Religious freedom rally round-up

We heard a few comments last week about NPR’s coverage of various nun issues. Some thought it was one-sided or too shallow but I was intrigued by this report claiming that NPR devoted 14 minutes on Friday to support of nuns who’ve been criticized by the Vatican for failing to uphold Catholic teaching. I wondered how many minutes were devoted to religious freedom rallies that were held nationwide on Friday. And while I’m not sure if I’m doing the Google thing correctly, I think it looks like zero minutes. NPR did throw an Associated Press story up on the web site, but I can’t find anything else.

How did other outlets do? Well, I can report that they weren’t as bad as this alt-weekly blog posting that one long-time reader jokingly submitted as the “best” report on the religious freedom rallies (forgive me, “religious freedom” rallies) that were held across the nation last week (the factual errors in that blog posting were far more offensive than the headline or slams against religious adherents contained within). But there’s plenty of room for improvement.

I’m going to share the top of this account of the Chicago rally posted on the event page itself:

A Dixieland jazz band. A swing dancing flash mob. Stirring speeches by members of the Jewish, Muslim, Protestant, and Catholic faiths. All of these and more were part of the Nationwide Rally for Religious Freedom’s flagship event today in downtown Chicago’s Federal Plaza.

A record crowd of 3,500 attended the rally—far surpassing the crowd of 2,500 that attended the city’s first Stand Up Rally on March 23.

This 40% increase in attendance is a clear sign that opposition to the HHS Mandate—not only in Chicago, but nationwide—is showing no signs of slowing down.

Here’s how Reuters wrote this same event up:

More than 500 people, some carrying crucifixes and pictures of religious saints, rallied in Chicago on Friday to protest a government regulation that requires employers to provide health insurance coverage for contraceptives to employees.

The regulation, which is part of President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform law, has sparked a dispute between the administration and the Roman Catholic Church, which opposes artificial contraception.

OK. I take it back. That’s a worse lede, at least, than the snarky alt-weekly blog posting. And I have no idea why the Chicago Tribune couldn’t send a reporter down to the event rather than use a Reuters dispatch that gets basic facts about the mandate and the rally so obviously wrong. They also missed the previous rally, I seem to recall, from the folks who complained to us about it back in March. But as for this report, we’re not told who estimated the crowd size (although, technically, “more than 500″ could be accurate no matter how large the crowd). We’re given the impression that not only is this simply a rally featuring Roman Catholics, and not Protestants, Jews and Muslims, but a particular strain of Catholic that goes around hoisting crucifixes and “religious” saints (not the other kind). We’re told that the mandate simply requires employers to provide insurance for contraceptives and not that the requirement is that these things be provided at no cost to the employee. (Actually, after viewing this photo stream of the event, I’m almost wondering if Reuters was there. Just kidding, but it works best to read the top of the Reuters story while also flipping through the photos.)

At this point, I want to mention how weird it is that I saw little mainstream media coverage in advance of the rallies. It was complete news to me that DC was holding a rally, much less nationwide (admittedly, I was traveling last week so that might be part of the problem). So special props to Niraj Warikoo who wrote that the rallies would be held that day and then reported that they were held. There was a paragraph in that piece that is worth noting:

After an uproar, the White House modified the plan so that insurance companies, not religious employers, would pay for the contraception. But some religious groups say the change doesn’t go far enough.

That first sentence is certainly the talking point the White House issued after the initial uproar. But it’s in dispute and the religious groups opposing the change actually don’t say it “doesn’t go far enough.” They say it’s a shell game. They say that the floated insurance mandate wouldn’t change their moral objections at all. And, they say, since it doesn’t include the thousands of self-insured religious institutions, even the accounting requirement wouldn’t change their opposition. Or, to quote them:

In the final analysis, the so-called “accommodation” still forces religious institutions to provide employees with health plans covering free “services” that violate their religious convictions—or face crippling fines should they refuse.

Moreover — despite their rhetoric about making an “accommodation” — the Obama Administration actually finalized the original HHS mandate as originally drafted, leaving intact all of its provisions and making no changes to the exemption, the narrowest protection for conscience known in federal or state law.

It turns out that the implementation of the “accommodation” will be left until 2013 — long after the federal elections in November.

So it’s fine to give the White House perspective, but it should be attributed as such. And the perspective of the objectors should be accurately conveyed as well.

Here are the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Fox Phoenix, the Miami Herald and Associated Press reports.

Religion News Service covered the rally and they used their scare quotes in the headline but not in the body of the piece:

Conservatives rally across U.S. for ‘religious freedom’

I thought this was an interesting way they chose to describe Lila Rose, one of the event’s speakers:

Rose, who’s been criticized for her undercover tactics against abortion providers, said opposing the HHS mandate is not part of the “war on women,” but instead, “The real war on women is what’s happening every day in abortion clinics across the country.”

I mean, I know she’s been criticized. I’m one of the people who has criticized her, although I don’t think they’re referring to me (particularly since I’m one of those few media types who generally opposes all undercover journalism and not just the ones that target media organizations or Planned Parenthood). The passive voice there is mildly frustrating. Who’s criticizing her? And is criticism the dominant thing she provokes, outside of Planned Parenthood offices? I mean, should we mention that Rose is a freaking rock star among many pro-lifers, particularly young pro-lifers?

Or maybe I should just be happy that RNS is mentioning that Rose has done undercover work against abortion providers, even if I haven’t seen that work covered there in over a year. Most media outlets have apparently been sworn to silence on her new videos showing abortion providers arranging for abortions targeting unborn girls simply because they’re girls.

Anyway, let us know what you thought of the coverage. I’m sure there were many stories I missed, both good and bad. How was the coverage in your town?

Photo via Life Balloon’s Picasa stream.

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  • http://blog.archny.org/steppingout/ Ed Mechmann

    Not a word in the three major NY newspapers. Not a word.

    The Times, of course, managed to have a big story on the dissenting nun’s bus tour. All the usual gossip nonsense in the Post and News.

    Perhaps at the next rally we should invite a few inebriated barely-clothed celebrities, or a heretical nun or two.

  • Cristina Shonk

    As an ex-reporter, I absolutely understand that not all events make it into the press, but if you compare the coverage of the RFRallies with that of the Occupy Movement you really see a discrepancy in the depth, the lack of political analysis of the importance of the rallies and the human angles not used.The attempt to slant perceptions is really poignant, by the lack of reporting of vital arguments and the continued use of irony in the coverage.

    Shameful display here by the Cincinnati Enquirer, I submit for disection: http://cincinnati.com/blogs/politics/2012/06/06/religious-freedom-rally-on-fountain-square-friday/
    To do a fair critique, as you said, hundreds can be considered accurate, but if you know how many people the square accommodates and have a basic understanding of geometry you can be more exact. It looks like the reporter must have left before you got the full event going, unless that’s an excuse to undercount. They misspell Obama or want to report that someone mispells it and if so for such a short piece, that’s just silly. Then, looking at what gets covered: the number of children and Binzer’s quote. I’m not sure why the number of children deserves its own graph unless there is a nut idea there, such as that most of the protestors are children. The quotes around non-partisan again are used in irony as anyone can plainly see. Since its not officially a republican rally this is just an inaccurate observation. Now, the quote from Binzer, it does have an emotional pull that informs the reader about who was there, but it advances no information for a discerning political mind. The last sentence advances no analysis unless the point is to say that only Catholics care about this issue. And we end on that note. And oh, from a photo journalism stand-point huge opportunity and no photo. Why? Its either a lazy job or purposely slanted. I’m pretty sure that the Enquirer won’t mind to be accused of either.

  • Martha

    “pictures of religious saints”

    I suppose they felt they had to clarify, just in case the mention of “crucifixes” wasn’t enough. After all, if they just said people were carrying pictures of saints, innocent readers might have thought this was a march by either fans of the St. Paul Saints baseball team or the New Orleans Saints football team, and they would have been terribly confused as to which sport was intended.

  • Greg Popcak

    Like I said after the DC Pro-Life march, if conservatives want press, we’re going to need to bring the mountain to Mohammed. Protest outside the local newspaper office. At some point, about half the protestors should peacably, spontaneously, (and unofficially) enter the building, empty the vending machines, occupy the restrooms, clog up the elevators riding up and down a bit, introduce themselves to the receptionists at the various depts, then leave. Let them ignore us then.

  • http://fkclinic.blogspot.com tioedong

    now, Greg, if the protesters did anything like that, they’d soon be portrayed as violent fascists, similar to the way the tea party was soon morphed into the KKK by the press.

    And it’s not just in the USA: Thousands here in the Philippines can protest the very radical “Reproductive health” bill, and not get covered even in local papers, while 200 Protestants can protest Lady Gaga and get worldwide headlines. The former need to be ignored, the latter are hyped all over to promote the idea that Christians are bigots.

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    I was at the protest in La Crosse, Wis. I did not see any press there, but two television stations covered it. Sort of. One of them, WEAU, isn’t even that local, unless you consider a city 90 miles away local. So where were the La Crosse Tribune, WXOW and WIZM?

  • Marty

    C’mon!? Coverage – what coverage?

  • MJBubba

    Memphis got a nice article, with a good photo, on the cover of the “Local” section of Saturday’s Commercial Appeal.”
    http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/2012/jun/09/rally-for-religion/

  • http://agudasachimNSC.org Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz

    SENT TO THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE TODAY

    June 17, 2012

    Dear Editor

    Re: “Contraceptive Mandate Stirs Local Catholics” by Manya A. Brachear – June 17, 2012 edition

    Last week I was contacted by the author of this article for comment for an article she was writing as a follow up to the June 8th Rally for Religious Freedom held in Federal Plaza. She was seeking the opinions of various religious denominations on the subject and stated she had contacted me, as I was one of the speakers at the Rally.

    As she has elected to instead write on the subject as it relates to the Arch Diocese of Chicago, let me reiterate what I said at the rally and to Ms.Brachear.. This is an issue of religious freedom that should concern every Faith. The Wall of Separation of Church and State declared by President Thomas Jefferson in his 1802 letter to the Baptists of Danbury Connecticut, is to protect the Church from the State and not the State from the Church.

    Many in the Jewish community support the courageous effort of the Roman Catholic Church to protect this fundamental principle of American democracy including the Rabbinical Council of America, Agudath Israel and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

    Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz


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