ABC Skips Catholic Lawsuit Over Birth Control Mandate; NBC Allows 20 Seconds

May 22nd, 2012 11:49 AM

ABC on Monday and Tuesday completely ignored 12 major lawsuits filed by Catholic groups over the Obama-imposed birth control mandate. NBC allowed a mere 20 seconds to the topic.

CBS This Morning, however, was the only show on the networks to devote a full report to the lawsuits. Co-host Charlie Rose allowed Cardinal Timothy Dolan to make his case that the mandate limits religious liberty. Rose wondered, "What is it you want the administration to do?" However, co-host Erica Hill pushed the responsibility on Catholics: "So, have you reached out specifically to President Obama to again plead your case and say, here's where my problem is?"       

After Dolan insisted that the Catholic Church has been unable to sway the President, Rose badgered, "But, I mean, he's a phone call away for you."

On the CBS Evening News, anchor Scott Pelley got to the topic 18 minutes into the program and allowed 19 seconds.

The only mention on NBC came when Today news reader Savannah Guthrie briefly explained, "In their largest challenge yet, dozens of Roman Catholic schools, dioceses and other institutions filed lawsuits Monday against the Obama administration's birth control mandate."

The mandate forces Catholic institutions, such as hospitals and colleges, to pay for birth control and abortion-inducing drugs.

ABC skipped coverage of the lawsuit on World News, Nightline and Good Morning America.  GMA did, however, find time for a segment on important topics, such as the feud between pop singers Pink and Chris Brown, as well as a full report on Dancing With the Stars.

The Media Research Center's Matt Balan explained the lack of coverage back in February when the story broke:

NBC's Today devoted just two news briefs to the controversy on Thursday morning. Overall, NBC didn't cover the story until February 5, with a panel discussion on Meet the Press. The network's morning and evening newscasts ignored the story until the following evening, on the February 6 edition of NBC Nightly News.

CBS waited three weeks to bring on a member of the Catholic hierarchy. Charlie Rose first interviewed Dolan on February 9th.

An analysis by Balan found that "out of the 91 talking heads who appeared as soundbites on their morning or evening programs (or a small number of guests on the morning shows), politicians far outnumbered Church officials, by a margin of 60 to 9."

A partial transcript of the May 22 CBS This Morning Dolan interview can be found below.


CHARLIE ROSE: So the argument goes, this is about religious liberty. You make that argument. The President and others have said it's about women's health. What is it you want the administration to do?

CARDINAL TIMOTHY DOLAN: Sure. Thanks for drawing the distinction, because we've been pretty clear, Charlie and Erica, that this is about religious freedom, all right? It's not about contraception. The bishops in Alabama know it's about immigration. Our Catholic Relief Service knows it's about human trafficking. Our refugee/immigration services knows it's about getting victims of religious oppression here to the country. Our Catholic charities know it's about soup kitchens. So it's about religious freedom, the ability of the church to do what it does very well in complete freedom.

What we worry about, Charlie - not so much - we do worry about the President's initiative to provide contraception free across the board, but that's another question. What we're worrying about now is the exemption given to the churches is so strangling and is so narrow and it's all so presumptuous, that a bureau of the federal government is attempting to define for the Church the extent of its ministry around ministers. It's that exemption, it's the straight-jacketing, handcuffing exemption characteristic of that exemption, Charlie and Erica, that we find to be very dangerous.

[CBS News Graphic: "CBS News/New York Times Poll: What is the birth control coverage issue more about? Women's health & rights, 51%; Religious freedoms. 37%; Margin of Error: +/- 3% Pts."]

ROSE: So if the President said, look, I've tried to compromise here. I'm suggesting let insurers pay for contraceptives-

DOLAN: Sure-

ROSE: That's not far enough for you.

DOLAN: That's rather superficial. He and I have had this discussion, and I appreciate his courtesy in speaking to me about it. It's not enough, Charlie and Erica, for two reasons. First of all, it doesn't help us too much because most Catholic entities are self-insured, so we're still going to be paying for it anyway. But secondly, it still gives no attention to these choking mandates to this choking definition of religion that we find just to be so strangling.

You know what we're talking about Erica and Charlie. They tell us that if you're really going be considered church, if you're going to be really exempt from these demands of the government, well, you have to propagate your Catholic faith in everything that you do; you can serve only Catholics; and you can employ only Catholics. We're saying, wait a minute! When did the government get into the business of defining for us the extent of our ministry? It's almost like we're being punished for the fact that we serve a lot of people, and that we don't ask for baptismal certificates at the door. If they would simply mitigate those strangling - the strangling nature of those definitions for exemptions, we'd be able to say, at least we're able preserve our ministries and services.

HILL: How much, though, have you had in the term of conversation about this? Because the last time- for people who may not have been with us that morning that you were with us- you said a long time ago you talked to the President, and there were all these changes, and you hadn't talked to him since. So have you reached out specifically to President Obama to again plead your case and say, here's where my problem is?

DOLAN: Yeah, and I appreciate the President's outreach to us, and he keeps telling me that he does want this to work. He keeps telling me of his tremendous regard for the services that the Church gives community-wise, and that he doesn't want his administration to impede the good work that we do. I haven't talked to him personally since mid-February, but we have taken up his invitation for the offices of our bishops' conference to continue to meet with his White House staff, which we'll keep doing, even though we're a bit frustrated that there doesn't seem to be any significant progress.

HILL: Do you think there would be less frustration if the two of you did sit down once again in a room together?

DOLAN: I'm not sure- I'm always willing do that, but part of my worry, Erica, is that we've heard the from the White House that this is all you're going to get, and there will be no further substantial mitigation. If that posture would change, say the word. I'll be on the Acela down to Washington.

ROSE: Do you think White House has misled you in any way on this?

DOLAN: I hate to question the President's sincerity. I think I believe him when he says he highly regards the works of the Church and does not want his administration to impede any of that. I worry, Charlie, that members of his administration might not particularly understand our horror at the restrictive nature of this exemption that they're giving us, that for the first time that we can remember, a bureau of the federal government seems to be radically intruding into the internal definition of what a church is. We can't seem to get that across.

ROSE: But, I mean, he's a phone call away for you. You're the Cardinal from this archdiocese. Let me ask you, finally, there was a question at Georgetown a Catholic university about [HHS] Secretary [Kathleen] Sebelius. What's the problem there, having her come speak?

DOLAN: Well, I do think that's a problem. Georgetown is the oldest Catholic university in the country. Part of Catholic identity is-

ROSE: Invited by the students-

DOLAN: To be in union with the bishops, okay? When they would invite someone who has used the word 'war' in describing the relationship between the government and the Catholic Church, and when they would invite someone that is so dramatically at odds with one of the central tenets of the faith, that does bother us. I think we're disappointed at that, but we're not shocked, because unfortunately, we have to admit, some of our Catholic universities- thank God not many- have been moving towards a more secular model, where they would take their cues from what's happening in contemporary events, instead of the timeless wisdom of the Church. I'm afraid that's what might be happening here.