NYTimes inside private GOP session on abortion strategy?

ShutDoorMeeting

Apparently, this past spring, the Republican National Committee held a closed-door meeting in which a circle of conservative women discussed a topic that they have been discussing for decades — how to talk about abortion when dealing with mainstream journalists, especially television reporters.

Apparently, someone taking part in this meeting decided to invite a reporter from The New York Times to step inside the closed doors. Bravo for whoever made the brave decision to do that.

Apparently, however, it took quite a while for editors at the Times to decide that this was a story worth printing, since it just ran in late July, under the headline, “Conservatives Hone Script to Light a Fire Over Abortion.”

On one level, this is pretty straightforward stuff. However, I have one rather basic journalistic question: If this was a closed-door session, was the Times reporter actually invited to attend or did someone slip into the meeting? Consider how this issue is framed at the top of the report.

It was not on the public schedule for the Republican National Committee’s spring meeting at the stately Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis. But inside a conference room, a group of conservative women held a boot camp to strengthen an unlikely set of skills: how to talk about abortion.

They have conducted a half-dozen of these sessions around the country this year, from Richmond, Va., to Madison, Wis. Coaches point video cameras at the participants and ask them to talk about why they believe abortion is wrong.

Please hear me: The content is valid either way. However, shouldn’t this question about access to the meeting have been mentioned? If a reporter snuck in, that’s interesting, especially in terms of decades of tensions about abortion coverage and mainstream news-media bias. If a reporter was invited into the meeting, then that is even more interesting — for the same reasons.

Meanwhile, I thought it was rather strange that the Times team thought that this session focused on an “unlikely set of skills.”

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Big news report card: Hobby Lobby and contraceptives

One of the big misconceptions about the Hobby Lobby case (with apologies to Conestoga Wood Specialties) is that the Oklahoma City-based arts and crafts retailer refuses to pay for employees’ contraceptive coverage.

Alas, the National Review notes:

Hobby Lobby’s health care plan … includes access, copay-free, to the following categories of FDA-approved birth-control:

  1. Male condoms
  2. Female condoms
  3. Diaphragms with spermicide
  4. Sponges with spermicide
  5. Cervical caps with spermicide
  6. Spermicide alone
  7. Birth-control pills with estrogen and progestin (“Combined Pill)
  8. Birth-control pills with progestin alone (“The Mini Pill)
  9. Birth control pills (extended/continuous use)
  10. Contraceptive patches
  11. Contraceptive rings
  12. Progestin injections
  13. Implantable rods
  14. Vasectomies
  15. Female sterilization surgeries
  16. Female sterilization implants

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented Hobby Lobby, explains the family-owned company’s position:

The Green family has no moral objection to the use of 16 of 20 preventive contraceptives required in the mandate, and Hobby Lobby will continue its longstanding practice of covering these preventive contraceptives for its employees. However, the Green family cannot provide or pay for four potentially life-threatening drugs and devices. These drugs include Plan B and Ella, the so-called morning-after pill and the week-after pill. Covering these drugs and devices would violate their deeply held religious belief that life begins at the moment of conception, when an egg is fertilized.

Given the widespread confusion over the case, details concerning what Hobby Lobby will fund, what it won’t — and why — are crucial to understanding this week’s major U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Based strictly on that important question, I reviewed some of the major first-day news coverage of the high court’s 5-4 decision this week in Hobby Lobby’s favor (a hat tip to the Pew Research Center’s daily religion headlines for providing most of the below links).

Maybe I’m being overly generous in my summer grading, but the coverage I read — in general — did an adequate job of explaining the contraceptives issue:

Boston Globe: A.

Obama’s health care law requires company insurance plans to provide free access to 20 contraceptive methods that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood objected to having to cover two types of emergency contraceptive pills and two types of IUDs that they liken to abortion.

If the owners of the companies comply with the mandate, “they believe they will be facilitating abortions, and if they do not comply, they will pay a very heavy price — as much as $1.3 million per day, or about $475 million per year, in the case of one of the companies,” (Justice Samuel) Alito wrote.

Detroit Free Press: B.

Hobby Lobby objected to providing insurance for four contraceptives: two morning-after pills and two types of intrauterine devices. The high court’s ruling, however, applies to all 20 FDA-approved contraceptives in the following way: If a family business is opposed to any of them on religious grounds, it can’t be forced to pay for them. …

The decision involves two Christian-owned family businesses that challenged a provision of the federal Affordable Care Act, claiming it unlawfully required them to pay for contraception insurance or face hefty fines of up to $1.3 million a day. The owners of Hobby Lobby, along with those of a -based (sic) cabinet wood maker, said they believe that some contraceptives “end human life after conception” so they shouldn’t be forced to offer them.

The Free Press needed to make clearer that Hobby Lobby’s insurance plan covers most of the contraceptives.

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NYTimes revisits high court’s abortion buffer zone ruling

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In grading first-day coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court striking down a Massachusetts abortion buffer zone law, I gave The New York Times a D.

My explanation for the near-failing grade:

The NYTimes’ front-page story does an excellent job of explaining where the justices came down. But the Old Gray Lady shows her bias when it comes to reporting reactions to the decision, giving top billing — and much more space — to Planned Parenthood than the winning plaintiff.

The newspaper improved its performance — let’s give it an A for enterprise and a B for overall content — with a second-day story out of Boston exploring what the Supreme Court decision means for both sides.

The NYTimes gives readers a firsthand view of a clinic where the yellow line no longer matters:

BOSTON — Lorraine Loewen, 74, says she comes here once a week to demonstrate against abortion outside of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts health care center.

On Friday, the morning after the Supreme Court struck down restrictions that had created no-protest buffer zones near abortion clinics, she stood inside the yellow line on the pavement that marked a 35-foot radius around the clinic’s entrance.

Ms. Loewen, a retiree from Dedham, Mass., approached a woman and a man who had climbed out of a taxi and were walking toward the clinic, which provides an array of sexual health services, including abortions, and spoke softly in the woman’s ear. She handed the woman a pamphlet depicting a woman’s face and the words, “It’s your choice.”

“I asked her if we could be of any help,” Ms. Loewen said, adding that she preferred talking close up with the people going to the clinic rather than yelling at them from outside the line.

On Friday, Ms. Loewen and a handful of other demonstrators were among the first anti-abortion activists, as a few police officers looked on and a volunteer escort stood ready to bring patients inside the clinic.

From there, the story offers brief background on the high court ruling and then turns to a long section outlining concerns of state officials and abortion-rights advocates who favored the buffer zone law.

The NYTimes allows one couple to complain anonymously about the protesters:

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Big news report card: Grading abortion buffer zone coverage

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As my GetReligion colleague Jim Davis highlighted this morning, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a Massachusetts abortion buffer zone law.

News junkie that I am, I enjoyed perusing today’s front pages and searching Google News to see how various news organizations handled the story.

Using my media critic’s prerogative, I decided to grade some of the coverage.

My major criteria: First, how fully did a particular story cover the important details — including the court’s majority and minority opinions, the reactions by the parties involved in the case and the responses by activists on both sides of the abortion debate? Second, how fairly did the story treat all sides?

My grades:

• Associated Press: D.

The AP covers the justices’ opinions fairly but favors abortion-rights sources in reporting reactions. Pro-abortion Planned Parenthood gets preferential treatment throughout the story, while a quote from the abortion protesters’ attorney is buried.

• Boston Globe: B.

The Globe’s coverage of the ruling concerning its home state features a lead story that quotes a variety of sources, from the main parties to anti-abortion Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston and a pro-abortion health center owner. However, the story lacks details on the court’s decision itself and how various justices differed even as all nine opposed the law.

CBS News broadcast report: A.

In a report that runs about two-and-a-half minutes, CBS presents the key facts and on-camera reaction interviews with both an abortion-rights activist and an anti-abortion advocate — both of whom come across as intelligent and professional.

Chicago Tribune: A.

Godbeat pro Manya Brachear Pashman’s Page 1 story mixes excellent insight on the Supreme Court ruling with an important local angle — the potential impact on Chicago’s 8-foot “bubble zone.” The story is thorough and presents a wide range of sources.

Fox 25 in Boston: F.

It’s difficult to imagine lazier, more biased “journalism” than this television news report manages in three minutes. The report shows five sources on camera — all aghast at the court’s ruling.

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Two views of SCOTUS abortion decision — both on NBC

Is NBC News going schizoid? The way the network reported the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on abortion buffer zones sounded like it was done by different people, maybe even on different stories.

As you probably know by now, the nine justices — in a remarkable unanimous decision — struck down Massachusetts’ law requiring protesters to stay at least 35 feet from abortion clinics. Now, the prolifers can apparently protest right up to the clinic entrances.

Pro-abortion folks said the protesters harassed and even scared women who sought to enter the clinics. But the high court said the buffer zones were an overly broad approach and that the rights of free speech and public discussion were more important.

NBC’s 2:53-minute video report and 473-word text report were produced by Pete Williams, the network’s Supreme Court specialist. But the two are starkly different, both in tone and in the facts and opinions they hightlight.

The video report is calm and reasoned; anchor Brian Williams straightforwardly introduces it without the dry disdain he often uses. He says the decision “struck down one of the toughest in the country intended to limit protests at abortion clinics.”

He quickly turns over the fact-telling to Pete Williams, who observes: “This Court is deeply divided on the issue of abortion, but it was unanimous today in declaring that Massachusetts went too far in trying to prevent violence at clinic entrances.”

The video shows file footage of picketers shouting at women that “They’re lying to you, and they’re going to kill your baby!” Then it switches to the more peaceful protesters nowadays, and Williams reports that they say the buffer zones “violated their free-speech right to calmly suggest alternatives to abortion.”

He gives a soundbite to one of them: soft-spoken, grandmotherly Eleanor McCullen, who complains that clinic patients “need somebody to care for them, and I truly care,” but that the no-protest zone keeps her from talking to them. The challengers’ lawyer, Mark Rienzi, says the decision means that Massachusetts can’t “round everybody off and haul them off to jail just for speaking close to an abortion clinic.”

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How NOT to cover the ruling in the Hobby Lobby case

With the U.S. Supreme Court’s highly anticipated ruling in the Hobby Lobby case expected as soon as today, Forbes offers a perfect example of how not to cover the decision.

And yes, I realize it’s more than the Hobby Lobby case (thank you, tmatt).

For anyone not familiar with the background or what’s at stake, ReligionLink provided this informative primer back in March that’s still relevant.

As Religion News Service puts it:

Technically,  it’s Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a showdown over the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage mandate. The core legal question is whether a private company can have religious rights.

But to the general public, this is seen as a showdown between employers — the evangelical Green family behind Hobby Lobby and the Mennonite Hahn family that owns the Conestoga cabinet company — and the employees’ personal reproductive choices under their insurance.

But back to Forbes. 

Here’s the headline atop that organization’s one-sided account:

What To Expect If Hobby Lobby Wins Religious Freedom Case

Who does Forbes quote? Three sources — all critics of Hobby Lobby’s position. Apparently, all the “experts” are concerned:

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Did a British judge compel a child to have an abortion?

Reader beware. A story that is too good to be true is often that, not true.

An article in the Huffington Post reporting that a British judge compelled a 13-year-old to undergo an abortion sparked outrage on pro-life blogs and news sites this week. Unfortunately the key claim of the story — what moved this from a tragedy to an outrage — was false.

The Huffington Post ran a story on June 9 entitled “High Court Orders 13-Year-Old Girl To Have Abortion.” This prompted sharp reactions from commentators, while LifeSiteNews.com — a conservative Christian advocacy site — ran a story entitled “UK judge orders 13-year-old to have abortion. This is medical rape.”

The lede in this advocacy piece stated:

This story is truly disturbing. According to the Huffington Post UK: “A ‘very damaged’ 13-year-old girl was ordered to have an abortion by Britain’s most senior family judge, it has been revealed.

The girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was impregnated by a 14-year-old boy and initially wanted to keep her baby.”

That’s right. This girl, because she was considered mentally incompetent, was forced — forced — to have her child dismembered, decapitated, and disemboweled by the medical establishment because one Sir James Munby decided that capital punishment was most appropriate for being the child of a someone he described as “very … impaired.”

Where does the error lay? Did the editorial writer at LifeSiteNews misconstrue the Huffington Post story? Here is the lede from the Huffington Post — what would you take this to mean?

A “very damaged” 13-year-old girl was ordered to have an abortion by Britain’s most senior family judge, it has been revealed.

However, other press reports of the incident did not say the judge compelled the girl to have an abortion. The Daily Mail reported the girl had at first declined to have an abortion, but then wanted to have an abortion.

The judge said evidence had been prepared on the basis that the teenager was opposed to a termination. But when the hearing began she was ‘wavering’ and by the end she had wanted a termination. He said the ‘preponderance of evidence” pointed to a termination being in the girl’s best interests and said he had, in any event, concluded that a termination was in her best interests.

The Huffington Post piece did hint at a change of mind.

But Sir James said the girl’s opposition to an abortion had wavered during the hearing. “It was clearly appropriate for me to supply the necessary consent to enable the termination to proceed,” he said.

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Bratwurst fest in Wisconsin: You never sausage intolerance

(Rubbing eyes) This is the New York Times, isn’t it? They’re being nice to conservatives and not so nice to liberals!

Madison, Wisc., is known for at least two things: a liberal, accepting mindset, and an annual brats-and-beer festival. But this year, according to the Times, organizer Tom Metcalfe added a new ingredient. Two, actually. Christian music and Bob Lenz, a motivational speaker on teen suicide.

What’s not to like? Wellllppp ….

But this month, a local newspaper noted that Mr. Lenz had ties to anti-abortion groups, particularly one called Save the Storks, which parks buses in front of abortion clinics and offers ultrasounds to pregnant women, a practice that some people consider harassment. Many liberal-leaning residents of Madison (and there are a lot of them) publicly said they would rather skip the Memorial Day weekend festival and its four-day extravaganza of bratwurst and beer.

“My reaction was, this doesn’t have a very Madison feel to it,” said Lisa Subeck, a member of the City Council, who declined to attend. “It really will turn many people off.” With Mr. Lenz appearing as a speaker, she said, “you really have to think, this isn’t reflective of our values.”

Within days, Mr. Metcalfe called Mr. Lenz to deliver a message: You are no longer invited.

Yep, guilt by association again. Just like when residents of Portland, Ore., announced a boycott of a grocer for his anti-gay views. And when HGTV canceled a planned show because the creators had voiced disapproval of gays and abortion.

Each case amounts to speech police: punishing people who dared voice unpopular socio-political views — views that had little relationship with their jobs.

The Times writer is sharp-eyed about the furor in a city — indeed, a state — that prides itself on its liberalism. First, she appears to mourn the way they were:

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