On its Wednesday evening and Thursday morning newscasts, CBS didn't file one report or news brief on the controversial federal abortifacient/contraception mandate going into effect. Even worse, the only mention of religious liberty scandal over the regulation was CBS This Morning playing a clip of liberal comedian Stephen Colbert making fun of it.
ABC's Diane Sawyer heralded the mandate taking effect as "an important day for women's health" on Wednesday's World News, and forwarded the White House's talking points on the regulation: "Religious employers, like Catholic charities and hospitals, do not have to directly include free birth control under their health plans." On NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams lamented that "simply by taking effect, it started up the health care fight all over again."
The Colbert soundbite, which the CBS morning show played at the beginning of its final half hour, began with a clip of Fox News Channel's Patti Anne Browne noting how "the Obama administration's controversial contraception mandate goes into effect today. Most businesses, including Catholic institutions, must now ensure that their health insurance provides birth control coverage to employees." Colbert then came in and goofily pretended to gulp down several birth control pills and pretended to come down with side effects associated with chemical contraception:
COLBERT: I'm not sure what a dose is, so I'm just, kind of. (audience laughs) I got to put in as much as I can, all right? I'm sad. (audience laughs) God, I am retaining so much water. (audience laughs) I'm a cow. (audience laughs)
This beyond unserious treatment of the issue was a bit of a departure for CBS. Like its Big Three competitors, it took CBS almost two weeks to report on the HHS mandate after it was announced on January 20, 2012. But when the controversy picked up stream in February, it was the only broadcast network to bring on Catholic clergy as guests on its morning and evening newscasts. When 43 Catholic dioceses and organizations sued the Obama administration in May over the regulation, CBS Evening News devoted just 19 seconds to this development, which was still more than ABC's World News and NBC Nightly News, which didn't cover it at all.
During his introduction for NBC correspondent Kelly O'Donnell's report on the ObamaCare mandate, Williams proclaimed that "another piece of President Obama's signature health care law went into effect today and it includes preventative care for as many as 47 million women, including access to contraceptives at no charge." After making his lamentation about the health care debate restarting, Williams continued by spotlighting how "millions of American women who have private health insurance could begin to save money, and that means no out-of-pocket co-pays for many preventive services."
The correspondent then played a clip of Dr. Paula Johnson of Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital, who sang the praises of the mandate: "This will be a cost-saving measure for women and for their families and will make care, preventative care, far more accessible." But O'Donnell failed to mention that Dr. Johnson was part of the Institute of Medicine panel that recommended such a mandate to HHS about half a year before the Cabinet agency officially announced it.
Outside of the Colbert clip, the only network morning show coverage of the issue on Thursday was a news brief just after the top of the 9 am Eastern hour of NBC's Today show:
NATALIE MORALES: A controversial portion of President Obama's health care reform legislation goes into effect today. It requires insurance companies to provide free contraception services to women. However, to start, only those women with private insurance plans are affected.
[H/t: The MRC's Kyle Drennen on Dr. Johnson's Institute of Medicine connection]