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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. Susan

    No question, this is a polarizing topic and all voices should be heard, so here is mine. When you peel back the onion on the topic of abortion or almost any other evangelical social policy, it comes down to a purely selfish point of view. Because it’s all based on their own personal salvation. It’s their ticket to their view of the “here-after”. It’s them collecting chits so they can walk through the “pearly gates”. For this they are willing to become nothing less than Christian terrorists and have no problem imposing their religious views on Everyone else. And no, we are not a Christian nation and I hope we never become one.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • Mber

      Susan, that is one of the most cogent, even-handed statements on this subject that I've yet to see. Brava.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • Diane Britton

      Yes, brava.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • LawnSausage

      Awesome! Thanks! right to the point.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  2. It ain't so

    I know this is an opinion, found in the Belief section of CNN... but this was over the top. The writer should be ashamed of how she just abused the media in her quest to show all media that does not support her religion is bias. Short sighted opinion based on "feelings" and not facts. Many of the statistics listed are not from reliable sources, but from conservative estimations.
    I find myself wondering when the religious will stop using lies to push their agenda. Do they think Jesus would tell a lie to get his point across. He called his stories "Parables" but christians call them facts. It is sad!

    February 7, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  3. Dragon68

    Unfortuantely this article simply takes up an opposite point of view, and misses the point. The Komen foundation had a standing rule that they would not give money to any organization undergoing an active investigation, as a means to protects the money donated to it from fraud or misuse. The decision had nothing to do with any political slant by any party. The fact that Planned Parenthood, Senator Boxer, and others shose to strong arm this organization for making a decision based on upholding an ethical standard is ridiculous. More than anything, I am disappointed in the Komen foundation for buckling under to such cheap tactics.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • LouAZ

      There was no 'standing rule" of any sort. It was a new "rule" created in 2011,cooked up by Hagen and the Repugnant Congressman to "investigate" what has been watched very closely for many years by "other interested parties" about PP expenditures.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • Sadie

      What about the other places under various investigations that Komen still supported, like Penn State? What about where their own donations come from? Doesn't really matter, I guess, as long as it's money coming in. What about their abysmal ratings as a charity, with 25% overhead and only 19% of donations going toward actual research? Or the fact that they spend donations suing tiny charities for using the slogan "for the cure"? They are hardly an upstanding non-profit at this point. They play politics, they rake in huge profits, they make very poor cross-branding partnerships (really, pink KFC buckets?), they are all about "awareness," though we're well past that point, and ultimately, have done little toward actually trying to cure this disease.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • Diane Britton

      While The Komen Foundation's initial stance of not donating to organizations undergoing active investigations, this was proven to be in direct contradiction of a number of other organizations to which they contribute. Then, after this was pointed out, the Foundation espoused the excuse that they wish to donate to organizations that are committed primarily to breast cancer research/prevention/treatment. Again, this was proven not to be the case as exampled in empirical case studies. This was a political decision pure and simple and their decision to revise their stance is confirmation. They, once again, capitulated to political pressure. I have no respect for the Foundation now and will not support their endeavors. And that's a shame.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • LawnSausage

      @ Sadie: If they put the money towards finding a cure, then that would make the charity irrelevant ! I mean what charity in their right mind would use the funds they have to find a cure for the maladie that is the entire reason they exist? [sarcasm]

      February 7, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  4. Diane Britton

    You cannot tell me that the Komen Foundation's move to cut funding to Planned Parenthood was not instigated by Karen Handel soon after her employment. She has long been known to actively campaign against women's right of choice. If this was not the case (and, again, I'm sure it was), then the Foundation should have certainly realized that this was going to be the perception. The upside to this chain of events? Private (and even corporate) donations to Planned Parenthood have increased markedly. While I have donated directly to Planned Parenthood for decades, I'm proud to count myself among those that have increased their contribution.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • LawnSausage

      Not only that, I am redirecting my donations to Planned Parenthood from Komen. I will not do race for the cure or any other komen events from this point on. They are simply too big and are not using their resources properly. Lobbying for political changes is not what a 501c should be doing.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • Diane Britton

      Absolutely. Their bullying tactics are unacceptable. I'll never trust their motives again.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
  5. LawnSausage

    This is one of the poorest written articles I have seen yet. Komen cut funding to pander to the pocket books of pro life, because its corporate growth goals was 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 5:16 pm |
  6. pbtad

    Part of my problem is the way they went about it.

    If they really wanted to stop funding Planned Parenthood that is their right, but instead they made up a rule to say they couldn't fund an organization 'under investigation'. That just seemed to be an underhanded way to try to stop the funding without coming out and saying we are stopping the funding.

    I'm never donating again because I think this creating of a new rule to hide their intent is an insult to everyone (both pro-choice and pro-life) who has ever donated.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  7. gene

    Komen's fundraising problem with pro-lifers was peanuts compared to the problem presented by the prospect of losing its pro-choicers; that much is obvious from the speed with which they reversed course when it became clear that their attempt to spin the cutting off of funds as "not political" was not being bought by pro-choicers. Mitchell's interview of Brinker was pivotal in this simply because Brinker turned out to be such an ineffective on-screen liar that even pro-lifers who applauded her action didn't believe her stated reason for it enough to even try defending it.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
  8. Rachel Hendricks

    Well maybe CNN only covered half the story but at least one NPR show did cover both sides of the issue the Diane Reim show. Guests from both points of view were interviewed and given time to present their views.

    Good for CNN for allowing this commentary however, the commentary itself is only telling part of the story.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
  9. Arctic G'ma

    I am old enough to remember long before there was Planned Parenthood or the Susan G. Komen Foundation. The biggest concern for families was whether their children would get polio or some other communicable disease for which there was yet no vaccine. On the subject of abortion, it was definitely illegal in the 1940s and 1950s, but there was no lack of finding some unskilled person to perform them. The only difference was not in availability, but one of mortaility rate for the girls and women. So regardless of whether politically you lean to the left or the right, or whether your religious leanings are Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist or Agnostic, abortions will continue to happen. This is a fact; this is reality that will continue regardless of what any one or the government does to try to stop it!

    February 7, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • Murder will always happen too, should we legalize it?

      The mortality rates barely dropped after legalization, they had been low for years. This is because of antibiotics and blood transfusions not from legalization. The same doctors doing them then are the same doctors that did them when they were legal.

      Legalizing abortion gave it a stamp of moral acceptance, and abortion numbers shot through the roof.

      There will always be abortion, but we still have an obligation as a society to minimize it.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • Muri

      That 'obligation' is a perspective you hold. It is NOT one that we share. Some of us don't want the government to tell others what to do with their body....oddly enough it's pretty much the primary GOP credo and the one most often left at the door by said party.

      But then again, it's all cafeteria style now anyway so who's really counting eh?

      Typical.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
  10. MC Woods

    NO ONE makes the 300,000 women have abortions. Women need them. Why blame PP for doing the procedure? The need is there. It is legal. Women have wanted abortions before Jesus was born. Safe and legal abortions are what women need access to. Again, there are no FORCED abortions at PP.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • She has a good point

      Unless you are under 18, and your parents want you to get one.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  11. Michael Wong

    Sorry Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, you are only telling half the story. I will no longer support this organization.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • jorge

      right on. if this article was written by a real journalist, maybe I could be swayed (MAYBE), but the fact that the author is clearly coming from the religious right (see affiliated publications) means we can't trust her either.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  12. Jason

    What a great article! Wish there was a lot more like this on CNN. This is completely true. The complete truth may also include that the funding that was taken away from Planned Parrenthood would have gone to other breast cancer screeners and the same number of people would have been screened. The issue is that an abortion provider would not have received those funds. Those on the right feel that would be a good thing. Those on the left think that is bad. Everyone knows that every dollar Planned Parrenthood gets for services other than abortion frees up money for abortions. The problem is that with the excpetion of Fox News, the right has no voice. Fox is fair and balanced. The liberals think it is biased because they don't think the right has a right to a voice. It is a little like Israel, most of the Islamic world doesn't believe it has a right to exist.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • Doug from Seattle

      FOX is fair and balanced!?! Are you kidding me!? Half of the discussions on MSNBC are spent pointing out the inaccuracies and misinformation being spewed out by FOX. There's a reason why studies have determined that people who don't watch any news channels at all are better informed than those who watch FOX!!!!

      February 7, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  13. Michael

    "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."

    This statement implies a correlation that isn't supported by any fact in the rest of the article; That half of breast cancer survivors are pro-life and that all pro-lifers are unilaterally against Planned Parenthood.

    There is a wide variety of beliefs within both the Pro-life and Pro-choice camps, including people like my wife and myself who don't believe that abortion should be used as birth control, but recognize that each situation must be weighed with some discernment. My wife is more conservative than I am in this regard. Put that in contrast with people who loudly and vehemently proclaim that women seeking abortion and their providers should be put to death. On one end you have pro-lifers who support Planned Parenthood and at the far extreme people who firebomb their clinics.

    This article just highlights the problem with media AND with media critics regarding the discussion of vitriolic topics; They each dumb it down to a black and white issue, which it is not. To say that 50% of people support abortion choice and 50% do not is overly simplistic and ignores the nuance of the issue. What you find out when you actually talk to people beyond a sound-bite and beyond a quote for an article, is that there are people that self-identify as Pro-Life or Pro-Choice who are actually much closer to each other in belief than they are to the fringe/extremes of their categories. This is the real story that conservative, liberal, and corporate media is ignoring.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Katie

      You make a really good point. Although, I wonder what the opinions are from the pro-life breast cancer survivors on what one should do if they get diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant. Would radiation poisoning from the chemo be abortion? Or would they advocate letting the cancer grow for another 9 months?

      February 7, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Russ

      @ Michael: help me out here... where's the nuance we're missing?

      EITHER it's a woman's right to choose what to do with her own body ("it's a fetus, not a child"/ "my body, my rights")...
      OR an unborn child's right to live ("killing babies" / "right of the defenseless unborn woman").

      That's the debate. Where's this hazy, middle ground where these two groups find agreement?

      February 7, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • Katie

      @Russ, being pro-choice, I can tell you that the middle ground is where both sides come together and say, we would love to live in a world where there were no abortions because there was no need for them. That means, comprehensive birth control available to everyone. No unwanted pregnancies. No gender discrimination where families choose to abort mostly females. Comprehensive day care and child health care so that poor women could actually care for their children. That would be a perfect world, and one in which morality isn't even an issue. But unfortunately, that's not the world we live in.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • Russ

      @ Katie: I like your start – but let's push it to it's logical outcome.

      Are those who believe a woman should have a right to self-determine willing to be legislated according to those who believe life begins one an egg is fertilized? (That would change how "contraception" works – even our current birth control pills have counteractive measures in that regard).

      And vice-versa: would those who believe (such as Catholics) that contraception is a sin be willing to support legislation that requires their tax dollars are used contrary to their conscience?

      The problem of agreeing "it'd be great if there were no abortions" is that both sides have a very different view of what even that means. No abortions because of planned parenthood (contraception, no 'unwanted pregnancies') versus no abortions because it's an unborn child ('unwanted pregnancies' still occur, but children are allowed to live/adopted/etc)...

      As you said, "that's not the world we live in." The real issue is not merely a semantic divide. Whose rights are at stake? When does life begin? Those are the two central questions. And on that central discussion, there is very little middle ground. We have to be honest about that to have a real discussion about where we go from here.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  14. ToddM

    I agree with your argument that the media coverage has been entirely from the left. What you did not care to mention at all is that Planned parenthood is being investigated by the US representative for nothing other than his request. They have not been accused of wrong doing by anyone, including the IRS, Justice dept, GAO or any other governmental agency. Komen pulled their funding because of this "investigation". There has been no other incident in which Planned parenthood has been accused of spending funds illegally or improperly.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
  15. MAB

    As Dana above states, Planned Parenthood is actually on the forefront of preventing abortions by providing safe, free contraceptives to the poor. No "side" in this debate believes that abortion is a good thing. So PP by providing affordable medical advice they are actually doing more than almost any other organization to prevent abortions. Fewer abortions! that is a position that almost everyone should support.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
  16. Stefani Lesser

    Another" half of the story" appeared to be how Komen backtracked about why the change was made. Not everyone in this country feels a religious viewpoint on abortion should affect a women's health issue. I was happy to see the voice of moderate Americans speaking up. For too long, the voice of the loud, intolerant is all that I have heard.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
  17. Rich

    If it was in Komen's best interest to sever ties with Planned Parenthood, they would not have backed down. That's the bottom line. It was a bad decision, regardless of intent, and Komen is paying the price for it in dollars while Planned Parenthood benefits from the snafu Komen created. Clearly Komen learned a hard lesson in the price of rocking the boat.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
  18. JR

    SGK has the right to fund whatever programs they want, just don't lie about your motives for cutting funding.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • Sadie

      Define "right." Legally, maybe they do have the right to spend their money where they choose, but morally, they have an obligation to make it crystal clear to their donors that they are religiously motivated when it comes to deciding what to fund. Last I checked, abortion was legal and PP clinics are often located where impoverished women struggle to find care. It seems like a great partnership to be able to provide BC screenings and mammogram referrals at those places.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  19. Mark in California

    When Komen tells only half of their story about why this happened, I see no issue with the Media doing whatever they need to get the full story.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  20. Katie

    Sure Komen didn't have some support from the pro-lifers, but they also would've lost support (and still did anyways) had they de-funded PP. Plus, a lot of people may identify as pro-life personally, but that doesn't mean they're necessarily anti-choice. The main point is that PP is a CRUCIAL player in advocating women's health, so for an organization to say they're pro-women yet anti-PP is utter hypocrisy.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • ElaineS.

      Your responses here are about what Komen got after their initiate decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood - about 10 to one against your point of view. Are you scrubbing them too? The simple fact is, Mollie, and it is a fact, that the vast majority of American are pro choice, not anti choice. Not one likes abortion, but it is by far the lesser of two evils, the greater evil being an unwanted child born to all to often to poverty and abuse. That is the real truth behind Planned Parenthood. They prevent child abuse first by preventing unwanted pregnancy with contraception, and then by terminating those pregnancies that women DO NOT WANT. You have no right to ever tell a woman to bear a child. MIght I also add that even according to your crowd, for every three women who walk through Planned Parenthoods doors, only one wants a pregnancy test, and of three women who are pregnant, only one wants an abortion. That FIVE women who have received crucial medical care at Planned Parenthood that has nothing to do with abortion, and one woman who has ended a pregnancy she couldn't support. One unwanted child not born into abuse and neglect.
      I am wondering, next to those sicko people with the giant blow ups of fetuses the size of caterpillars, why don't pro women's reproductive rights people march with signs of battered, beaten, and murdered children born into poverty and despair. We could make them true life size. The again, perhaps we should just make them REALLY big, like your protecters do, to make our point about the suffering you are wishing on these unwanted children. And the anti birth control Catholics? I can't even think about the suffering they perpetrate.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:30 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.