On its Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning newscasts, CBS played up its most recent poll with the New York Times, which found that 61% of Catholics approve "President Obama's contraception policy," as a graphic on the CBS Evening News spun the recent federal government mandate that forces religious institutions to cover sterilization and birth control without a co-pay.
The left-leaning outlets' poll question, however, completely glossed over the religious liberty component to the controversy over the policy, asking only, "What about for religiously-affiliated employers, such as a hospital or university? Do you support or oppose a recent federal requirement that their health insurance plans cover the full cost of birth control for their female employees?"
Anchor Scott Pelley devoted a brief to the poll on the evening news program:
PELLEY: One more note from our poll- you remember that controversy last week when President Obama said the health insurance companies of faith-based institutions must provide employees with free birth control? Well, in our poll, 61% overall told us they approve of that policy. The number was exactly the same for Catholic respondents.
The following morning, Charlie Rose asked Obama reelection campaign strategist David Axelrod about the controversy, after the former senior advisor to the President claimed that Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum's "positions...on social issues are quite divisive, not widely shared. I think your poll reflects some of that."As the poll results flashed on the screen, Rose replied, "Did the contraception issue and the question of Catholic charities hurt your campaign? Did it give the President an opportunity to have to say, wait a minute- we may have been too- out too fast on this?
Axelrod dutifully repeated the administration's talking points in his answer:
AXELROD: Look, I think that a vast majority of Americans- and that's also reflected in your poll- support the notion that women should have- all women should have- access to basic preventative care, including contraception. So, you know, I think that there's strong support for that. I think the President handled it in a sensitive way, taking into consideration those concerns that were raised by the leaders of the Catholic Church. So, you know, we were not looking to create divisions. We were looking to advance the cause of women's health, and I think we've done that, and we've done it in the appropriate way.
On Tuesday, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press released its own poll on the issue, which was based, in part, on the following question: "Should religiously-affiliated institutions that object to the use of contraceptives be given an exemption from this rule, or should they be required to cover contraceptives like other employers?" Of course, since the Obama administration decree came out, Catholic bishops have been pushing for a wider exemption for church-affiliated institutions like charities, hospitals, and colleges, citing the First Amendment's protection of freedom of religion. Pew found that "55% of Catholics who have heard about the [federal government mandate] support an exemption to it...[and] Catholics who attend Mass at least once a week, 63% support an exemption."
Another poll from Rasmussen, released on February 8, found that 65% of Catholic voters "opposed the president's requirement which he has since attempted to soften by saying the Catholic institutions would not have to pay for contraception for all their employees but that instead it would be the full responsibility of their insurance companies." That poll asked, in part, "The requirement to provide contraceptives for women violates deeply held beliefs of some churches and religious organizations. If providing such coverage violates the beliefs of a church or religious organization, should the government still require them to provide coverage for contraceptives?"
This isn't the first time that CBS has heralded a questionable poll number in its coverage of the controversy. When CBS Evening News first covered the story on February 7 - 18 days after the White House handed down the mandate- correspondent Wyatt Andrews touted that "according to surveys, most Catholic women- 98 percent- already use contraception." That dubious figure came from the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute. The network's partner in its poll, the New York Times, also highlighted that statistic on February 10, and as the MRC's Clay Waters pointed out on Wednesday, the figure doesn't hold up to scrutiny.