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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. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer really changes things

    February 7, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
    • Jen

      You do not have to be an athiest to not be judgemental........last time I checked that was called being Christian..... Oh wait??? what??

      February 7, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
  2. Blkman

    Ms. Ziegler, I appreciate your propaganda piece, but let me remind you that abortion is perfectly legal in this country and that is despite all these "good donors" who oppose abortion. They have the right to oppose it but it is legal and for them to force an organization to stop supporting a woman's right to determine her health care is political! So no the story was right and Komen and Brinker and the entire republican establishment was exposed!

    February 7, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
  3. Neal

    If Planned Parenthood is so loved by people they can ask for donation themselves and be self-sustaining. Why do they need to take money from Komen. Komen should only support small cancer researches that nobody's ever heard about. Stop donating to Komen.

    February 7, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • TR6

      YES!!! This is exactly what Komen is terrified of. I believe that so many people will take your advice and give directly to PP that Komen will have to shut down. Their Christian executive will have knifed them in the back so hard that they die of the wound, typical behavior for a Christian friend

      February 7, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
  4. Joe

    Truth is Komen made a mistake making the venture with planned parenthood in the first place. Had they never done it, no one would have seen an issue. Once they did, they were locked in. Eventually the anti-planned parenthood movement would get wind and turn on Komen, and when they did Komen made the second mistake of canceling funding, thereby alienating those who support planned parenthood. In the end, they did irreparable harm to the brand, and no one is better off for it, except maybe the so called journalists who blog about the issue.

    February 7, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
  5. Elaina

    How much of the half a billion in tax payer funds pays for abortions?? Who is getting free abortions? I think if abortions were free, the teen birth rate would be close to zero and those in poverty would be having less babies. If you are going to report on how much PP is getting from the government and then say you know how many abortions are being performed each year, all in the same sentence, please provide sources. And please provide how much of that money pays for abortions. Yup, didn't think so.

    February 7, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
  6. Catt Cantu

    You're doing the "outraged christian" thing, raging about the number of abortions Planned Parenthood performs. Did you EVER, even once, interview women who receive these services? What do you think their alternative would be if safe abortions weren't available? Did you ever try to find out what happened to these women that they would seek such services?

    But, let me guess: As a Jesus-praising 'christian', you don't really care, do you? You may prefer to rest your holier-than-thou head at night pretending that other women have abortions "just so they won't be inconvenienced", but you know that's not the case. You're simply going after the organization that MUST inform the public of the count of their services, not the insurance companies and doctors that service those with good insurance (i.e. the wealthy). Those that aren't desperate or forced to ask for help, you let slide on the abortion issue, is that it?

    You're a liar, a fraud, and about as much of a Christian as Newt Gingrich.

    February 7, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
  7. Pope on a Rope

    The author left out the other "half" of the story. The fact she has half a brain.

    February 7, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
  8. VoiceFrmLeft

    I support CNN's attempt at media fairness and bringing in someone to voice an opposing view. However, the entire article is a laughable attempt to rebuff what the general public is already fully aware of. It's not that the "evil media" only presented half the facts, it's that the Komen foundation couldn't control the facts through their own PR department fast enough, which is a real victory for the public in general. This is an attempt by an anti-choicer to vent her rage, nothing more.

    February 7, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • Ralf The Dog.

      Please don't refer to them as an "anti-choicer", that is rude. Refer to them as their correct name, "Pro Cancer".

      February 7, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
  9. Lisa

    I am DONE supporting the Susan G. Komen foundation. DONE. No more donations and no more giving my time. I'll support another breast cancer research charity.

    February 7, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
  10. scoobypoo

    Handel got the "pink" slip after emails surfaced proving her "political" and ideological reasons for wanting to defund PP.
    Nice try, but next time, try using actual facts and truth. You belong on Faux News, not CNN.

    February 7, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
  11. Terri

    If you want to help prevent cancer, donate to the American Cancer Society NOT the company that shills its logo on everything from marathons to shoelaces and says a portion of all procedes go to supporting breast cancer cures. Bull-ogna.

    February 7, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
  12. George

    It is sort of fitting that the response to the media not telling half the story is purposeful misdirection suggesting the other half has more factual support than it does.

    February 7, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
  13. Kate

    You've said something completely untrue. Komen doesn't fund Planned Parenthood. Koman funds cancer screenings that happen to be performed by Planned Parenthood. You may be right about seeing bias in the reporting by one media outlet (I can't speak to all of them and you have only provided a single example) but clearly your reporting is entirely biased in a different direction. But the reality is that Komen would not have changed its stance if the people who support it were behind its decision, regardless of any perceived media backlash. So, in fact, the organization realized it had failed its supporters and had acted on a single individual's ideology rather than followig what the vast majority of its supporters wanted. Since this is a charity who relies on those supporters, that decision makes sense. You cannot force a charity to abide by your agenda unless you are willing ot support it entirely.

    February 7, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
  14. standwithpp

    It's pretty hilarious that your article focuses on the media's misrepresentation of this conflict, when all the comments I've seen at least, have come from staunch Planned Parenthood supporters.

    February 7, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
  15. Beatrix Kiddo

    After this right-wingnut fiasco, I guarantee that that I will say "No thanks" next year when a co-worker approaches me with their pink ribbon asking for a Komen donation.

    February 7, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • scoobypoo

      yep, me too. Komen is toast and it is well-deserved.
      Handel getting the "pink" slip was great, but not enough; maybe if Brinker gets the boot too.

      February 7, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
  16. Right Wing Whining

    Somehow strangely appropriate that the comment thread for this twaddle was immediately hijacked by a white supremacist troll.

    February 7, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
  17. mara

    Planning your parenthood is a ground zero women's health issue that no talk of yours can make go away. The 330,000 women who received abortions every year were not all Democrats. Republican women now that they are in a stable lifestyle like yourself can make loud declarations about how much they love unborn children however, there are many of you who are too scared to reveal how an abortion gave you your life back. It good for women to have abortions in a safe place. It is good for women to be real. Please think about reality and get back to us.

    February 7, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • George

      Is is also good to use money given for breast exams for abortions?

      February 7, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • standwithpp

      None of the money donated by komen was used for abortions. It was all used for breast cancer screenings and education. So stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

      February 7, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • Truthforachange

      Sorry, but some of the money given by Komen was used for abortions. PPH does not have a complete accounting of how they spend their money. While I support PPH, if they are given money to use strictly for Mammograms, then that is what they should do. And I know this for a fact.

      February 7, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
  18. Allie

    Planned Parenthood may be the nation's largest abortion provider. But what you didn't mention is that less than THREE PERCENT of what they do is abortion-related. Oh, and I didn't pull that statistic out of thin air, it is published for all to see in Planned Parenthood's annual report. The rest of what they do is related to prevention, education, and basic healthcare for those who cannot afford it. The media accurately reflected the outrage felt by WOMEN everywhere regarding the Komen/PP situation- because it was an anti-woman decision. "We want to cure breast cancer. But only for women who can afford it" is basically what it translated to. It is the principle of what they did originally- take away funding from health centers that used it to screen for breast cancer in women who could not see a doctor anywhere else. I'm glad Komen reversed the decision. But I will continue to support Planned Parenthood because of all the DIRECT work they do for the people who need it most.

    February 7, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  19. Someone

    Tell you what – why don't you start your own funding for cancer screenings and get PP out of the picture, rather than sitting in your nice office and blogging all day??????

    Oh, if you're so religious, why don't you get a few other religions in your stable – Jews, Mormons and others for example, which I notice are missing from your website.

    February 7, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
  20. urouttolunch

    I think the point here is that Komen failed to consider who their primary supporters are. I'm a middle class, maybe upper middle class, female. I know lots of people who have thrown time and money into Komen, including several who have done the three-day thing. Not one of them is even remotely right-wing. I'm guessing that this little adventure will do permanent damage to Komen. But it won't damage women's health, because we'll find a way to get the money to the cause, without Komen and its overhead and political agenda.

    February 7, 2012 at 7:29 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.