The mainstream media’s coverage of two undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood executives discussing the sale of baby parts obtained through abortion has been criticized by some Christians as generally minimal and slanted.
“The media’s political correctness is standing in the way of what should be a moral outrage,” said Calvin Wittman, a Colorado pastor and former television news anchor.
Wittman, pastor of Applewood Baptist Church in the Denver area and a Dallas TV news anchor from 1985-6, told Baptist Press media bias is exhibited both in whether outlets cover a story and how they cover it. While the media “has covered” the Planned Parenthood controversy, he said, “their spin is clearly visible in their reporting.”
All journalists report based on their worldviews, Wittman said, but much of the reporting about Planned Parenthood evidences a secular agenda. He cited the emphasis of some media outlets that Planned Parenthood allegedly did not sell baby parts for profit as a case in point.
“Is it okay to own slaves as long as you don’t do it for profit?” Wittman asked. “Is it okay to wave the Confederate flag if you don’t do it for profit? Are there things that are morally wrong irrespective of whether or not you make a profit off them? The media is inconsistent in that.”
A July 21 News Busters article criticized the three national broadcast television news programs for devoting only 9 minutes and 11 seconds to coverage of the Planned Parenthood videos the week of their release, with ABC giving just 46 seconds to the story. News Busters contrasted that with 31 minutes and 11 seconds spent on Planned Parenthood by ABC, CBS and NBC in 2012 the week Susan G. Komen temporarily stopped funding America’s largest abortion provider.
News Busters added that all three networks “censored the word ‘baby’” from their coverage of the videos “and instead used the term ‘fetal tissue.’ Similarly, from the beginning of their coverage, ABC, NBC and CBS labeled the makers of the videos as ‘anti-abortion activists’ rather than use the ‘pro-life’ label.”
Roger Alford, communications director for the Kentucky Baptist Convention and a former Associated Press correspondent, said the mainstream media has taken “a wide variety of approaches to this coverage.”
Alford noted the contrast between a pro-life USA Today op-ed by Kirsten Powers calling the videos “stomach-turning” and “damning,” and a New York Times editorial criticizing the Center for Medical Progress’s undercover video campaign as “a dishonest attempt to make legal, voluntary and potentially lifesaving tissue donations appear nefarious and illegal.”
Television networks, Alford said, face a dilemma related to graphic descriptions of abortion used in the videos.
“The content is beyond disturbing,” Alford said. “The dismemberment of unborn babies isn’t a subject most Americans can tolerate while downing a quick bowl of corn flakes in the morning.” The networks’ decision “to describe the videos rather than show them speaks to the horror of the content.”
The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway published a July 16 article titled “The Bad, Worse, & Ugly: Media Coverage of Planned Parenthood’s Organ Harvesting Scandal,” in which she criticized major media outlets for being slow to report on the first video and biased in their coverage.
“The video immediately lit up social media” upon its publication at 8 a.m. Eastern Time July 14, Hemingway wrote. “Unlike most significant stories about major hot-button social issues, however, no major media reported on the news until 4:30 p.m. that afternoon. Some are still working on (or working on hiding) their coverage of the story.”
Hemingway acknowledged initial reports by the Washington Post and CNN were “fair,” but she critiqued a litany of media outlets, including the Post, for slanting their stories toward Planned Parenthood.
Terry Mattingly, a Christian journalist who blogs about the media’s coverage of religion, said The Times has incorrectly claimed in multiple articles that the Center for Medical Progress released the full version of its initial video after Planned Parenthood complained of misleading editing. In reality, the full version was released 21 seconds after the edited version, Mattingly noted.
Hemingway has requested corrections by The Times at least twice to no avail, Mattingly wrote at the Get Religion blog.
Some Southern Baptists took to Twitter to express their frustration with media coverage of the controversy. Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, tweeted July 14, “Sadly, if Planned Parenthood @PPact was selling body parts of puppies, not aborted babies, the mainstream media would actually cover it.” As of July 23, his tweet had been retweeted 1,500 times.
Denny Burk, professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, tweeted July 20, “There are still so many unanswered questions. Why aren’t reporters asking them?”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)