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. Lily

    Blame the media! It's the American way!

    February 7, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  2. Confused

    I am actually surprised at the article. Surprised that CNN on "Beliefblog" has actually allowed this point of view. Very rare does it happen since this is almost always a "non-Belief" or more accurately non-Christian bias blog.

    The truth hurts don't it. Rail all you want but those are the facts.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  3. Pp

    as someone who realizes that words matter, your chosen words mis-state the fact. You write that "Obama administration’s recent mandate that religious organizations provide insurance coverage for abortifacients." This is not true. Religious organizations that engage in delivering religious services can choose to cover or not cover anything they want. Religious organizations that engage in enterprises such as running a hospital, school, or hedge fund must cover health services as every other business does. No special treatment. When you get into business, your are a business, not a church.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  4. FrankinSD

    "Logic dictates that it’s not more political to stop funding Planned Parenthood than it is to keep funding it." No, logic dictates that funding PP is about women's health and stopping the funding is about putting womens' health at risk so that the religious right can pursue its anti-choice jihad.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • Steffiee


      February 7, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
  5. Pam

    Here's the distinction that the media and true pro-lifers have not understood. If you are Pro-choice, you are NOT automatically PRO-abortion. They are NOT the opposiing ends of the magnet. YOU ARE PRO WOMAN BEING IN CHARGE OF HER OWN BODY AND MAKING DECISIONS. Pro-choice is the middle ground of doing what is right, best and legal. If you don't believe in abortion, don't get one. It's really that simple. Your choice.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  6. Rose

    It's called contraception. It prevents fertilization. The more people that use contraception = less unplanned pregnancies.

    February 7, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  7. sean

    Hemingway is right regardless of where you land on this issue. kudos to her for having the courage to say it.

    February 7, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • Pp

      Hemingway is right but she is not correct.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  8. Karen

    THANK YOU! I never heard any news coverage of those of us who applauded Komen's original decision to stop funding an abortion provider. I was so dissapointed when they caved. Komen is supporting life on one hand and death on the other.

    February 7, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  9. Bob

    Editor's Note: Mollie Ziegler Hemingway is a media critic at GetReligion

    February 7, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • Dan

      ...and your point is?

      February 7, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  10. She has a good point

    The media seems to have a clear bias on this issue. Even Fox news refers to the groups as anti-choice and pro-choice, rather than pro-life and pro-choice.

    February 7, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
  11. LiveFreeinCT

    Pro-Choicers are such hypocrites. If it's a wanted pregnancy, it's the most incredible blessing on Earth. But if it's the result of selfish, irresponsible behavior, then suddenly this wonderful human life becomes a useless "parasite". Give me a break. Abortion is the termination of human life. It's murder. Murder is against the law. Period. It's not a matter of "choice".

    February 7, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • Manley

      Yeah, and life begins at conception, because science! And life automatically means a relational, moral agent that ought to be protected, because logic! Therefore we shouldn't end any life, because ethics! Not only should you be a vegan, you should actually go on a hunger strike against existence, because consistency!

      February 7, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Mike in Denver

      Except it's not murder by legal definition. Insisting something is so over and over again without evidence supporting it doesn't make it true. Ask Orly Taitz how far that has gotten her.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • T. Dail

      I'm not a hypocrite and you obviously don't understand poverty. You really think all unplanned pregnancies are the result of irresponsible acts. Have you been in hiding all your life? Are you not aware that many women are in relationships that do not allow birth control or are abused, too poor to leave or divorce, too scared to make a move? Wake up and support women have no resources and need help from all women, not criticism.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
  12. Freethinker Seeking Reason

    This article is a joke and yet another strike against CNN in its cheerleading for anti-choice groups that want to win the war on women. Thank you Andrea Mitchell for being a journalistic voice for truth and fairness in a sea of right-wing religious insanity. As for anyone representing a group called "GetReligion"?! Blech!! No thanks!! Haven't the fundies set us far enough back already? It's time for some serious catch-up with science research and education in general. Please let's hope the religious TP movement is just an ugly bump in the road to the U.S. once again being an intellectual world leader.

    February 7, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • Russ

      @ freethinker: you might want to check the website. It's not telling you that you should go get some religion. It's a critic sight whose motto is that "the media just doesn't get religion."

      February 7, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • *facepalm*

      Or the pregnancy is a product of ra pe, or the health of the mother is in danger. But way to over-simplify the issue to support your own agenda. Most of us don't live in your tiny little box.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Freethinker Seeking Reason

      Umm, reply to wrong thread, perhaps?

      February 8, 2012 at 1:25 am |
  13. lacubanita

    I agreed completely with this article. Planned Parenthood will be investigated right after they have a scandal just like ACORN's. Just give them time. I will now donate my money to the American Lung Association instead of Komen.

    February 7, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
  14. clarify

    Excellent article! Even liberal journalists are coming out of the closet and writing books regarding the liberal media bias.

    February 7, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • Bob

      Editor's Note: Mollie Ziegler Hemingway is a media critic at GetReligion Doesn' t sound lile a lib to me

      February 7, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
  15. Riri

    Why don't you go start a new organization with Handel. Conservatives with Narrow Minds!

    February 7, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • sean

      funny. not funny haha but funny strange that your myopic focus is calling her narrow minded. I thought she laid our her observation in an even minded manner. I didn't see name calling or mindless point scoring.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  16. David

    Something I think people believe abortions happen BECAUSE Planned Parenthood exists but really abortions happen SO Planned Parenthood exists. I think people get that confused. Closing Planned Parenthood would not stop the demand for abortions. It would just move it somewhere else. If we want to prevent abortions (and I think we all would) it needs to start before the pregnancy happens, not after.

    February 7, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • Steffiee

      I agree with you in general and I will add that when I was younger and had even less money than I do now, lol, the only way I could afford gynecological services was at Planned Parenthood. In other words, they did my exams and wrote my prescriptions for birth control - thank you PP very much. No unplanned pregnancy for me. However, if I had become pregnant, I certainly would have wanted the intelligent, compassionate folks at PP to advise me on all my options, including abortion. Which I probably would have had. I didn't have enough money to buy groceries half the time - it would have meant a life of public assistance and the end of my educational dreams if I had had an unplanned pregnancy. I am sure others make their own, individual choices. But I am grateful that there IS a choice.

      February 7, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Miz Grandma

      You are correct, David, that Planned Parenthood does not cause the demand for abortions. Women have sought abortions for centureies, if not longer. Planned Parenthood allows desperate women the "luxury" of medically appropriate abortions. Contrast this to the self-inflicted coat hanger or Tiajuana abortions my friends underwent before abortions were legal. Women will be maimed and die without Planned Parenthood. Is that really what "pro-lifers" want?

      February 7, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  17. Dana52

    Three points: 1. Planned Parenthood's services, about 3% of which go towars aboartions, give poor women access to breast cancer prevention and treatment. Komen, by giving to PP, conveys that wiping out breast cancer is truly its mission. By taking away funding for breast health, Komen conveyed that abortion (which is NOT funded by Komen's grant), and not its statd mission of breast health, is its more real mission. 2. Assuming abortion, and not women's breast health, is the real issue–PP has done more than any other organzation to prevent abortions by giving out often free contraceptives. Think of how many abortions PP would be doing and how many killer back alley abortions woud happen if PP, and not Komen, stopped providing contraceptives to women. 3. The media is a consumer product; consumer likes and dislikes often shapes the "product" that emerges. Yes, PP "won" in the media, but it was the consumers, many of whom are pro-life, who saw the hypocrisy of a breast health organization denying breast health care to poor women. No one has to have an abortion, but many poor women would have to forgo breast screenings because of the decrease in funds to PP.
    If the media leans to the left–or the right in rare cases–it is because lef-wing sentiments are deemd more socially just and thus "buyable."

    February 7, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
  18. Steph

    I am not here to argue with anyone, however I want to thank the author for outlining what 50% of women (including me) believe.
    Now, let's all get off our computers and do something to leave our own positive, passionate mark on the world. Life is too short to argue with strangers over a no-win subject.

    February 7, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
  19. JDBroadhead

    The Komen reaction to reinstate PP grant money was a reaction to a drop in donations for Komen and a staggering increase in donations for PP following the Komen announcement of an end to breast screenings. it wasn't Andrea Mitchell.


    February 7, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
  20. Jack

    Hemingway sounds like a conservative republican.

    February 7, 2012 at 4:45 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.