CNSNews.com serves up a slanted view of Planned Parenthood, issuing attacks on the group without giving it much opportunity to respond.
By Terry Krepel
CNSNews.com claims that it "endeavors to fairly present all legitimate sides of a story." That's not necessarily so; while CNS professes balance, what tends to happen more often or not is something of a sham balance, printing attacks with no counterbalance other than to perhaps note that the target of the attack didn't respond to a request for a response.
That is what CNS has done to Planned Parenthood -- CNS prints attacks on the group, it may or may not contact officials for a response, and if there isn't one, the one-sided article runs anyway.
A Feb. 26 article by Penny Starr featured criticism from "experts" of a Planned Parenthood website, teenwire.com, aimed at providing "medically accurate sexual health information for teens on the Internet." The article went into sham-balance mode by stating that "Repeated requests for interviews with Planned Parenthood and teenwire.com staff by Cybercast News Service were not answered."
Starr focuses on the Teenwire website's claim that "viewing pornography is a normal and 'safer' way of enjoying sex and, in particular, its telling a "young male viewer of pornography that masturbating while looking at pornography was not cheating on his girlfriend." This brings out not only the usual anti-pornography responses, as well as five paragraphs devoted to Ted Bundy:
Perhaps the most dramatic case of the damage pornography can apparently cause to some individuals was revealed when James Dobson of Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian group, met with serial killer Ted Bundy the day before he was executed on Jan. 24, 1989.
Nowhere does Starr note that questions have been raised about Bundy's statements to Dobson. True-crime author Ann Rule wrote about the interview in her book on Bundy, "The Stranger Beside Me" (p. 446-7):
Two agendas were met with that videotape. Dr. Dobson believed that smut and booze triggered serial killers, and he had the premiere serial killer to validate his theories. Ted wanted to leave behind a legacy of his wisdom and humanity's guilt. He was guilty, yes, but we were guiltier because we allowed pornography to be sold. We walked by newsstands and did not demand that filthy literature be confiscated and outlawed.
Rule adds (p. 448):
Ted Bundy's interview with James Dobson accomplished one thing that troubled me. During the weeks after Ted was executed, I heard from a number of young women. Sensitive, intelligent, kind young women wrote or called me to say that they were deeply depressed because Ted was dead. One college student had watched the Dobson tape on television and felt moved to send flowers to the funeral parlor where Ted's body had been taken. "He wouldn't have hurt me," she said. "All he needed was some kindness. I know he wouldn't have hurt me ..."
Certainly Ann Rule is a credible source on Bundy. But a balanced perspective on Bundy was not on Starr's agenda; attacking Planned Parenthood was.
Two days later, Starr attacked Teenwire again, apparently creating her own story by sending material from the website to three Republican congressmen: "After reviewing materials posted on Planned Parenthood's teenwire.com Web site at the request of Cybercast News Service, three House Republicans are calling for the termination of Planned Parenthood's federal funding."
Nowhere does Starr state what qualifications, if any, the three congressmen to whom she sent the information -- Doug Lambourn (CO), Steve King (IA) and Joseph Pitts (PA) -- possess to credibly pass judgment on sexual education material for adolescents. Starr does not include any viewpoints in response to the congressmen's claims, nor does she indicate that she spoke or sent the same material to any Democratic members of Congress. There's also no note that she tried to contact Planned Parenthood for a response, furthering the sham-balance nature of Starr's attack.
Starr stepped up her controversy-creation efforts further in a March 7 article detailing how the conservative American Center for Law and Justice "has launched an aggressive petition drive to end all federal funding of Planned Parenthood," spurred by "recent articles by Cybercast News Service on Planned Parenthood." Starr quoted ACLJ head Jay Sekulow saying, "In part, the story about Teenwire.com created a whole new level of interest to step up efforts for the defunding of Planned Parenthood." No attempt to contact Planned Parenthood for a response is indicated.
A March 13 article featured what is apparently Starr's idea of balance: praise for the Planned Parenthood teen website from "David Pounder, a successful pornography star and producer," who said the site "is an excellent source for young people to learn about what he considers the benefits of viewing pornography." The article claimed that "Pounder contacted Cybercast News Service after reading its report about Teenwire."
Unlike with her anti-Planned Parenthood articles in which no actual response from Planned Parenthood is provided, Starr provides ample space to a "psychotherapist" who "has worked with many teens and adults who have compulsive sexual disorders" to counter Pounder.
A March 18 article by Starr reported on a Republican congressman's proposed effort to "prohibit funding for Planned Parenthood." While Starr also quoted a Democratic congresswoman defending Planned Parenthood, the bulk of the article is tilted toward the Republican's arguments. Further, while the article contains audio of the Republican, Mike Pence, her quoting of the Democrat, Lois Capps, is restricted to "a statement to Cybercast News Service." Again, there is no evidence offered that Starr made any attempt to give Planned Parenthood officials an opportunity to respond.
A March 20 article on former Kansas attorney general Phill Kline, now a county prosecutor, filing numerous charges against a Planned Parenthood affiliate quoted Kline and a the leader of "a pro-life group in Ohio that has been following the case" but no one from Planned Parenthood; Starr wrote only that "Questions submitted by Cybercast News Service to Peter Brownlie, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid Missouri, were not answered by press time" -- even though an October 2007 Planned Parenthood press release addressed those same charges when Kline filed them as attorney general. Starr also failed to mention a TV station's investigation of Kline that found not only that Kline was working far less than 40 hours a week at his county prosecutor job, he did not live in the county where he worked, as the county prosecutor job requires.
An April 25 article featuring "group of black pro-lifers" who "joined a protest outside a Planned Parenthood clinic" quotes four protesters, but Starr made no indication she contacted Planned Parenthood for a response.
A May 9 article by Starr about an "e-mail blast" asking recipients to make a "Mother's Day gift" to the organization is attacked by two different anti-abortion activists, while another Planned Parenthood email countering right-wing attempts to cut off federal funding to the group is countered by the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, a leader of the defunding effort.
CNS' refusal to present Planned Parenthood's side of the story is not limited to Starr's reporting. An April 17 article by Josiah Ryan featuring "niece of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr." attacking Planned Parenthood's "racist agenda" added only that "The Planned Parenthood Federation did not respond to Cybercast News Service's multiple requests for comment." Starr makes no apparent effort to obtain a response from Planned Parenthood to the criticism.
a July 17 article by Randy Hall asserted that "Dozens of pastors and pro-life activists attending the 99th annual NAACP conference in Cincinnati this week are calling on that organization to help de-fund" Planned Parenthood. Hall quotes two of the activists but notes only that "Telephone calls seeking comment for this article from officials at ... the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) were not returned by press time."
A July 1 article by Andrew Tashjian and Michael Gryboski featured "black pro-life leaders" attacking Planned Parenthood; five different pro-lifers are quoted. There's no indicated attempt to contact Planned Parenthood for a response; instead, they spend two paragraphs of their 24-paragraph article quoting from Planned Parenthood's website.
Those two paragraphs represent the entirety of reaction CNS has printed from Planned Parenthood to charges made in the articles cited above.
Whose fault is this? CNS would likely want to blame Planned Parenthood for their own bad publicity by not responding to CNS reporters attempting a response, but that ignores two important points.
First, several of these articles make no indication that anyone at CNS attempted to get a reaction from group, so that argument can be applied intermittently at best. Second, the very nature of these articles shows that CNS has a clear level of hostility toward Planned Parenthood; each one-sided attack CNS runs on Planned Parenthood decreases the likelihood that the group would want to talk with its reporters. Why would Planned Parenthood want to cooperate with a news organization that has demonstrated a desire to make the group look bad?
Any blather about wanting to "fairly present all legitimate sides of a story" falls flat when the evidence -- that is, the stories on CNS' website -- demonstrate otherwise.
If CNS hopes to have Planned Parenthood (or any other non-conservative organization in its crosshairs) actually respond to its interview requests, CNS must demonstrate that it will with them fairly. That hasn't happened.
As ConWebWatch has previously detailed, journalistic fairness at CNS under new editor Terry Jeffrey has been intermittent at best. If it ever hopes to break out of the ghetto of being a niche conservative website, CNS had better learn to treat its ideological opponents with respect -- and demonstrate it in writing, not just mission statements.