How PR attempt against Life Marchers played out at MSNBC

YouTube Preview Image Earlier this week, I looked at how a PR push from a progressive group called Faith in Public Life, which attempted to distract from the annual human rights march in defense of unborn children, became a New York Times article. I got a lot of feedback on that piece, and I appreciate all of the kind words about it. I also got quite a bit of feedback from people who suggested I was naive to think this was surprising or noteworthy — as if this is just standard operating behavior from the media.

I was the media critic who had a hard time believing that Faith in Public Life would simultaneously run a PR campaign suggesting that the Catholic bishops were being too political when they fought for religious liberty and a PR campaign for a hyper-political anti-Paul Ryan bus tour featuring a couple of nuns. I further found it impossible to believe that the media would swallow both campaigns whole without even mentioning that these were both highly funded and savvy PR campaigns from a group with tons of connections to the Obama campaign. (Why do journalists always like to claim they’re about afflicting the comfortable or speaking truth to power? I don’t see it as much as they do.)

Anywho, I get the criticism that I was naive to be surprised or outraged by this press release being transposed into the pages of the New York Times but (and, as Pee Wee Herman says, everyone he knows has a big “but”), this really was a particularly egregious example of the larger problems the media have in covering the pro-life movement. To that end, you may be heartened to know that more than a few reporters wrote me to say that while they respect the Times’ journalism, they didn’t support this approach and they would encourage fellow reporters to be more skeptical of some PR campaigns (however much we all rely on them for stories).

So let’s move on. Above is an interview of a pro-life activist done by MSNBC. I know, I know — MSNBC. But this isn’t one of that cable outlets opinion shows. MSNBC, as to be expected, perhaps, also pushed the “if you’re really pro-life, why not gun control” messaging from the savvy PR group. (One wonders why people who support gun control are never asked by reporters about scalpel and curettage control or other tools of violence used in abortion. Why did this question only move one way last week? Why not both ways? Hmmm.)

My transcript of the above video interview by MSNBC’s Craig Melvin of Ryan Bomberger:

Melvin: Do you agree that anti-abortion activists, groups and politicians also have a moral commitment to also join the fight for stricter gun control?

 

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Why didn’t Catholic bishops call Biden out by name?

I’m on the road right now, in Montana, and haven’t had a chance to catch Saturday Night Live yet but apparently in the comedy show’s skit on the Vice Presidential debate, the Joe Biden character said:

“I accept the teachings of the Catholic Church. But then, like most Catholics, I ignore them and do what I want.”

Hardy har har. The joke was in reference to a portion of the debate where the moderator treated abortion as a question of faith and then asked both candidates to explain — as Catholics — their position on abortion. During the answer to that question, Republican candidate Paul Ryan brought up the threats to religious liberty posed by the Health and Human Services mandate requiring individuals and organizations to provide health insurance coverage that may violate the teachings of their faith.

In response, Biden said something most interesting (according to this Washington Post transcript):

With regard to the assault on the Catholic church, let me make it absolutely clear, no religious institution, Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic Social Services, Georgetown Hospital, Mercy Hospital, any hospital, none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact.

Well, like almost everything uttered by politicians, that’s not a fact. And a few hours later, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called him out. Religion News Service had a story that some people brought to our attention:

In a rare public rebuke, Catholic bishops chided Vice President Joe Biden for saying during Thursday’s vice-presidential debate that Catholic hospitals and institutions will not be forced to provide contraception coverage to employees.

Without mentioning Biden by name, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the “inaccurate” statement “made during the Vice Presidential debate” was “not a fact.”

I think some people thought RNS was having fun with scare quotes again. But this is just quote-quoting it. What’s really interesting about this statement from the bishops isn’t just that they called Biden out for lying. They did it without using his name and in a quite passive manner. The quote mechanism used above conveys that.

There was a bit of a problem with inconsistency in using such an approach later in the story, however:

The White House later offered a complex compromise that would allow insurance companies, rather than employers, to pay for the contraceptive coverage. Critics — including the bishops — say it doesn’t go far enough.

“They will have to pay for these things, because the premiums that the organizations (and their employees) are required to pay will still be applied, along with other funds, to cover the cost of these drugs and surgeries,” the bishops’ conference said.

It’s true that the White House claims that its compromise is not a shell game but rather a totally legit way to keep employers from being too involved in paying for things they oppose. Claims should be put forth as just that, however. It’s easy to say that “The White House later offered a change that it says would ….” There’s no reason to adopt the White House talking point. Just say what it is. Obviously people opposed to this mandate think it’s no compromise at all and that the claim is laughable — that the underlying issue is unchanged. So just let them make their case, too — as this story does above.

Anyway, a good story that lays out the bishops’ view and the curious way they made the statement. That might even be worth more coverage — why did the bishops play the passive game of saying some mysterious person at the debate erred? Why did they not call out Biden by name? Religion reporters definitely noticed this. Perhaps there’s some coverage of this I haven’t seen yet. Of course, I also haven’t seen mainstream coverage of another Biden claim on abortion. Many Catholic sites and individuals have lambasted his claim that the basis for Catholic opposition to abortion is de fide. There’s no reason that this interesting debate — along with those about whether the Catholic religion requires particular legislative approaches when it comes to care for the poor — can’t get more mainstream coverage. It really lies at the heart of these important political differences on how society can best protect the lives of the unborn and how society can best take care of the weakest among us.


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