After 19 days of controversy, CBS Evening News on Tuesday finally got around to covering the growing dispute between the Obama administration, who wants to impose a mandate for sterilizations and birth control on religious institutions, and the Catholic Church and its allies, who see it as a violation of religious liberty. All of the Big Three networks' evening newscasts on Tuesday covered the issue.
On Wednesday morning, CBS This Morning was actually the only network morning show that devoted a segment to the "hot-button issue," as anchor Gayle King labeled it. NBC's Today show gave a mere news brief on the "uproar" over the new federal policy, while ABC's Good Morning America ignored it.
Evening News anchor Scott Pelley teased the report from correspondent Wyatt Andrews by asking, "Can a Catholic college be forced to provide employees with birth control coverage?" Pelley then introduced Andrews's report by noting how "the Obama administration said the new health care law requires religious hospitals, colleges, and other institutions to include contraceptive coverage in their insurance plans. That set off a firestorm among many Catholics."
However, the CBS journalist decided to lead his report by highlighting how many young Catholics dissent from their church's teaching, that contraception is "intrinsically evil":
ANDREWS: For the students at Catholic University in Washington, there's no escaping the conflict over contraception. Their church says contraception is a sin against God, but it's a sin most frequently committed.
JACQUELINE SUPPRESSI, CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY STUDENT: I live with eight girls, and I know that seven of the eight all take contraception.
ANDREWS: Jacqueline Suppressi says she respects the Church's teaching, but still wants birth control covered in her health insurance.
SUPPRESSI: It is a good way to prevent unwanted pregnancies, and I think that they should, I think that health care should provide it.
Andrews did follow the two clips from the pro-ObamaCare mandate college student with three clips from opponents - Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, and Catholic University of America president John Garvey, who, as the correspondent pointed out, "calls that mandate an assault on the faith." But the on-air personality then concluded his report by touting a dubious figure from the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute without attribution, and by serving as a stenographer for the Obama administration and its talking points:
ANDREWS: Most health care plans in America already cover contraception, and, according to surveys, most Catholic women- 98 percent- already use contraception. But the administration, worried about the Catholic vote, has signaled that enforcement of this rule may not be very strict. In fact, Scott, most charities already have an extra year to comply.
On ABC's World News, anchor Diane Sawyer introduced a report on the controversy by trumpeting the "fiery debate...about women, contraception, and a White House order that has the Catholic Church up in arms. ABC's Jake Tapper takes us inside the culture war tonight." Tapper also played soundbites from Garvey, Gingrich, and Romney, as well as GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum (who, like Gingrich, is a Catholic). In addition to this, the correspondent added clips from White House spokesman Jay Carney, and a more balanced look at the debate on Catholic University's campus, with two unidentified students in favor of the mandate, and two against it.
NBC's Kristen Welker filed a report on Tuesday's Nightly News, which focused more on the debate in Congress over the HHS mandate. Welker included soundbites from Senators Mitch McConnell and Roy Blunt, who were both critical of the policy; and Senator Barbara Boxer and Obama strategist David Axelrod, who defended it.
The following morning, CBS This Morning brought on former President George W. Bush speech writer Michael Gerson and CBS contributor Father Edward Beck to discuss the controversial issue. Gerson noted the underlining philosophical issue in the dispute between the federal government and the Catholic Church, while Father Beck highlighted how the issue goes beyond oral contraceptives:
ROSE: Michael, why do you think this is an ideological wrecking ball?
GERSON: Well, you know, it represents, in a lot of ways, an important political philosophic debate. Not a debate about contraception- it's how you view liberalism. I mean, classical liberalism, in our past, was the protection of individuals and groups and their rights not to reflect the majority views. Modern liberalism, in this sense, seems to be the imposition of liberal values on institutions that are regarded as backwards. I think that that's the opposite of pluralism and it's- you know, provoked an understandable and natural reaction among- not just Catholics, but I think Protestants and others, who care about religious liberty.
HILL: Father Beck, in reality, this is something that's already being dealt with. There are 28 states which require organizations to offer prescription coverage that would cover contraception and only eight of those would exempt Catholic hospitals and universities. So based on how it's played out there, how do you believe it should play out nationally?
FATHER EDWARD BECK, CBS THIS MORNING RELIGIOUS & FAITH CONTRIBUTOR: But in those states, there have been conscience clauses, where those universities- those hospitals can get around it.
HILL: Is that enough then? Would that be a compromise that would work?
BECK: I think if there was a conscience clause put into this- yes- and that they could be exempt- it definitely would work. Something that's not getting discussed, however, is this Plan B, the morning-after pill. Catholics who are coming to me are saying- well, Father, is this abortion, though? So you- 'cause you have a fertilized egg. It's also going to have to cover that. It's being called this contraception controversy, but really, this is- after conception, some are saying- and less is getting spoken about that. But that is really getting the ire of Catholics up.
A February 3, 2012 study from the MRC documented the severe imbalance in the Big Three networks' coverage of the dispute between the Komen foundation and Planned Parenthood, versus their coverage of the controversy between the Obama administration and the Catholic Church. As of Monday morning, ABC, CBS, and NBC ran 20 reports on Komen, versus only 3 on the ObamaCare mandate. NBC Nightly News lifted its two-week blackout on the mandate on Monday evening.