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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Politico’s long-but-shallow exposé on Hobby Lobby family

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Cue the dramatic music.

Politico has a breathless, 2,200-word profile of the Greens — the Hobby Lobby family — out this week with this sensational headline:

Hobby Lobby aims for Obamacare win, Christian nation

Stop the presses!

In one sense, it’s a long piece seemingly designed to expose the Greens’ desire to promote the Bible as truth. At the same time — despite its length — the report ends up feeling rather shallow in the true depth it provides.

Like a child playing with a water gun on a hot summer day, Politico attempts to cover a lot of territory. But nothing really seems to stick in this game of journalistic hopscotch.

Let’s start at the top (and don’t bother looking for any named sources up high):

The evangelical owners of Hobby Lobby made a fortune selling crafts supplies and made headlines fighting government-mandated birth control coverage. They’re also using their billions to sell the American public on the literal truth of Scripture — through a public school Bible curriculum, a huge museum around the corner from the Smithsonian and public forums on the faith of the Founding Fathers.

The Green family may be best known in secular circles for their lawsuit against Obamacare, a high-stakes — and highly political — case that could undercut the administration’s goal of setting minimum standards for health care coverage. By the end of this month, the Supreme Court will decide if the federal government can force the Greens to include methods of contraception they deem sinful as part of employees’ health insurance.

The pending Hobby Lobby ruling has thrust the Greens into the national spotlight, but the family’s mission is far bigger than a single court case. The Greens are spending hundreds of millions on a quiet but audacious bid to teach a wayward nation to trust, cherish — and heed — the Bible.

They’re building a huge museum dedicated to the Bible a few blocks from the Mall in Washington , with as much public space as the National Museum of American History. They’ve financed a lavish traveling exhibit as well, complete with a re-created Holy Land cave, a “Noah’s Ark experience” for kids and animatronic characters such as William Tyndale, who was burned at the stake for daring to translate the New Testament into English.

The Greens are sponsoring scholarly study of the Bible and hosting forums such as a recent panel on faith’s role in shaping early America, which they hope to package for national broadcast.

Most provocatively, they’ve funded a multimillion-dollar effort to write a Bible curriculum they hope to place in public schools nationwide. It will debut next fall as an elective in Mustang High School, a few miles from Hobby Lobby’s Oklahoma City headquarters.

I previously critiqued a one-sided Associated Press report on the Mustang Bible elective. Politico never gets around to identifying the source or explaining the specifics on the “multimillion-dollar effort.”

Roughly 600 words into the story, the first named source — besides a reference to a Steve Green quote last spring — shows up. That source is a critic:

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They didn’t even agree on what they disagreed on

Can you have a meeting of minds when you don’t agree on what you discussed — and neither do news media?

President Obama and Pope Francis met for the first time on Thursday, nearly all of it behind closed doors. And their post-meeting statements were so different, they were the focus of some media reports — though the reports themselves didn’t always match.

Here’s a close look at the mismatch between media from different U.S. coasts: CNN and the San Francisco Chronicle.

The habitually pro-Barack CNN produced friendly coverage, starting with the traditional exchange of gifts between the heads of state. In the short video clip, above, clicking cameras drowned out nearly everything except “It’s a great honor” and “I’m a great admirer.”

The network also seemed to soft-pedal disagreements in saying the president and the Vatican had “slightly different takes on the tenor of their discussions.” Yet it did show how different the takes were:

“… (I)t was hoped that, in areas of conflict, there would be respect for humanitarian and international law and a negotiated solution between the parties involved,” the Vatican said in a statement. “In the context of bilateral relations and cooperation between Church and State, there was a discussion on questions of particular relevance for the Church in that country, such as the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection. …”

Obama, in a news conference that followed, told reporters that such issues were “not a topic of conversation” with the Pope and instead were discussed with Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin.

Whoa. The Vatican and the White House disagreed on what they disagreed on? Good time for follow-up questions. Why weren’t there any?

The CNN report also said where the two sides agreed:

According to the Vatican, the two men also discussed the issue of immigration reform and “stated their common commitment to the eradication of human trafficking throughout the world.”

On this point, the President and the Pope were simpatico.

“I was grateful to have the opportunity to speak with him about the responsibilities that we all share to care for the least of these, the poor, the excluded,” Obama told reporters after the meeting.

Ghost alert, BTW: The CNN writer — and whoever edited his work — apparently missed where Obama got the phrase “the least of these.” It’s from Matthew 25, where Jesus talks about the needy: “Whatever you did for the least of these my brothers, you did for me.”

CNN then obediently quoted Obama on his newest campaign, “income inequality”:

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Ready, set, go! Hobby Lobby at the Supremes

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Hobby Lobby gets its hearing before the Supreme Court this morning.

This is big, folks.

As the Los Angeles Times describes it:

WASHINGTON — A challenge to part of President Obama’s healthcare law that hits the Supreme Court on Tuesday could lead to one of the most significant religious freedom rulings in the high court’s history.

USA Today puts it even more dramatically:

WASHINGTON — President Obama’s health care law gets a return engagement at the Supreme Court (this week) in a case full of hot-button issues: religious freedom, corporate rights, federal regulation, abortion and contraception.

Put another way, it’s a case about God, money, power, sex — and Obamacare.

Nearly two years after the court’s 5-4 decision upheld the law and its controversial individual and employer mandates, the justices will consider a different requirement — that companies pay for their workers’ birth control.

In a Supreme Court term that has lacked the drama of last year’s gay marriage and civil rights cases or the prior term’s health care showdown, the so-called “contraception mandate” now commands center stage.

The New York Times characterizes the high stakes this way:

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday will hear arguments in a case that pits religious liberty against women’s rights.

That issue is momentous enough. But it only begins to touch on the potential consequences of the court’s ruling in the case, notably for laws banning discrimination against gay men and lesbians.

The question directly before the justices is whether for-profit corporations must provide insurance coverage for contraception, a requirement of the Affordable Care Act. Hobby Lobby, a chain of crafts stores, challenged the requirement, saying it conflicts with the company’s religious principles.

“If Hobby Lobby were to prevail, the consequences would extend far beyond the issue of contraception,” said Walter Dellinger, a former acting United States solicitor general who filed a brief urging the court to uphold the law.

Like Religion News Service did last week, The Wall Street Journal puts a face on the Green family — billionaire owners of Hobby Lobby — to explain the case:

OKLAHOMA CITY — David Green calls the chain of 560 Hobby Lobby arts-and-crafts stores he founded a religious business.

A 53-employee choir was belting out hymns one recent morning at the headquarters here. Stores close Sundays. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc.’s true owner, Mr. Green says, is God.

That is why Mr. Green will find himself seated in the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday for a landmark religious-freedom case brought by his company.

“I have deeply held convictions,” he says “and I should not have to be required by the government to violate my conscience.”

Mr. Green says closely held Hobby Lobby can’t comply with Affordable Care Act regulations that require it to offer certain contraceptives in employee health plans.

The Obama administration disagrees. In court papers, the federal government says for-profit companies like family owned Hobby Lobby aren’t entitled to religious-freedom protections. The Green family’s religious beliefs are sincere, it says, but don’t trump the law.

Tuesday’s Supreme Court hearing will be the second time the health law will be scrutinized by the justices. At issue is whether for-profit companies such as Hobby Lobby are entitled to the same religious protections as people or churches.

If you’re wondering how a former GetReligionista might approach the story, here’s Mark A. Kellner’s lede at the Deseret News National Edition:

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NYT: Nuns, birth control and Obamacare

Believe it or not, I come not to bury the Great Gray Lady but to praise her.

Before pushing the button that dropped the famed crystal ball in New York City’s Times Square to ring in 2014, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued an eleventh-hour ruling that blocked a requirement of the nation’s new health-care law.

As The New York Times reports:

WASHINGTON — In temporarily blocking enforcement of the part of President Obama’s health care law that requires many employers to provide health insurance coverage for birth control or face penalties, Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Tuesday opened a second front in Supreme Court challenges to the provision.

The initial front opened in November, when the justices agreed to hear a pair of cases from for-profit companies challenging that provision. Now Justice Sotomayor has ordered the Obama administration to file a brief by Friday morning responding to a different kind of challenge, this one from groups affiliated with religious organizations.

In the meantime, she issued a temporary injunction barring the administration from enforcing the birth control requirement against an order of Colorado nuns, the Little Sisters of the Poor, and related groups.

The Times piece is labeled “News Analysis,” but — surprise, surprise — it impressed me as solid, down-the-middle journalism that sheds light on complicated issues. I liked it, in other words.

For the casual observer, the story does a nice job of putting Sotomayor’s ruling into context:

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The New York Times shilling for Obamacare, in news copy

Religious liberty claims advanced in opposition to the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) are a cloak for bigotry, the editorial powers that be at The New York Times tell us.

In an editorial published on Nov. 7 under the name of the editorial board, the Times summarized the Nov. 1 decision handed down in Gilardi v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Service by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. By a 2-1 vote, the court held ObamaCare violated the First Amendment to the Constitution by forcing business owners to purchase insurance that would provide contraception or abortifacients.

The court ruled wrongly, the Times believes, hoping the Supreme Court will overturn the decision.

The Supreme Court is expected to decide by Thanksgiving whether it will take up the issue. Its duty is to resolve the conflicting opinions by firmly rejecting the dangerous view that private employers can use their religious belief to discriminate against women.

One may not agree with the Times‘ reasoning, and reject its moral stance that religious liberty must be subordinated to the state. In its editorial the Times propounds the view that religion is a private activity that must not stray from the inside of churches or the human heart into the public square. Acting upon, or being true to the dictates of ones faith in civic life must take second place to the higher moral goods of abortion and contraception, the Times editorial team tells us.

This is, after all, an editorial.

Important for voicing one of the contending ethical and moral views in the healthcare debate — but it is merely one voice among many. Ignore it. Adore it. Do what you will. This is an opinion piece.

Where the GetReligion team has a problem — from the point of journalistic integrity — is when the editorial line overwhelms the news reporting. The Nov. 2 news article about the Gilardi decision is less strident and avoids the infelicitous language found in the editorial. But the attitudes to which the editorial gives voice are just as strong in the story “Court Rules Contraception Mandate Infringes on Religious Freedom.”

Let me show you how newspaper folks can rubbish a decision with which they disagree.

Start off with a neutral voice — channel Joe Friday. “Just the facts, ma’am.”

WASHINGTON – A federal court on Friday ruled that the health care law’s mandate that employers provide free coverage for contraception infringed on individual religious liberty.

The case, Gilardi v. the Department of Health and Human Services, was the latest setback for the Obama administration as it struggles to fix the crippled insurance enrollment website, HealthCare.gov. However, the fight over the mandate long preceded the law’s enactment and will most likely go to the Supreme Court.

The mandate “trammels the right of free exercise,” Judge Janice Rogers Brown wrote for a divided three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

But, just as Joe Friday never actually said “Just the facts, ma’am” –  to shade a story without being called out for its biases, a newspaper just gives the facts — but only some of them. We see this unfold in this article. Paragraph three gives the sole quote from the decision. Paragraphs four and five background, paragraphs six through eight offers commentary from lawyers opposed to the mandate coupled with paragraph 11′s “no comment” from the government. The article then trails off and ends with two paragraphs that could be cut from the story without harm. Filler.

The hook comes in paragraphs nine and 10 where the dissenting voice from the court is heard.

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CNN goes long to say little about clergy and Obamacare

In Ecclesiastes 12:12b, we read: “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.”

Alas, the same might be said for this story from CNN’s Belief Blog, which spends an eye-popping 2,746 words to tell us something truly astonishing: some Protestant pastors don’t want to talk about aspects of the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, also popularly known as “Obamacare,” from the pulpit.

All righty, then. Next!

Well, there is a tad more to the story: CNN reports that while some pastors — at least one — are happy to discuss the granting of access to health insurance to many individuals who could not get coverage before, such pulpit pounding is rare:

The Rev. Timothy McDonald gripped the pulpit with both hands, locked eyes with the shouting worshippers, and decided to speak the unspeakable.

The bespectacled Baptist minister was not confessing to a scandalous love affair or the theft of church funds. He brought up another taboo: the millions of poor Americans who won’t get health insurance beginning in January because their states refused to accept Obamacare.

McDonald cited a New Testament passage in which Jesus gathered the 5,000 and fed them with five loaves and two fishes. Members of his congregation bolted to their feet and yelled, “C’mon preacher” and “Yessir” as his voice rose in righteous anger.

“What I like about our God is that he doesn’t throw people away,” McDonald told First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta during a recent Sunday service. “There will be health care for every American. Don’t you worry when they try to cast you aside. Just say I’m a leftover for God and leftovers just taste better the next day!”

McDonald’s congregation cheered, but his is a voice crying in the wilderness. He’s willing to condemn state leaders whose refusal to accept Obamacare has left nearly 5 million poor Americans without health coverage. But few of the most famous pastors in the Bible Belt will join him.

Shocking, isn’t it?

Here we have one of the most controversial questions of the day, on a subject that is grabbing daily, if not hourly, headlines, fraught with complications on all sides, and some preachers — how dare they? — won’t be caught on camera or in an e-mail expressing an opinion about a public policy drama that hasn’t fully played out as yet.

One has to get 727 words into the text before coming to a highly logical explanation why many in the “Bible Belt,” as CNN deems it, might be skittish about jumping into the topic:

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LA Times offers a gentle, shallow Catholic health-care story

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I was encouraged, and a bit surprised, that the editorial team at The Los Angeles Times elected to cover the local White Mass honoring Catholics who work in health-care jobs, in Catholic hospitals and in other settings.

I was also happy, and surprised, that the story focused on the spiritual side of this story with several professionals talking about the degree to which it is natural to consider the needs of souls while attempting to heal the bodies of those who are suffering.

I was surprised, you see, that this story didn’t focus on some of the very real political conflicts that are currently threatening faith-based health institutions. Instead, the story offered — appropriately so — kind voices of pastoral experience that blended into the reporting like this:

An annual tradition since 2009, the event has outgrown several local churches that once hosted the mass. Sunday was the first time it was held at the cathedral.

“People think healthcare and God go together automatically, but work isn’t always a God-filled place,” said Kathleen Grelich, a physical therapist who attended the mass for the first time. “It’s nice to merge that here.”

Named for the white lab coats worn by many in the medical profession, the service is held around the Feast of St. Luke, the patron saint of healers. Archbishop José Gomez urged attendees to bring “God’s love and care to every person and patient” they meet to heal the body and spirit. He called healthcare professionals “apostles of love.” …

Worshipers, some wearing white coats, stood with their hands cupped in front of them while the Archbishop performed the “blessing of the hands” to pray for their strength, skill, sensitivity and steadiness.

So what is missing?

At first, I was happy that this story contained very little, if any, political content. However, the more I thought about that hole in the story the more troubled I became.

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