On Thursday, March 26 Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Act into law, aimed at protecting private businesses from government infringement on their religious beliefs. Ever since, the “Big Three” (ABC, CBS, and NBC) networks have done their best to promote the bill’s opponents, who insist that the bill will lead to discrimination against gays and lesbians.
A Media Research Center analysis found that from March 27 through the morning of March 30, the networks promoted the opponents of the law over its supporters at a rate of 2:1 through the use of soundbites, quotes and arguments criticizing the religious freedom law. During the four day period, the broadcast morning and evening news shows devoted 12 full segments totaling 28 minutes and 8 seconds.
This coverage included 130 statements criticizing the religious freedom law versus just 61 expressing support for the law. Of the 130 statements, 39 were direct quotes or soundbites with an additional 91 statements promoting the arguments made by the law’s critics.
While the networks were eager to provide quotes and soundbites for those who condemned the law, of the 23 soundbites given to the law’s proponents, 19 were from Indiana Governor Mike Pence with just four from other supporters of the legislation. The “big three” included only an additional 38 statements articulating the religious freedom arguments behind the Indiana law.
Not only were the networks skewed in their inclusion of arguments against Indiana’s religious freedom law but they made sure to use harsh rhetoric to describe the supposed dire situation facing gays and lesbians in the Hoosier state. When coverage began on March 27, CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley warned of the “growing backlash against a law signed yesterday by the governor of Indiana...opponents say it legalizes discrimination.”
On CBS This Morning: Saturday, reporter Adriana Diaz spotlighted Indiana resident Angie Alexander to fret that “we don’t know what restaurants or what stores we can go into and not be turned away and have to suffer. You know, that’s degrading. It’s embarrassing.”
On Sunday’s Today, NBC’s Erica Hill warned that the law’s critics fear it would be “legalizing discrimination,” while on Monday’s Good Morning America, ABC’s Gio Benitez touted how “overnight, Apple CEO Tim Cook calling the law dangerous.”
All three networks repeatedly spotlighted Tim Cook’s strong condemnation of the law and also made sure to note how the bill’s passage coincided with next week’s Final Four, resulting in the NCAA being “especially concerned” about the law’s impact on its student-athletes.
CBS was the only network to feature multiple soundbites of individuals other than Governor Pence supporting the bill, including the co-author of the legislation and a local business owner. On Monday, NBC and ABC finally acknowledged that there was support for the bill beyond the governor, including from local religious and business leaders In Indiana.