Degree of skepticism required for church coverage

Getting your news solely from mainstream media outlets, particularly when it comes to Catholic issues is, shall we say, imprudent.

It’s no secret that mainstream media frame issues in a way that serve ideological biases, particularly in their coverage of the Catholic Church.  A healthy degree of skepticism about what we see in media is in order.

For example, during a conversation with Catholic News Agency,, reporter Mollie Hemingway pointed out that media coverage of the recent religious freedom rallies compared to the Holy See’s review of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) “ranged from imbalanced to near-fraudulent.”

On June 8, National Public Radio apparently dedicated 14 minutes of broadcast coverage to highlight the LCWR but gave no coverage to the Stand Up for Religious Freedom rallies, which drew more than 60,000 people in 158 cities, including 2,000 in Minneapolis. Not even a news brief mention?

Hemingway credits some of this imbalance to an increase in partisan news coverage during election years, but the facts remain that disparity in mainstream media coverage is striking.

One side of the story

The recent coverage of the HHS mandate makes this clear.  There were misleading reports that “98 percent of women use birth control.” Next, there were the congressional hearings on religious liberty that were inaccurately depicted as conversations about a woman’s access to contraception, which no one doubts.

Further, there was the disproportionate media coverage of the Georgetown student who supports the HHS mandate, Sandra Fluke, as though the HHS mandate was about a war on women.  Finally, there was practically no coverage of the 12 lawsuits filed by Catholic dioceses and organizations against the HHS mandate.

Hemingway noted that painting the HHS mandate issue as a battle over birth control “certainly matches the talking points of its supporters but doesn’t accurately reflect the concerns of its opponents.”

As the bishops have made clear, opposition to the HHS mandate is not about contraception, it is about forcing religious entities to buy products that they consider morally unsound. As Catholics, we have to repeat this over and over if we hope to be successful in the public arena and persuade others of the injustice of the mandate, because the media refuses to tell this side of the story.

Another example of blatant media bias is the marriage amendment. The media has a clear idea of the story it wants to tell, and that does not include discussing the need for the amendment or why there are important and compelling reasons to limit marriage to the union of one man and one woman.

To take one example, it is frequently reported that Minnesota law already limits marriage to the union of one man and one woman. The not so subtle suggestion by the reporter is that the amendment is redundant and unnecessary, and that the amendment is mean-spirited or harms people.

What the media conveniently fails to mention is that GLBT activists and marriage revisionists have been actively trying to redefine the one definition of marriage for everyone in Minnesota in both the courts and Legislature.

The Benson v. Alverson case, which seeks to have Minnesota’s marriage law struck down as bigoted, irrational and unconstitutional, is practically never mentioned as a reason why we need a constitutional amendment, which can only be changed by a vote of the people.  Naturally, doing so would undermine the media’s narrative that the amendment is “anti-gay,” when in fact all the amendment does is preserve the traditional definition of marriage.

The worst part of the media narrative woven against the church generally is that it refuses to cover many things we do, particularly in the public arena, and focuses its stories only on hot-button issues related to gender and sexuality, and then accuses the church of being focused only on gender and sexuality.

Did you hear about the Minnesota bishops’ recent statement on immigration, even as there is a related case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court?  Nope. How about the church’s role in opposing harmful cuts to Minnesota’s social safety net, or its advocacy for affordable housing funding?  Not a word.

Our responsibility

The media play a powerful role in shaping people’s perception of reality.  What we perceive and read about, however, is not always consistent with what truly is reality.

It is incumbent on Catholics to not get discouraged and let their perception of the world be shaped by the mainstream media. We need not completely reject what we read in the papers or see on TV, but we are responsible as citizens to approach what counts as “news” with a healthy degree of skepticism and ensure that we are being informed by diverse sources, including church media.

Doing so is instrumental in forming our consciences appropriately to serve as faithful citizens.

Jessica Zittlow is communications associate with Minnesota Catholic Conference.

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