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My Take: On Komen controversy, media told half the story
The author says the news media took Planned Parenthood's side in the Susan G. Komen Foundation controversy.
February 7th, 2012
12:44 PM ET

My Take: On Komen controversy, media told half the story

Editor's Note: Mollie Ziegler Hemingway is a media critic at GetReligion and editor at Ricochet.

By Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, Special to CNN

Faced with a deluge of media opposition and pressure from lawmakers, the Susan G. Komen foundation amended its decision to cut off funds to Planned Parenthood last week. Afterward, Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer and NBC’s Andrea Mitchell complimented each other on getting Komen to buckle under pressure.

Mitchell’s hostile interrogation of Ambassador Nancy Brinker, Komen’s CEO and founder, was widely viewed as a key moment in Planned Parenthood’s campaign against Komen.

“I thought you did such an interesting interview with the ambassador yesterday,” Boxer said to Mitchell during a televised discussion, “which I think helped bring this about, if I might say.”

Mitchell later returned the favor: “Sen. Barbara Boxer, thank you very much. Thank you for everything you’ve done on this.”

Some claims of media bias are overwrought. But here, the media wasn’t even trying to hide its advocacy on behalf of Planned Parenthood.

And in so doing, the media only told half the story.

Half the political story.

The media bought Planned Parenthood’s public relations campaign hook, line and sinker. Planned Parenthood argued that Komen’s decision to stop funding was “political.” This was the way most media outlets framed the entire story. But logic dictates that it’s not more political to stop funding Planned Parenthood than it is to keep funding it.

We’re talking about the country’s largest abortion provider, an organization that performs 330,000 abortions a year. According to Gallup polls from recent years, about half the American population identifies as pro-life while half identify as pro-choice. If you don’t have a sense for how controversial abortion is, you simply shouldn’t be in journalism.

Planned Parenthood receives nearly half a billion dollars in taxpayer funds, including from Medicaid payments. Along with its political arm, it spent at least $1.7 million on lobbying at the federal level last year. Its political expenditures for the 2012 cycle have swung 100% for Democrats and against Republicans. Its political web site ranks a series of Republicans as “chumps.”

The notion that such a huge partisan player could be characterized as apolitical is laughable.

Half the reaction.

Media outlets certainly captured the outrage of Planned Parenthood supporters, which led most newscasts and articles. But was it an accurate reflection of how everyone reacted to the news? Hardly.

To explain, Komen had a serious fundraising problem due to its engagement with Planned Parenthood. Though its grants to the organization were around $600,000 a year, a relatively small snippet of either group’s budget, the relationship kept many people who oppose abortion from donating.

By ending its relationship with an abortion provider, Komen would likely be able to broaden its base of support to include donors who strenuously oppose abortion. But in most media accounts, these people were completely invisible.

This is part of a disturbing pattern where the media downplay stories of importance and interest to pro-lifers, such as their annual March for Life in Washington or the Obama administration’s recent mandate that religious organizations provide insurance coverage for abortifacients.

The way the media presented the views of women and breast cancer survivors in particular was even worse, as if they unilaterally supported Planned Parenthood when about half of American women identify as pro-life.

Charmaine Yoest, the head of Americans United for Life, had called on Komen to stop working with Planned Parenthood. After Komen’s initial decision, she said, “As a breast cancer survivor, I was always troubled with this whole idea that the nation’s largest abortion provider was enmeshed in the breast cancer fight when they weren’t actually doing mammograms. I look at this as smart stewardship.”

Half the investigation

Even after Komen backed down, the media have continued to attack. What was once widely presented as one of the most unifying charities in the country is now being thoroughly investigated by reporters.

“Komen spends lavishly on salaries and promotion,” The Washington Post announced, highlighting Brinker’s $417,000 salary heading the group she founded 30 years ago. Nowhere in the article, however, did we learn what Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards makes ($354,000) or that her predecessor reportedly earned $900,000 in 2005.

While Komen will now be raked over the coals, will the media similarly investigate Planned Parenthood? It’s doubtful.

The media coverage has been so fawning over the years that conservative activists have recently gone undercover to raise doubts about whether Planned Parenthood actually performs mammograms. These independent journalists have also produced evidence suggesting that some affiliates have failed to report instances of sexual abuse, sexual trafficking and rape.

“There’s no question that the media,” said Daily Beast media critic Howard Kurtz, “have been approaching the whole narrative from the left.”

When the media tell only half the story, they become effective partisans, and they do so at the expense of accuracy, accountability and fairness.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mollie Ziegler Hemingway.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Abortion • Opinion

soundoff (1,171 Responses)
  1. LawnSausage

    This is one of the most poorly written articles I have seen yet. Komen cut funding to pander to the pocket books of pro life, because its corporate growth goals were starting to plateau. How do they sustain growth, continue to pay the execs the enormous amounts they make? Find a new market. well they thought they had a new market, but instead this will cost them even more than they know. Already Komen is suing little guys out there for using ribbons or the color pink or the words "for the cure" in their effort to establish a charity. Komen thinks it has the monopoly on it, and everyone knows that when these companies get too big, they start to throw around their weight and cash and its then being used to fund teams of lawyers, lobby congress, instead of going to the people it was intended. Ask this: how much is wasted annually on political contributions, lobbyist firms, advertising, when that money could be used to actually help people? Komen is too big and needs to be taken down a notch, and they need to realize they are a charity. otherwise they need to have the charitable org filing status revoked and start paying taxes.

    And pelase stop posting these poorly written articles focused on bigotry of religious right in our country. They have no place on the front page of CNN. Religious right = bigots, hatred, lack of compassion, selfish, lack of intolerant jerks.

    February 7, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  2. dgatwood

    The argument that Planned Parenthood is "...the country’s largest abortion provider..." is a rather absurd argument. In effect, you are arguing that an organization must be either good or bad, black or white, and that you cannot support the good deeds of an organization unless it does nothing but good deeds. By this argument, you should stop paying your taxes. After all, our government violates that whole "Thou shalt not kill" thing every day over in Iraq, not to mention executing prisoners on death row. The fact that the government also helps the poor does not change the fact that it kills people. Therefore, you should not pay your taxes.... Similarly, you should not buy clothing, computers, food, or pretty much anything else. You basically would have to live like a hermit to faithfully live out a life of such moral absolutism.

    The fact of the matter is that Planned Parenthood is an organization dedicated to women's health. Like any such organization without a specific political or religious reason to avoid it, it performs abortions. It also does other things. Cutting off funding to such an organization because it also does things that you disagree with is the wrong answer.

    Instead of trying to prevent abortion by hurting the people who perform abortions, you should focus on a more Christian approach—convincing women that there are better alternatives. Think about this staggering fact: about one in every fifty American women gets an abortion every year. That's an insane number of abortions. Ask yourself first why they are getting abortions, then ask yourself what you can do to convince them not to do so. Failing that, you must ask yourself how to keep those women from being in that situation in the first place; whether that's through education, birth control, or improving the self esteem of young people is your call.

    Either way, there are plenty of women for whom those clinics were the only nearby place that offered free cancer screenings. Cutting off that funding meant putting an unrelated religious/political issue above the health and safety of those women. No matter how you try to spin it, that's just plain wrong. It's unethical. It's immoral. It's unjust. Period. There's no grey area here, for precisely the reason that Jesus said to give to Caesar what is Caesar's, for precisely the same reason that he was kind to even those who society deemed unworthy, unclean, or otherwise hated, etc.

    Put simply, don't judge. Guide.

    February 7, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • LawnSausage

      Very nice. And if those that you wish to guide refuse to subscribe to your ideology, leave them alone and let them make their own decisions. Just because you believe something doesn't mean all others must....or else!

      February 7, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      Great post dgatwood. Unfortunately many religious people take "guidance" to mean "legislate my beliefs because they are the only right ones".

      February 7, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • urouttolunch

      This post totally rocks. Willl you please run for political office?

      February 7, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  3. LawnSausage

    This is one of the most poorly written articles I have seen yet. Komen cut funding to pander to the pocket books of pro life, because its corporate growth goals were starting to plateau. How do they sustain growth, continue to pay the execs the enormous amounts they make? Find a new market. well they thought they had a new market, but instead this will cost them even more than they know. Already Komen is suing little guys out there for using ribbons or the color pink or the words "for the cure" in their effort to establish a charity. Komen thinks it has the monopoly on it, and everyone knows that when these companies get too big, they start to throw around their weight and cash and its then being used to fund teams of lawyers, lobby congress, instead of going to the people it was intended. Ask this: how much is wasted annually on political contributions, lobbyist firms, advertising, when that money could be used to actually help people? Komen is too big and needs to be taken down a notch, and they need to realize they are a charity. otherwise they need to have the charitable org filing status revoked and start paying taxes.

    As far as the whole abortion debate: give it a rest religious nut jobs of the right. If you don't like it, don't do it. Stop wasting this countries time with your blinders made of bible pages on. Not everyone has your belief system, stop imposing your views on others.

    February 7, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • duqe

      Thank you Mollie for such an honest article. Finally CNN can see the light again.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  4. Neal

    Don't like Komen, don't donate to them. Poor liberals who use Planned Parenthood hate rich people who have money to donate anyway.

    February 7, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
  5. HawaiiGuest

    I've been noticing something in this articles response section. Those who are against PP, or abortion, or the "liberal media" in general are following a trend. They spout out something, and defend it quite vigorously. Yet when someone else comes with a rational argument laced with facts to refute what was said, they all just clam up and post again later. Why is this? Are you really unwilling to defend what you say in the face of facts that directly contradicts your view of the world? Do you not want to admit that you were wrong?

    February 7, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • Hard Luck

      Or they have jobs and careers. I can see where that might confuse you.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
  6. josh rogen

    i look at it this way any woman that has an abortion is doing the rest of us a favor by not inflicting their unwanted children on the already overcrowd social service and penal system

    February 7, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
  7. Bob

    Nice pack of right wings lies there, Mollie.

    February 7, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
  8. Mack

    Where is the truth?
    Planned Parenthood Should Be: (Planned Motherhood or Unplanned Motherhood I havent heard of any fathers being treated)
    Womens Health Should Be (Womens Choice there is nothing unhealthy about having a baby unless you dont want it. Of course there was a choice that was made resulting in pregnancy. Right?)
    Womens Right To Choose (Addressed on the previous line.)
    Non Profit (That is according to who you are I guess.)
    Charity/Rights/Freedom/Health (What about the unborn child? Dont they deserve the same?)

    It is a shame that "money" and "selfishness" are truly reason for this discussion.

    February 7, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
  9. Iqbal Khan

    Israelis Should be Afraid of Their Leaders, not Iran

    By Gideon Levy

    Some of the people reading these lines will not live through the winter; some of them may not die a natural death.
    http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article30465.htm

    February 7, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
  10. Jim in Georgia

    I do not believe that Planned Parenthood attacked the Koman Foundation. I watched an interview with the lady who is the CEO (?) of PP and she went out of her way to keep from being critical of Koman. Before the funds were cut PP was not causing a problem. After the cut, when questions were ask then it looked like a political hatchet job.

    February 7, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  11. A Mom

    Great article. Thanks, CNN.

    February 7, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  12. Jim in San Mateo

    The moment you bring up the abortion issue, the entire question becomes political. Period. Funds from Komen were not used for abortion, abortion preparation, or any other services related to the procedure, but because PP provides those services, through separate funding, the Komen foundation was trying to force it's political will on PP. It backfired big time. The media has nothing to do with it. What was more influential, by several orders of magnitude was social media.

    Komen got what it asked for. It's political decision got a very, very political response.

    February 7, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • urouttolunch

      perfect.

      February 7, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  13. Ann

    Thank you, Mollie. I am happy & proud to live with you in your reality.

    February 7, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • LawnSausage

      obviously not the reality of the sane. Worshipping cartoon characters, believing in fairy tales, imposing your whacked out belief system on others?

      February 7, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
  14. DCadvocate

    I feel like the writer here lacks a fundamental grasp on logic. (See "But logic dictates that it’s not more political to stop funding Planned Parenthood than it is to keep funding it.")

    I think the point here is that it IS logical for Komen to give a relatively small amount of money to Planned Parenthood- they provide advice and basic medical care for women in low-income and at-risk communities. Imagine how many women per year are advised to start regular mammograms- women who might not otherwise realize the need (understanding that not everyone has equal access to information). Komen providing small grants to Planned Parenthood makes sense.

    The political controversy came up when Komen decided to stop providing these grants. The reason they gave funding in the first place wasn't because they supported abortion, but because they supported low-income women getting life-saving information. When you withdraw that funding because of an unease with abortion, you ignore the very mission of the organization in favor of political (ethical dilemma for sure, but CERTAINLY political) pandering.

    Moving on, the author mentions that Komen is "missing out" on donations from women who are opposed to abortions. First off, the very argument is ridiculous and (here it is again!) illogical. Are large numbers of intelligent, moneyed women really refusing to donate to a charity dedicated to saving the lives of millions of women because of a comparably tiny grant they supply to an organization who provides abortions as a fraction of their business? That seems suspect.

    Plus, the author points out that there is more or less a 50/50 split between those who support abortion rights and those who don't. So wouldn't LOGIC suggest that the donations Komen is missing out on are made up for by donations from those who support abortion rights? Just to be a pain, I'd further suggest that since educated women are both more likely to support abortion rights and more likely to be wealthy, the balance would work out better for Komen to support Planned Parenthood. And since that's what ended up happening, I'd say that Komen responded pretty rationally.

    February 7, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • JenniferUCD

      Well said.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • swisscottage

      The point you bring up has been said many times in many places. The point here was, in fact, that the media approached this situation with a leftist slant, which is correct.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  15. D

    Wow, lotta FAIL in this piece.

    "Planned Parenthood argued that Komen’s decision to stop funding was “political.”" – Because it WAS. The evidence of such is quite clear and convincing.

    "But logic dictates that it’s not more political to stop funding Planned Parenthood than it is to keep funding it." – Clearly your logic is flawed, because this was not the case. If it was MORE political to continually fund it, it would have already been so!

    February 7, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • George

      Some how it is ok to present one side of the story? Koman recommended stopping funding to planned parenthood to increase support for her organization. Nothing more ..... people can disagree!

      February 7, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  16. Hmmmm...

    I wonder if it occurred to the person writing the article that one of the reasons why the media tend to be more liberal (and therefore pro-choice) is because of they see the day-to-day realities of social inequality? I would imagine that after so many human interest stories (tragedy and/or triumph), it has to be difficult to NOT want to get involved and advocate for change – and that's when objectivity goes out the window.

    February 7, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • Jim in Georgia

      What you said is what Walter Cronkite said on the subject of the "Liberal Media".

      February 7, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • Pwik

      Yes, exactly. The writer is starting from the assumption that both positions carry equal weight. That they are equally "right" simply because half the populace supports each position.

      The writer fundamentally misunderstands the concept of our democracy. Laws saying that mixed marriages are illegal may have been supported by 90% of the populace, but they are still WRONG. The fact that half (and I question that statistic) of the people in this country answered a poll question that way, does not make the position that "pro-life" (and I use the term loosely) people have adopted either right, just, compassionate or legal. Abortion is legal in this country, and a self-described "apolitical" organization like Komen should not decide to play politics with it.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  17. Pete L

    Why is the US government (and States) involved in these issues? I'd say abortions should not be funded with tax dollars but, birth control should be 'dirt cheap' and available on the aisles (just like toothpaste).

    February 7, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • D

      Abortion is NOT funded with tax dollars. See: The Hyde Rule

      February 7, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • BioHzrd

      It wasn't even birth control they weren't funding....It was BREAST EXAMS. You know, the thing that tells you if you have breast cancer or not. That should be dirt cheap and easily available.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  18. Kayla

    I don't support the Komen Foundation for other reasons than this one, but the entire truth should always be told by reporters. Give us enough credit to make a proper decision. As far as donations go, I do give – just not to them. I believe those who support women's health issues will still give generously – just not to Komen (which in my humble opinion didin't deserve the donations in the first place).

    February 7, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  19. J

    I agree. Let's not kid ourselves: Planned Parenthood is controversial because it is an abortion provider. I have received promotional material from PP in the past, and (to their supporters) they heavily stress their quest to keep abortion easily accessible to all, as a basic health issue. If you think abortions should be cheap and easy to get, then you support PP. If you don't think this, then you don't support PP. But listening to the media coverage, you would think that there is some imaginary national consensus on the issue.

    February 7, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • BioHzrd

      However, abortions are only a fraction of the number of services they provide for women. There are many on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale that would not get birth control, Pap Smears, breast exams, or any other basic health need that women have without them. I've been to planned parenthood for birth control and it's not like they have specials across the board for abortions. You barely know about the service unless you ask.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • BioHzrd

      To add a little history to your point, abortion is/was considered a women's health issue, because at one point in time (1950s and 1960s) only the wealthy that could get a doctor to perform one, while those without were left with a coat hanger (I kid you not, a coat hanger). Women died and as a result it was made available to be performed safely.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
  20. AnnaMaria44

    PP only teaches women how to perform self-exams. No mammograms. How does that justify outrage towards cutting PP funds? Not at all.

    February 7, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • DCadvocate

      "Planned Parenthood doctors and nurses teach patients about breast care, connect patients to resources to help them get vital biopsies, ultrasounds, and mammograms, and follow up to make sure patients are cared for with the attention they need and deserve."

      From the PP website. Remember that not everyone has equal access to information. For many women, especially uneducated or low-income women, this might well be the first time anyone has provided them with information about breast health and how to look out for themselves. CENTRAL to Komen's goal of early detection.

      February 7, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • AnnaMaria44

      DC- so they connect women to care that they may not be able to afford? And what is wrong with getting a breast screening and other health care from doctors at the good old-fashioned County health clinic? Which is FREE, I may add...

      February 7, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.