Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Savvy PR firm scores NYTimes coup against March For Life

January 28, 2013 By mollie, GetReligion 
We’ve received quite a few complaints about the religion angle the New York Times chose for its story on the March For Life. And I’d sure as heck like to join in.
But before I do that, I want to point out that the Times also ran a straight news story covering the march and, unlike any year I can recall, it actually ran in the print edition and not just as a brief mention on a blog post. The story that has outraged so many folks is the primary story on the march that ran in a more prominent position than the straight story. In fact, it ran above the fold of the national news section, headlined “In Fight Over Life, a New Call by Catholics.”
The lede:
The March for Life in Washington on Friday renewed the annual impassioned call to end legalized abortion, 40 years after the Roe v. Wade decision. But this year, some Roman Catholic leaders and theologians are asking why so many of those who call themselves “pro-life” have been silent, or even opposed, when it comes to controlling the guns that have been used to kill and injure millions of Americans.
More than 60 Catholic priests, nuns, scholars and two former ambassadors to the Vatican sent a letter this week saying that if marchers and politicians truly want to defend life they should support “common-sense reforms to address the epidemic of gun violence in our nation.”
A caption for the piece read:
Anti-abortion protesters flooded the National Mall in Washington on Friday for the annual March for Life. Many Catholic leaders and theologians are asking why many of those who call themselves ‘pro-life’ have been silent when it comes to gun control.
You’ll notice that marchers are only called “pro-life” in a scare-quotey sense to cast skepticism on their claims. You might also wonder if the Times broke precedent to cover the massive march so as to be able to criticize it with this more prominent story, but we can’t really know the answer to that question.
We’re a family site here so I’m going to be careful here:
Are you [bleeping] kidding me? Are you [bleeping] kidding me?
What? This is the religion angle for the massive, hundreds-thousands-strong March for Life that marks the murder of 55 million unborn children over the last 40 years? We’re going to turn it into something nebulous (no specific gun controls are even discussed) related to the media’s current political cause du jour?
And it gets worse.
Believe it or not, this is basically just a press release from the same savvy, highly funded PR firm that has been rolling reporters for the last year. One is beginning to think they enjoy the ride.
The group that put out the letter is … drum roll please …
… Faith in Public Life. Yes, that Faith in Public Life! They’re the ones who came up with the highly successful “Nuns on the Bus” tour that got embarrassingly uncritical coverage for an anti-Paul Ryan campaign featuring not one, not two, but as many as three to four nuns. We’re talking front-page coverage in major media outlets, gushy broadcasts, the works.
You couldn’t pay for coverage this nice. Except, I guess, that George Soros and his fellow donors do pay for this coverage. But you know what I mean.
And yes, this is the same group that, well, despite being the brains and brawn behind the Nuns on the Bus group is also the group that successfully sold reporters the old “these scary Catholic bishops are way too partisan and political (but only when they happen to talk about something in opposition to our favorite political party and leader because if they agree with us we’ll praise them to high heaven)” PR campaign. That they ran both of these campaign simultaneously is sort of a testament to their chutzpah and skill but much more a blistering and depressing commentary on the state of journalism today.
And color me shocked (shocked!) that they might try to sabotage the March for Life by releasing a letter from 60 (not 50, but 60) folks saying that if those hundreds of thousands of marchers enduring brutal conditions were really pro-life, they’d happen to support the issue that President Barack Obama is pushing at the moment. Whatever else might be said on the topic, and I imagine that there are as many views on gun control among the marchers as there are in the general population — some of which would probably be quite worth including in the story and would be challenging to the dominant narratives we hear from progressive activists and their NRA counterparts — what a great way to distract from Roe v. Wade.
A story attempting to combine a push for 2nd Amendment restrictions with a pro-life march could have been pulled off by a reporter interested in exploring the actual views of marchers. Even more so, a story that broached gun violence in a more expansive way than just looking at particular political aims of progressive groups could have been easily done. I know that during my weekend activities, I heard Sandy Hook mentioned many, many, many times. This wasn’t in conjunction with the progressive cause du jour, necessarily, but I heard it mentioned in pro-life sermons and speeches at the life conference I attended. I imagine many or all marchers might say Roe played a role in further coarsening the society, which hasn’t just witnessed the murder of 20 schoolchildren in Connecticut but a staggering 55 million unborn children nationwide who never even made it to first grade. Even just looking at the gun control issue, a story looking at mainstream Catholic debate on the topic could have had much more balance — and specifics.
Of course, with a national media that swallows this more narrow approach of general support for nebulous government restrictions, these Faith in Public Life donors and administrators are doing very well.
Seriously. Couldn’t have worked better. Here’s the press release from Faith in Public Life. Here’s the New York Times story. If you squint, you might not even be able to tell the difference.
For previous looks at how reporters have adopted the press releases from Faith in Public Life, you might look at “Credulity, chutzpah and Catholic battles,” “Savvy PR firms drive coverage of HHS mandate,” “As Fortnight of Freedom begins, media responds,” “Archbishop Lori and his enemies,” and “Cheering on those nuns on the bus,”
Now, if I were presented a press release trying to steal the news cycle from a massive number of human rights activists, I might ask some questions. For instance, I’d try to ascertain their history of involvement with the March for Life. Are they participants? What are the names and sizes of the pro-life groups they led to the march this year? How are they traveling to the march? Are they, as so many others do, renting buses and vans and driving through the night? Don’t tell me they’re not actually in attendance. Did any of the signatories come?
I didn’t recognize any of the signatories as leaders in the pro-life movement but, then again, the pro-life movement is massive. I did recognize some of the names as people who are known for working for liberal causes unrelated to pro-life advocacy. I noticed some of the names are linked to Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, which, on Facebook, was very excited about the favorable coverage the press release received in the New York Times. And yet I found no mention of pro-life advocacy or even a statement — much less a clear or strong statement — against abortion on that same Facebook page.
Wait, there’s more. I even found some strong statements critical of pro-life stances! It was almost like exactly the people you wouldn’t want signing a statement such as this … if you were going for something more than a quick and dirty stunt that wouldn’t receive even a slightly critical look before running in the most important newspaper in the country.
So what are some of their tangible, major accomplishments in defense of unborn life? How are they perceived — in terms of defense of the unborn — by pro-life activists who are marking 40 years of speaking against the regime that allows any and all unborn children to be killed throughout the pregnancy? In other words, why would people outside of a New York Times newsroom in general and among the marchers in particular, find their argument compelling and appropriate on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade?
As if this whole debacle isn’t embarrassing enough, the Times article also has this line:
A poll released this week by the Public Religion Research Institute, a nonpartisan research group in Washington, found that among the roughly two-thirds of white evangelical Protestants who say the term “pro-life” describes them very well, 64 percent are opposed to stricter gun control laws, while 33 percent favor them.
Oh did they? Isn’t that interesting that a totally neutral, nonpartisan research group that I’m sure does not have the same funders as Faith in Public Life or any contact with them whatsoever happened to be working on a poll that happened to show results that happened to align with this PR campaign? Fancy that! What a marvelous coincidence.
You know, every single time I point out that — whatever else you might want to say about them — PRRI is nowhere near neutral in its funding, goals or manner of polling, I get emails from reporters telling me that everyone knows about their rather obvious bias and I don’t need to mention it and treat reporters like idiots. Well, this is why I point it out. (And for past reference, previous links on this issue here, here, here and here.)
So I’m very sad to say that this is probably my nominee for worst story related to the 40th anniversary of the March for Life. Please don’t tell me you’ve seen worse.
Of course, if I were at Faith in Public Life, I’d start plotting the next easy PR campaign. I mean, is there any limit to what reporters are willing to republish from them? I’m sure we’re all curious to find out.

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