Fox Presses White House on Religious Freedom Controversy; Will Big Three Cover?

Fox News's Ed Henry challenged White House Press Secretary Jay Carney during a Tuesday briefing over the growing controversy surrounding the Obama administration's move on January 20 to force most employers to cover sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs, and contraceptives in their health care policies without co-pay. This new federal mandate would force Catholic institutions, like hospitals and schools, to decide whether to obey it or follow the Church's teachings against contraception.

Anchor Megyn Kelly trumpeted that "this is turning into a big deal, and the White House... [is] saying they believe they have struck the appropriate balance...the Catholic Church...saying, how is it the appropriate balance to delay...the time at which we'd have to violate our consciences?"  The Big Three networks, on the other hand, have all but ignored the issue during the past 11 days. Only CBS This Morning on Tuesday briefly mentioned the growing controversy.

 

CBS anchor Charlie Rose noted  "a headline in USA Today says Catholics blast federal birth control mandate....The Obama administration says large religious institutions will have to include birth control in their employees' health care plans."

Just before the bottom of the 2 pm Eastern hour of Fox News's America Live, Kelley spotlighted how "priests during Mass this past Sunday read letters aloud from the pulpit, talking about how this [the new HHS mandate] infringes on religious freedom." The anchor continued by playing a clip from the exchange between White House correspondent Ed Henry and Carney. Henry raised the issue with a strongly-worded question [for video of the full exchange between Henry and Carney and expanded coverage of the controversy, read this article by Fred Lucas of CNSNews.com, a division of the Media Research Center]:

Ed Henry, Fox News White House Correspondent | NewsBusters.orgHENRY: ...[M]y question would be, how does the administration justify having the federal government institute a law that basically forces people to violate their religious beliefs?

CARNEY: That misrepresents actually-
 
HENRY: How so?
 
CARNEY: What the decision about the implementation of the Affordable Care Act-
 
HENRY: How does that misrepresent-
 
CARNEY:  Well, let me answer. The decision was made, as we have said in the past- and Secretary Sebelius has said- after very careful consideration, and the administration believes that this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious beliefs and increasing access to important preventive services. We will continue to work closely with religious groups during this transitional period to discuss their concerns.

It's important- to go to your point- that this approach does not signal any change at all in the administration's policy on conscience protections. The President and this administration have previously expressed strong support for existing conscience protections, including those relating to health care providers. That support continues. I also would just note that our robust partnerships with the Catholic Church and other communities of faith will continue. The administration has provided over $2 billion to Catholic organizations over the past three years, in addition to numerous nonfinancial partnerships that promote healthy communities and serve the common good.

Kelly then remarked that Carney's remarks were "clearly a written response that [he] was reading and had prepared. I mean, this is turning into a big deal, and the White House apparently knows it....So you can see the White House responding, saying they believe they have struck the appropriate balance...the Catholic Church had already spoken to that last week, saying, how is it the appropriate balance to delay, by eight months to a year, the time at which we'd have to violate our consciences?"


Even with the statement from Carney, and his exchange with Henry, the Big Three networks ignored the story completely on their evening news broadcasts on Tuesday. However, on CBS Evening News, Scott Pelley found time for a news brief on a recent recall of oral contraceptives by the drug maker Pfizer.

On Tuesday morning, Mollie Hemingway of GetReligion.org blog documented how the controversy was "surprisingly undercovered on Sunday and Monday" by the wider media. Hemingway ripped ABC News's online coverage of the issue, but complimented the "great piece" by CNN. She also made the following conclusion about the paltry coverage so far:

Obviously there are people in the Obama administration and elsewhere who believe in birth control, sterilization and abortifacient insurance coverage mandates and, further, that religious exemptions to these mandates are wrong. That's an important part of the story and one that has been fairy well covered. But underplaying how seriously the Catholic Church, its leaders and other religious groups are taking this is a disservice to readers of all persuasions.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center