek to galvanize Catholic opposition to President Barack Obama’s proposed mandate to require employers — including religious institutions — to provide free contraception insurance coverage to employees.

But while Catholic leaders frame the events as a fight for religious liberty, critics see signs of political partisanship and electioneering. Questions over the financing of the bishops’ campaign have caused those suspicions to multiply.

I wondered if reporters would keep pushing this “partisan” theme even after Sister Carol Keehan published her comments on behalf of the Catholic Health Association against the mandate. She was touted as a high-profile supporter of the mandate earlier this year so her change of position was pretty big news. Except, well, it wasn’t big news. It’s literally not mentioned in this story that’s getting picked up across the country now.  (The Seattle Times headlined their’s pretty nefariously: “Politics, funding raise suspicion over church’s birth-control fight.”)

Also curiously not mentioned in this story alleging partisan motivations for the bishops’ concern about religious freedom? That just last week they praised Obama’s presidential order regarding immigration.

And while the funding of those fighting the HHS mandate on religious liberty grounds is questioned in this story, we get no discussion of who is funding liberal advocacy groups supporting the mandate, which requires religious groups to purchase insurance that violates their religious teachings.

Considering that no less than the federal government is pushing this mandate, I’m almost more interested in who’s behind the aggressive action of the mandate than the response to same. At least, if you’re going to ask who is funding the bishops, shouldn’t we be a tad more curious about who was behind this curious mandate to begin with, and who is funding the campaign to defend it and make sure that the, er, “religious liberty” side doesn’t win?

I mean, no offense to the bishops or the Knights of Columbus or whatever, but they named their own public relations campaign the “Fortnight of Freedom,” God bless ‘em. This doesn’t ring like a Madison Avenue ad level campaign to me.

But hey, maybe I’m wrong and maybe after several months of media scrutiny of those claiming they really care about the religious freedom side of the issue, we’ll see a bit more scrutiny of those crafting the public relations campaigns against them that have done so well.

If you’re interested in just a balanced piece on the bishops’ campaign — including the negative response it’s received from some progressives — this NPR piece is pretty good.

Do let us know — as you always do! — if you see any particularly good or bad stories on this topic, particularly the bishops Fortnight of Freedom campaign.

Print Friendly

  • Bill

    The Knights of Columbus! I knew it! Everyone knows the real money and power in this country is in the K of C. They make hundreds of billions every Lent with their Friday night fish fries. I hear they have joined forces with the Knights Templar and have set up training camps in the Arizona desert run by the Swiss Guards.

    The NPR piece was pretty good. Lots of quotes from both sides. However…

    Another member of that group is Jim Zogby, who has worked on human-rights issues overseas. He says the U.S. bishops were spoiling for a fight over social issues with the Obama administration.

    “They declared war on the administration, and we the faithful are paying the price for it,” Zogby says. “Our religious freedom, our ability to simply go to church, worship, feel a community, feel safe in that community” has been compromised.

    “We’re now being put in the middle of a partisan fight, and that’s wrong.”

    His wife, Eileen, says Blessed Sacrament, with its mix of liberals and conservatives, has always put politics aside. Not now.

    Would that be the same Jim Zogby who founded the Arab American Institute, was an advisor to Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign and served on the Executive Committee of the Democratic National Committee?

    It’s the bishops who are playing politics, you see. The administration would be above that. I know because I read it in the papers.

  • Will

    I am shocked, unspeakably shocked, to hear that a Catholic organization is “funding” a Catholic campaign.

  • Martha

    Oh my goodness, the Knights of Columbus! With “deep pockets”, no less! And led by a Supreme Knight – why, that’s very nearly the same as being an Imperial Wizard, who was the leader of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan – so I suppose we know where these bishops and their supporters are coming from, don’t we?

  • Julia

    The Knights of Columbus are also very generous contributors to the re-structuring and organization of the Vatican Library. Their leader sits on the board of the Vatican Bank which is trying to get its ducks in order to get a better rating from the banking powers that be in Europe.

    Why is it shocking they would support the US Bishops?

    As far as partisanship of bishops is concerned, they have been mostly Democrats since the Irish started arriving on these shores. All of a sudden now there is a complaint of partisanship?

    I want to know who is funding Network, the lobbying arm of the Leadership Conference of Religious Women? Who is paying for the Nuns on the Bus who are protesting the Republican budget offered by Rep. Ryan?

  • Maureen

    Oh, it’s better than that. There’s a blog post (in the Washington Post) charging that the bishops are trying to “covertly” overthrow Obama… er, make Catholics vote against him.

    Yeah, now we’re not even allowed to protest, because protests might influence people and that would be wrong!

    When did I fall into “the alternate universe where everyone flunked civics class”?

  • Maureen

    So yeah, religious groups and people are not allowed to comment on candidate elections, on legislative issues, on judicial cases, or on constitutional issues, because we’re oh so scary when we influence people.

    It’s the new Prime Directive: religious people aren’t allowed to interfere with the “progress” of any society, including their own.

  • Martha

    I’m sorry, Maureen, but I tried to read that article you linked and I couldn’t get past the first sentence:

    “The Catholic Church practically invented politics, so it may be asking too much to expect American bishops to steer completely clear of affairs of state.”

    Can anyone explain to me what that means? Is it because the Pope is elected, and having a vote (however restricted, or however rigged the election) when everyone else was inheriting their position as head of state or winning it by force of arms was the germ of the idea of democratic elections? Or is it a reference to the “Everyone knows” kind of history you get in a Dan Brown novel – that the conniving, horse trading, bribery and behind-the-scenes string-pulling and powers behind the throne in order to wield influence at the top levels of the hierarchy were the forerunners of modern politics?

  • Erin

    That “good” NPR article refers to the “Vatican’s investigation of a group of nuns called the Catholic Sisters of America.” Do they mean the Leadership Conference of Women Religious? Or has the LCWR recently renamed itself?

    Charitably, I’ll assume Professor Appleby used the term Catholic sisters of America. But really, how hard is it for a reporter to do a simple google search or even ask Professor Appleby if he meant Catholic Sisters of America as a proper noun or a descriptive? Kind of destroys the reporter’s credibility on the subject, don’t you think?

  • DTR

    It’s interesting the FPL and Gehring use NETWORK as a source, given that its leader, Simone Campbell, has used the organization’s site to proclaim her admiration for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (yes, the guy in Iran) while not bothering to condemn his call for the mass murder of Jews.

  • maikis

    Disingenuous, DTR. In the personal reflections at the very bottom of the piece you linked to, Sr. Campbell speaks of being moved by his references to poverty’s defining power over a population – pretty understandable for a woman who has spent her career working with the poor and is still doing so. Other than that, which of her descriptions of the guy – that he seemed undereducated, in over his head, and defensive in this meeting; or that he is low in the power structure, below religious leaders in his country – or that he was unable to “bond” with western participants – would you describe as “PROCLAIMING ADMIRATION”? And as for “bothering to condemn” – yes, we can brand him an “evildoer” and bomb his country – (it’s been tried) – or observe him like a specimen, the understanding of which may offer a little hope for developing an antidote. I’d love to find a reader of the Network website who needs to be reminded that Ahmadinejad is a bad man! Your complaint seems to be that Sr. Campbell (and I guess the other attendees) went beyond the “evildoer” mentality. Or else, just some really deep digging in the wayback machine to find something, ANYTHING, that you could construe to somehow undermine the work of the Catholic sisters. Because, hey, the piece you mischaracterize ought to disqualify both Campbell and Netowork as journalists’ sources forever, right?

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Did I miss it? Did someone link to the actual Fortnight for Freedom website and I overlooked it?

    Is this a PR campaign or a campaign of prayer? From the Litany for Liberty:

    Christ the Lord has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.
    Let us turn to him in humble but fervent petition,
    seeking the grace to root out from our hearts all trace of darkness, and all that holds us back from walking in the full freedom of the children of God. As Christ is our great model for that inner freedom, which enables us to do the right, let us turn to him with confidence that we, too, may follow him to the fullness of spiritual freedom.

    Where are the politics in that? Personally, beyond prayer, it seems to be a teaching moment for the Church around contraception and life issues. Our parish had a talk last night on Humanae Vitae. Next week, it’s The Gospel of Life, and I’m not sure on July 4th.

    Like Martha, I didn’t make it through the profoundly dishonest Henneberger piece. She asks the question, then proceeds as though her question is true. Without arguing the specifics, it’s always worth remembering that sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If liberals want to play the tax exemption card, their own politicking comes into play.

  • Bill P.

    This piece by Sr. Sister Renée Mirkes in Catholic World Report, in support of the bishops, will, I’m sure, become a valuable reference within the mainstream media.

  • Kathleen Burke

    As far as the NPR article goes, the group Blessed Sacrament Families United is a front for Faith in Public Life. If you follow the link in the article to the group’s blog, which was only created on Tuesday, it links to one website: Faith in Public Life. Zogby, as was mentioned above, is a longtime Democrat party operative. Marion McCartney, another dissenting Catholic, is/was the director of professional development at the American College of Nurse-Midwives who have issued statements in support of the mandate, and support women’s access to the full range of reproductive health services and public funding of those choices. If you google the concerned Catholics cited in the article, you’ll see that none of them work in either politics or advocacy. Their only bone in this fight is their religious freedom.

  • Kristen

    Yup – someone needs to figure out who is funding “Nuns on the Bus”. Network is a 501(c)4…but they also have an education arm that is a 501(c)3 I betcha. Shouldn’t be too hard to follow the money there.

    And yup, the “Fortnight for Freedom” is more about prayer and internal education, as far as I can tell. Although, the internal conversation for Roman Catholics is probably more important than the external (notwithstanding the very high stakes involved.)

    Just having that conversation in a parish setting is pretty ground-breaking, for most. The ones most in need of a little primer in religious freedom AND/OR Catholic sexual ethics or both, are not real likely to attend such things.

  • CV

    Hate to nitpick but your header says Fortnight OF Freedom when it’s actually Fortnight FOR Freedom (you refer to the wrong title throughout your post).

    Fascinating stuff about the Soros-funded PR campaign in favor of the mandate/opposition to the bishops. Follow the money, indeed.