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On Komen, did the media have ‘abortion blinders’?

at 10:04 AM ET, 02/06/2012


Walkers stream down Constitution Avenue for last year’s Susan G. Komen Global Race for the Cure in Washington. The organization has drawn heavy media coverage recently over its funding for Planned Parenthood. (Evy Mages - For The Washington Post)
Ross Douthat thinks that, in the past week, the media have covered the story of the Susan G. Komen Foundation severing, and then reinstating, its ties to Planned Parenthood with “abortion blinders,” disregarding the fact that half of Americans oppose abortion rights.

“On the abortion issue, the press’s prejudices are often absolute, its biases blatant and its blinders impenetrable,” he wrote in yesterday’s New York Times, later continuing that “if you’ve followed the media frenzy surrounding the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation’s decision ... to discontinue about $700,000 in funding for Planned Parenthood, you would think all these millions of anti-abortion Americans simply do not exist.”

As one member of the media who spent a lot of time covering this story, I thought I could offer a bit of perspective on this question. Douthat is right that those who supported Komen’s decision to cut ties with Planned Parenthood got significantly less media coverage than those who opposed it. But he’s wrong about why.

As Lena Sun and I reported in yesterday’s Washington Post, Planned Parenthood had a very aggressive media strategy: Within a day of the Komen decision, the organization blasted out the news it had raised $400,000 from 6,000 online donors. On a press call Friday, the group announced it had raised $3 million in 72 hours.

Throughout the past week, I’ve repeatedly called and e-mailed Komen requesting comparable data. So far, nothing. The closest I got came on a Thursday conference call with Komen CEO Nancy Brinker, who said donations were “100 percent up,” although she declined to give specific figures. It was difficult to report anything more extensive than that 100 percent figure, when Komen declined to provide further information on the topic.

What I, and presumably other reporters, could do, was reach out to those who supported the initial Komen policy change. I spoke with Charmaine Yoest, the president of Americans United for Life, about her group’s plan to start a new, Race for the Cure team when Komen severed its connections to Planned Parenthood.

When I spoke with a few Komen affiliates (the majority I contacted declined to be interviewed), I asked what kind of reaction they had seen. Laura Farmer Sherman in San Diego told me she had received nearly 400 e-mails — 386 in favor of continued Planned Parenthood funding, two against. Michele Ostrander of the Denver affiliate said the reaction was “overwhelmingly” negative.

And that would line up with polling data, which suggest that Planned Parenthood enjoys relatively strong support in the United States. It is true as, Douthat writes, about half of the country considers itself “pro-life” and opposes abortion rights. But opposing abortion rights and supporting Planned Parenthood’s provision of reproductive health services aren’t necessarily incompatible positions. Numerous polls last spring, when Congress looked to end Planned Parenthood’s funding, found the majority of Americans opposed the move. Indeed, a Quinnipac poll last spring found that 59 percent of women (who tend to make up most of Komen supporters) oppose defunding Planned Parenthood. A CNN poll around the same time found 66 percent support on the issue.

The lessened coverage of supporters of Komen’s initial decision to defund Planned Parenthood could simply be a product of the fact that most Americans supported it. Or, as Douthat suggests, it might represent the media ignoring a lot of people. As a reporter covering this story, it’s been incredibly difficult to figure out which explanation is right when Komen declines to discuss the impact this past week has had on its organization.

 
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