Wednesday morning, CNN Anchor Carol Costello dedicated a portion of her show to updating viewers about the Health and Human Services (HHS) contraception/abortifacient/sterilization mandate that went into effect on August 1. While nothing Costello said was dishonest, the way in which she educated her viewers on the mandate was misleading in at least five ways:
1. She dedicated perhaps thirty seconds to the mandate. Considering the major controversy surrounding the mandate, as well as its implementation as a federal policy, this is a bit surprising. It is especially surprising considering that just prior to this update the anchor interviewed gay blogger Jeremy Hooper about the backlash against Chick-fil-A for its CEO’s recent comments about opposing gay marriage. While the latter’s comments have generated some controversy, including enticing mayors of major cities – including New York, Boston and Chicago – to directly attack the company, and in some cases threatened to prevent Chick-fil-A from doing business in their cities, it is still an affair relegated to private citizens engaging in constitutionally-protected speech and actions. To dedicate several minutes and a guest to the latter while only including a brief update about a major (and potentially unconstitutional) federal policy seems disproportional.
2. Costello’s language choice shows a significant bias in favor of the Administration. From the transcript of her show, her entire commentary on the mandate:
It’s been one of the more controversial parts of the health care law. Today, a mandate for U.S. businesses to provide contraception to employees officially kicks in, 58 lawsuits have been filed over the issue. And some employers say it goes against their beliefs. Birth control is just one of several preventative services the Obama administration says insurers must cover without charging a co-pay including mammograms and screenings of all adults for depression, diabetes and colorectal cancer.
Clearly, Costello never touched on the controversy surrounding forced coverage of sterilization and abortifacients. These are two of the three most controversial aspects of the mandate.
3. Related to Point 2, Costello barely referenced the significant controversy in religious communities across America as a result of the mandate. From the transcript:
It’s been one of the more controversial parts of the health care law. …58 lawsuits have been filed over the issue. And some employers say it goes against their beliefs.
As a news anchor, Costello should have mentioned the religious controversies the mandate has caused. After all, the mandate could have major negative effects on the nation’s medical patients, as about one-sixth of American hospital beds belong to Catholic-affiliated organizations. Since the mandate was introduced, Cardinal Timothy Dolan has said all of those organizations (as well as all Catholic education and adoption centers) may very well close. Therefore, the mandate’s effect on religious organizations is going to spread well beyond the limits of those Americans with particular religious beliefs.
4. In commenting on the implementation of the mandate starting August 1, Costello neglected to mention the one-year delay of implementation for organizations with religious affiliations that do not qualify under the law’s narrow religious exemption.
5. While she did reference the 58 lawsuits filed against the government over the mandate, Costello never mentioned that a judge has halted the mandate for a business run by a Catholic couple whose business would be affected by its components.
In criticizing Costello, credit should be given where it is due – she did not let the gay blogger get away with abandoning the First Amendment when it came to the statements from Chick-fil-A’s CEO. It would have been best if she had kept to this same even-handed journalistic standard in her report on the mandate.