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Occasions of Truth

Two separate media brouhahas dovetailed so neatly this winter that social conservatives, pro-life activists, and faithful Catholics couldn’t help but marvel at the sustained opportunity to discuss, on a national scale, the taboo topics of abortion and especially contraception. In short, “teaching moments” abounded. While many talking heads took the predictable stance of defending the sexual revolution at all costs, others, including writers at mainstream news outlets such as The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, spouted negative commentary, backed with telling statistics, about the mammoth abortion-provider Planned Parenthood. Still others actually expressed respect for the consistent teachings of the Catholic Church in the area of human sexuality. Over the span of a few weeks, truths that rarely receive any significant attention, such as the abortifacient nature of all oral contraceptives, were aired on a daily basis, notably in print media.

The first spectacle involved Planned Parenthood and breast-cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure. The Komen Foundation, a widely respected organization dedicated since 1982 to fighting breast cancer, decided to discontinue grants to Planned Parenthood (PP). The grants amounted to $680,000 last year, which is relatively small change for the abortion giant. These Komen grants allegedly funded local PP programs that offered manual breast exams. Faced with this modest depletion of funds, PP mobilized its enormous political, financial, and media apparatus to attack the Komen Foundation — a reaction way out of proportion to the perceived offense committed. News coverage came in two waves: first, the angry accusations of feminists that Komen had put politics before women’s health. After a seemingly broad-based outcry, PP got what it wanted. Komen backpedaled with an apology, stating that PP would remain a candidate for funding in the future.

Although Komen and PP are both large organizations, the fight wasn’t at all fair. Initial media coverage was stacked against Komen, especially when coming from the mouths of female news anchors who could barely mask their incredulity that anyone could be against PP. The Media Research Center (MRC) monitored media coverage for about sixty hours on ABC, CBS, and NBC, and found that the sound-bite count was loaded: Seventy-six percent favored PP over Komen. The MRC report (Feb. 3) includes examples of interviews with PP adherents who trotted out doom-and-gloom scenarios of a world without PP services, as they do with the familiar “death by coat hanger” tale spun by pro-abortion zealots whenever the smallest restriction on abortion is proposed.

After the initial wave of wailing and gnashing of teeth, some thoughtful analysis emerged. Ross Douthat, writing in The New York Times (Feb. 4), took to task journalists’ obvious partiality and willful ignorance of the “self-evident truths” of the story. “Three truths, in particular, should be obvious to everyone reporting on the Komen-Planned Parenthood controversy,” he wrote. “First, that the fight against breast cancer is unifying and completely uncontroversial, while the provision of abortion may be the most polarizing issue in the United States today. Second, that it’s no more ‘political’ to disassociate oneself from the nation’s largest abortion provider than it is to associate with it in the first place. Third, that for every American who greeted Komen’s shift with ‘anger and outrage’ (as Andrea Mitchell put it), there was probably an American who was relieved and gratified.”

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