Should pro-choice activists be asked Gosnell questions?

The New York Times Sunday Magazine ran a Mother’s Day interview with, who else, the head of Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood does a few things that people either love or hate, but none so much as aborting more than 300,000 unborn children each year.

The media are firmly on one side of this issue and have done quite a bit to help out Planned Parenthood, a truth laid painfully bare during the Komen Foundation for the Cure situation last year, which I chronicled extensively. That was when the private foundation devoted to fighting breast cancer decided to pull out of funding the country’s largest abortion provider. The media didn’t view this as a story with two sides but went to the mat to force Komen to cave in. It worked. Within days, they were bullied into relenting and agreed to give money to Planned Parenthood.

Some media outlets perpetuated a falsehood about Planned Parenthood — that the organization offers mammograms. It doesn’t. Months (and years) after those mistruths were shared (by Planned Parenthood, President Obama and the media), some media outlets corrected the information. See here, here and here.

That cozy relationship is also shown in this Times magazine piece. These interviews are generally fluffier for friends of the paper than foes, but fluffy in general.

You can see where that might be a problem when dealing with the head of an organization that, again, aborts more than 300,000 unborn children each year. If, you know, you think that’s troubling.

But even so, the interviewer does not in any way shy away from political questions. That could be a good thing.

Do we see tough questions about whether the Cleveland kidnapper should be charged with murdering his unborn children by forcibly aborting them? No.

Do we see any questions, tough or non, about the biggest abortion-related story of the year — the murder trial of abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell? Dear reader, I have to tell you. The answer is no!

Just by way of example, Catholic news director Anna Mitchell is having trouble getting anyone at Planned Parenthood to accept her interview request. She offers these sample questions for journalists who are able to get interviews with Planned Parenthood:

First, I read a report that Gosnell’s lawyer, during cross-examination, downplayed the procedures in his clinic by saying they were common in the abortion industry at-large. Is this true? If Gosnell’s procedures are not standard to the industry, what is standard procedure? The latest string of videos from Lila Rose’s Live Action confirms at least that Gosnell’s is not the only clinic that would be willing to let a baby die after a botched abortion (http://www.liveaction.org/inhuman/videos/) – are there more? Should these doctors be punished if the evidence proved they did not provide life saving care for the child?

Second, the conditions in Gosnell’s clinic were revolting, to say the least. He could quite possibly become a poster child for legislation that would require abortion clinics to have the same standards as hospitals. I know that most – perhaps all – abortion rights groups have opposed these bills in the past, saying it would force too many clinics to shut down. In light of the Gosnell case, will that position change? Wouldn’t hospital-like requirements ensure that every clinic provides a clean, safe environment for women? Wouldn’t it be better for a woman to travel farther away if it meant lessening her risk of STDs, infections or even death? If you remain opposed to these kinds of standards, why?

Instead, you won’t believe the hot-off-the-presses questions that New York Times interviewer Andrew Goldman and his editors signed off on instead of anything on, say, Gosnell:

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Pod people: Proselytization, blasphemy and Gosnell

On this week’s Crossroads podcast with host Todd Wilken, we talked media coverage of the Pentagon and proselytization, religious freedom and the Benghazi whistleblowers and the trial of Kermit Gosnell. So yeah, we packed a lot in there.

Partly we discussed the Pentagon because of recent GetReligion posts such as “I share, you evangelize, they proselytize” and “Media treatment of Mikey Weinstein under scrutiny.” I also wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal editorial page’s Houses of Worship column on the matter, which you can read here. For this piece, I had a fairly nuanced point. While many of the claims that generated alarm were exaggerated, taken out of context or wrong, that doesn’t mean that things are totally calm on the religious liberty front. While I think that partisans on either side of the issue may take issue with my middle-of-the-road approach, I received excellent feedback both from folks in the military and traditional religious liberty advocates. So that’s always nice. Also, Joe Carter should like it since not only did he complain about the lack of media coverage given Southern Baptists who expressed concern about the Pentagon’s approach but also because I quoted him in the piece. And, again, major props to The Tennessean for covering this story thoroughly and with exactly the kind of balance that is ideal. One thing I loved about that paper’s approach was that it quoted people without buying into their arguments — on either side. Whereas some conservative outlets just ran with the more alarmist claims, some mainstream outlets responded by just uncritically accepting the view of the military. If this week has taught us anything, perhaps it’s that skepticism of the official line is in good order.

Speaking of, we also talked a little bit about the religion angle to the Benghazi situation. Or angles, I should say. Obviously the religious motivations of the attackers should receive coverage. Some papers have handled that brilliantly in recent months, it’s worth saying. Another religion angle I was thinking of was how the initial false reports that placed blame on a YouTube video may have contributed to a perception that Muslims are irrational and easily led. But an angle I really wish we’d see more coverage of is how the false reports about the YouTube video led some prominent politicians and media types to call for limits on religious expression. It even led to statements from high U.S. officials that we’d get the YouTube video and punish him. Which we did (ostensibly not for the Benghazi killings but you’d be forgiven for thinking so).

Finally, we discussed a bit more about the continued downplaying of the Gosnell trial. If you were a reader of some papers or a watcher of some newscasts, you could very easily know nothing about this trial. I’m not surprised but, as a fan of the mainstream media model, I’m disappointed.

Let’s revisit Benghazi and the 1st Amendment

YouTube Preview ImageIf you didn’t get a chance to watch the Benghazi whistleblowers testify before Congress yesterday, you should. Part of what made it so interesting was how dramatically their testimony contradicted the official line received and published by the media in previous months. It was also just a good lesson in how bureaucracy works and how competing interests can impede the search for truth or justice.

You may recall that “What difference, at this point, does it make?” was a main takeaway from former Sec. of State Hilary Clinton’s fiery testimony on Benghazi.

State Department counterterrorism officer Ed Nordstrom responded to that by saying, as he choked up, “It matters to me personally. It matters to my colleagues, to my colleagues at the Department of State. It matters to the American public for whom we serve. And most importantly, excuse me. It matters to the friends and family of, of Ambassador Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, Tyrone Woods, who were murdered on September 11th, 2012.”

And Gregory Hicks, the deputy chief of mission in Benghazi, testified that when he heard Obama administration officials say that the Benghazi attack was due to a blasphemous YouTube video, “I was stunned. My jaw dropped. And I was embarrassed.”

Now, given who the perpetrators were, the 9/11/12 terrorist attack has serious and complicated religious angles that should be explored. But there was another huge religion angle to this story and I’m disappointed that we didn’t see more or better coverage of that angle.

That religion angle is about freedom of religious expression and government action against blasphemy.

For reference, my posts on the matter from last September (aka “a long time ago”) hold up well: Missing the forest for the YouTube video, The missing anti-Muslim movie stories, and Journalism means never having to say you’re sorry.

I thought about this angle again when reading Reason‘s “Hall of Shame” for people who thought the overarching lesson of Benghazi was that freedom of expression needed to be restricted. It’s frightening how highly placed or influential some of those people are.

Falsely assessing partial blame for the violence on a piece of artistic expression inflicted damage not just on the California resident who made it—Nakoula Basseley Nakoula is currently serving out a one-year sentence for parole violations committed in the process of producing Innocence—but also on the entire American culture of free speech. In the days and weeks after the attacks, academics and foreign policy thinkers fell over themselves dreaming up new ways to either disproportionately punish Nakoula or scale back the very notion of constitutionally protected expression.

I also thought of that angle when reading Rich Lowry’s column in Politico today that began:

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula deserves a place in American history. He is the first person in this country jailed for violating Islamic anti-blasphemy laws.

 

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Polyamory, pessimism and other same-sex marriage ink

After years of pointing out how unbelievably unprofessional the journalism of same-sex marriage coverage was, something weird happened last week. Instead of the typical media suppression and derision, we started seeing stories about the people and arguments in favor of retaining marriage as a heterosexual institution.

Now, they weren’t particularly good stories and they weren’t particularly long. They were still outnumbered by the stories cheerleading in favor of changing marriage law to include same-sex marriage. But the difference was notable (see: “At last! Actual journalism on the same-sex marriage beat).

Many of us wondered what was going on. Reader Jeremiah Oehlerich wrote:

The rash of articles for and against gay marriage are all a part of the sides preparing for the Supreme Court hearings on Prop 8 and DOMA next week. Each party is trying to get their message out in every way possible to help shape and influence the debate in the courtroom and beyond next week. That, in part is what is what has made so much of the one sided reporting leading up to these hearing so frustrating. It’s made the cases feel pre-decided by those who shape and drive the media narrative in the build up to their hearing.

Reader MJBubba gave props to GetReligion:

I think what we are seeing is a major victory attributable to GetReligion.

These journalists and their editors really do think of themselves as noble professionals. It has to have stung to see themselves portrayed as cheerleaders, called out with non-emotional appeals to the basic tenets and ethics of their profession. Consistently, for years, they have promoted one side of an important cultural issue. So, there has been a pent-up interest built by GetReligion in some, you know, balance.

Also, it is finally dawning on these bone-heads that they will be trying to explain the Supreme Court arguments next week to a readership/viewership that have never seen or heard any presentation of one side of these important cases. These are necessary catch-up articles.

Thanks! But I’m suspicious. Reader Kate noted:

I agree with MJBubba that this is the result of journalists doing prep work for the court case coverage, and realizing they have a lot of catch up to do. I have this mental image of a reporter cynically clicking links and reading pro-marriage arguments, and calling around to find out what kind of arguments opponents will use against marriage redefinition, and winding up completely shocked to find out that reasonable sounding people have reasonable sounding reasons to want to preserve the traditional meaning of marriage. Now they’ve got to cover it so that it isn’t so obvious next week that they’ve been falling down on the job for years.

Maybe it’s a combination of a variety of things. But a few days of mentioning the people and arguments in favor of marriage built around sexual complementarity is not really significant in any case. And the entire game is rigged. Here’s one media outlet’s tweet:

Opponents of gay marriage say they’re no bigots

So they say. But I want to know when they stopped beating their children.

And so many of the interesting angles that should be covered in news sections are being covered in opinion sections. Religion opinion writer Lisa Miller had a fascinating “Got news?” item in the Washington Post a few days ago headlined “Many Unitarians would prefer that their polyamory activists keep quiet.”

Now, this is not a news story, but it is about a newsworthy trend. It’s about how the presence and activism of polyamorous families — a not insignificant part of the UU community — helps those mean bad “conservatives” with their arguments that changing marriage law to include same sex couples would lead to recognition of polyamorous marriages since if gender is an unimportant component of marriage, number of involved is, too.

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Covering Cal Baptist, MTV, the law and gender identity

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Here we go again, once more into the legal thicket that surrounds private colleges and universities, on the cultural left or right.

Once again, let me note that the school involved in this story — California Baptist University — is a member of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, the national and global network in which I work and teach, as director of the Washington Journalism Center. I have close friends and associates at California Baptist. I also am a graduate of a major Baptist school, Baylor University, and I have taught at three different Christian schools, as well as a major seminary.

Come to think of it, I have also had positive professional dealings — via an internship for one of my WJC students — with The Press-Enterprise in Riverside, Calif.

Thus, it goes without saying, that my goals in this post will be quite narrow and journalistic. I want to note, once again, that reporters need to understand that private colleges and universities (let me stress, that is this true on the cultural left as well as the right) are voluntary associations and operate differently than state schools. That’s a simple fact.

Now, let’s jump into this story, with offers a variation on themes that pop into the headlines every year or so. The key is that a transgender student is suing California Baptist for “allegedly expelling her because of her gender identity.”

Domaine Javier, 25, was expelled in August 2011 after she revealed in an episode of MTV’s “True Life” that she is biologically male. “CBU suspended her, excluded her from campus, and expelled her for one reason: she is transgender,” the lawsuit said.

The suit, filed Monday, Feb. 25, in Riverside County Superior Court, accuses Cal Baptist of violations of state anti-discrimination laws and breach of contract. It asks for $500,000 in damages.

Theodore Stream, an attorney for Cal Baptist, said he had not seen the lawsuit and declined to comment. University documents attached to the lawsuit say that Javier was expelled because of “fraud, or concealing identity.”

Javier said a Cal Baptist official told her she inaccurately stated on her university application that she is a female. …

Javier said in the 2011 interview that Cal Baptist officials told her they discovered her appearance on an MTV “True Life” episode titled, “I’m Passing as Someone I’m Not” while conducting a background check on her.

Of course, part of the problem in the story is that the university cannot, at this point in the legal process, make any comment whatsoever — in part because of privacy concerns related to what, I would assume, was a disciplinary process on campus. The school literally cannot comment.

However, the story does make it clear that the legal team working on Javier’s behalf is trying to break some new ground in the law. In effect, it is arguing that California Baptist is not religious enough and that freedom and association and religious liberty are not relevant to a school that accepts a wide variety of students. Yes, this is very similar to the point being debated in the Health and Human Services mandate cases, in which the religious-liberty rights of churches are protected, but not religious ministries that deal with the public. Religious liberty, when facing disputed claims of civil rights, stops at the church door. The “free exercise” of religion does not include the marketplace, in this view of the Bill of Rights.

Thus, readers are told:

The discrimination claim is based on the state Unruh Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination based upon gender identity. But Jim Wood, a senior pro bono counsel for the San Francisco-based Transgender Law Center, said the law generally does not cover private universities.

Southwick argued that Cal Baptist, which is open to people of all faiths and primarily offers degrees in secular fields, functions as a business establishment offering services to the general public, which means it is covered under the law.

“We’re not talking about a private seminary or Bible college,” he said. “Just because Cal Baptist is a religiously affiliated institution doesn’t give it a right to discriminate.”

The story does not — this is crucial — mention one absolutely crucial detail, one linked to the forming of the voluntary association.

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Got news? Freeing Saeed Abedini

YouTube Preview Image I’m frequently pondering what makes news and what doesn’t. Take a gander at this Google News page for information about Pastor Saeed Abedini.

It’s not that you can’t find plenty of news about this Iranian-born American Christian pastor who is currently imprisoned in Iran. It’s just intriguing where that news is. Abedini has been held in Iran since the summer of 2012 and imprisoned since September. Just a few weeks ago, he was reportedly sentenced to eight years in prison for threatening national security with his Christian activities.

Read all about it in the Baptist Press, World magazine, the Christian Post and Human Events. There are also items on FoxNews.com and a Washington Post sub-blog written by someone affiliated with “the Christian right.” So you see a pattern here.

It’s not that this case hasn’t been full of interesting twists and turns. You can read over at the Washington Examiner‘s editorial page about some odd ways the State Department reportedly was handling the case:

State Department officials have reportedly hesitated to intercede on behalf of an American citizen facing trial and perhaps execution in Iran due to his “Christian activities,” in part because Iran refuses to recognize the pastor’s U.S. citizenship.

“I recently learned our State Department informed Pastor Saeed Abedini’s wife, Naghmeh, that it could do nothing for her husband’s case because Iran did not recognize his U.S. citizenship,” Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., said in a statement to The Washington Examiner. Abedini’s attorney, Tiffany Barrans of the American Center for Law and Justice, told World the State Department listed that among the reasons it could not help Abedini.

“Let me be clear: under no circumstances should the U.S. State Department allow Iran to determine who is or isn’t a U.S. citizen and who the U.S. should protect,” Franks continued.  “The State Department should be doing everything possible to ensure the safety of its citizens abroad and to defend this U.S. citizen who faces trial in Iran under the harsh Iranian judicial system.” The Iranian-born pastor married an American citizen and has a family in Idaho.

That same paper also wrote up “As D.C. parties, Iran marks Obama’s inauguration by prosecuting American pastor.” Their latest on the matter — “Lawmakers pressure John Kerry to aid American pastor jailed in Iran” — includes this information:

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Running the White House spin on HHS regulations

If news is ever going to break on your beat, it will break on Friday afternoon, a few hours before you planned to enjoy your weekend. I don’t know why it’s always true, but it’s always true. Or at least, that’s how it works for me.

On Friday, the White House announced that there’d be another change to its rule requiring groups to provide insurance plans that cover abortion drugs, contraception and sterilization even if they have religious objections. On Twitter, Godbeat pros immediately started complaining about this change happening on a Friday afternoon — like all the other news related to this ruling had happened on Friday afternoons.

Why is this significant? Well, you have an extremely limited time to compose a story and people who might react to the story have a very short time to think through their reaction to this story. Some were able to power through the mandate revisions and respond, but some wanted to take their time and reflect before reacting. Do they have any idea how frustrating this is to a reporter on deadline?

I simply must share Sam Rocha’s hilarious post from elsewhere on Patheos, headlined “BREAKING NEWS: USCCB to Think About HHS Amendment Sanely and Without the Advice of Drudge, Huff Post, or Alike.” Here’s how it begins (though the whole thing is funny):

In a shocking press release, United States Conference of Bishops made several unexpected moves in response to the Obama administration’s proposed modifications to the HHS mandate in the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, known by many as Obamacare. In a brief three-sentence memo, Cardinal Timothy Dolan implied a number of cryptic, esoteric, and ridiculous things. Two of the three sentences were particularly disconcerting to American Catholics:

We welcome the opportunity to study the proposed regulations closely. We look forward to issuing a more detailed statement later.

American journalists and politicians are outraged. An MSNBFOX reporter writing on condition of anonymity e-mailed,

WTF! Seriously? The USCCB is going to READ the whole document before they comment? What is this, the stone age? Clearly the Bishops are again showing how out of touch they are with the times. We reported on this story before we were sure it was real. That’s what we do: we make things real, even if they’re not. And if they are, we sometimes make them unreal by ignoring them. How naive and trite of them to act like this is their role. Ridiculous, really. Know your role, Bishops.

Obviously I love daily journalism, but I’ll take a chance to ruminate on a story any day. So I was impressed with how some reporters were able to get the details out quickly, including some reaction from the affected groups who claim they care about something they call “religious liberty.” (I think that’s how we’re supposed to characterize the parties suing the federal government.) Here’s Christianity Today, for instance.

The White House is claiming that they’ve compromised. Some folks need time to react to the changes and others are already saying that the changes are not a compromise. A lot of what’s been said in response to the mandate changes sounds like spin, too. So should media outlets just run with White House spin?

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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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