What is this? Forbes goes to bat for Eden Foods critics

Several years ago, your GetReligionistas created a new item in our archives list of news “categories.” As faithful readers know, we focus on hard-news material produced by mainstream news organizations. The only time that we write about editorial columns, op-ed pieces, academic essays or the like is when they focus directly on issues in our home turf — religion-beat news.

However, every now and then people would send us URLs for items published by religious wire services, denominational magazines or non-profit sources linked to religious causes that — from their point of view — focused on a valid news story that wasn’t getting mainstream-press ink. After pondering this dilemma for a while, we began using a “Got news?” headline slug and created a new category.

Now it’s time for another category, one that we have been pondering for quite some time. The headline slug is, as you see above, “What is this?” We seriously considered “WTF?” but decided that didn’t mesh well with the sober tone that we strive to maintain around here. I mean, other than Jim Davis and his wild puns, and Father George Conger and his off-beat illustrations, and … You get the point.

So what is the point of this new category? What is this new niche?

One of our main goals, here at GetReligion, is to defend the basic values of what historians have long called the “American” model of the press, with its commitment to accuracy, fairness and even balance in coverage of the news (especially on hot-button topics). The alternative is often called the “European” model of the press, with editors and reporters producing stories that fit into an editorial template that supports the publication’s political slant.

In other words, these publications are biased and the editors admit that right up front. No one expects balanced coverage of social issues at Rolling Stone or World magazine, to name two publications with radically different moral perspectives.

But, to cut to the chase, what about The New York Times?

In recent years, the world’s most powerful newspaper has produced a frustrating mixture of “American” and “European” coverage, with perfectly balanced and fair-minded stories placed right next to other reports that made zero attempt to hide the bias of the editors. That is why those 2011 remarks by former editor Bill Keller — click here for background — were so important. He openly stated that it was no longer necessary for Times journalists to be objective, fair and balanced in coverage of news linked to moral, cultural and religious topics — such as abortion, gay rights, etc.

It appears that the editors of many other publications have made similar decisions, which is why frustrated GetReligion readers send us so many URLs pointing toward “news” articles that read like editorial essays. How often do we see stories that feature a wide variety of voices on one side of a hot-button topic and then zero material accurately expressing the views of people on the other side? How often do we see paragraph after paragraph of background material that is both slanted and free of any attribution?

This brings me, finally, to the first article in this new category. It’s from Forbes and, well, it reads like a press release for activists on one side of a battle linked to the Health and Human Services contraceptives mandate.

What is this? A news article? An editorial essay?

Here is a sample of this piece about a boycott of Eden Foods:

Like craft chain Hobby Lobby before it, Eden Foods sued the Department of Health and Human Services in a bid to reverse what its devoutly Catholic founder calls “unconstitutional government overreach.”

Michael Potter, who started Michigan-based Eden Foods in the 1960s, doesn’t believe he should have to cover certain types of birth control as part of his company’s health insurance plan as required by the Affordable Care Act.

Potter has described contraceptives as “lifestyle drugs”, adding in a statement from his attorney that he “believes that any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation, whether as an end or means — including abortifacients and contraception — is wrong.”

The crucial words are “has described.” Readers looking for fresh material drawn from Potter or experts that back his point of view will need to look elsewhere. Apparently, only one side of this debate was worthy of coverage. As a regular GetReligion reader noted:

Is this supposed to be journalistically objective? If it is, then I’d hate to see what an advocacy piece looks like.

Over and over, Forbes seeks new information and input from leaders of the Eden Foods boycott — which is proper. But what about the other side of the story? There is only this visit to, you got it, a corporate website:

Eden Foods did not immediately respond to a request from Forbes about the number and nature of emails and calls to its offices in recent days; this post will be updated if and when they do. The company posted a statement on its site in the immediate aftermath of the Hobby Lobby decision and subsequent flurry of coverage of its own lawsuit.

“Eden Foods is a principled food company,” reads the note, posted July 3rd. “We were convinced that actions of the federal government were illegal, and so filed a formal objection. The recent Supreme Court decision confirms, at least in part, that we were correct.”

But here is the moment that your GetReligionistas found truly fascinating.

While the Court of Appeals decides Eden Foods’ case, Becky Bond and her team at Credo have made it easy for shoppers to show stockists — including Whole Foods — how strongly they feel about the company’s politics.

The group has sent out printable stickers to supporters, asking that they affix them to Eden Foods products currently in their pantry and return them (or simply hand them back) to their local store’s customer service counter, along with an explanatory letter.

Yes, Forbes editors included that handy URL to the site containing the “Stop the assault on birth control” stickers that consumers can print out and then use to deface Eden Foods products.

Talk about “news you can use.” The editors were just being helpful.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.


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