For Immediate Release, Part 2: Picking Up Bad Habits
CNSNews.com throws itself into presenting press releases from conservative groups as news.
By Terry Krepel
It looks like WorldNetDaily's journalistically questionable habit of running press releases from conservative legal organizations has spread to CNSNews.com.
A May 3 article recycled a press release from the conservative legal group Liberty Counsel -- not that writer Susan Jones calls it that; as far as she's concerned, Liberty Counsel is a "group that defends religious freedom and traditional values" -- which is suing a school district in Maryland over an alleged "homosexual sex-ed curriculum." Like those WND stories before it, Jones sticks to the press release's script, which claims that the sex-ed curriculum is "inaccurate and unashamedly hostile to certain Christian views," and no attempt is made to contact the school district for a response. Jones even throws in some purported statements attributed to the curriculum, but doesn't explain how statements like "Jesus said absolutely nothing at all about homosexuality" and "Religion has often been misused to justify hatred and oppression" are "inaccurate."
Unsurprisingly, WND ran its own reworked version of the press release, also refusing to make an attempt to contact the school district for a response to the lawsuit. And both CNS and WND did a fine job of rewriting a May 5 Liberty Counsel press release proclaiming that a judge blocked the program.
Another May 3 CNS story takes the same path by reporting the press release-generated comments of Family Research Council president Tony Perkins on the case of a pregnant 13-year-old Florida girl seeking the court's permission to get an abortion while telling its readers absolutely nothing about the case.
Again, through such lack of information, CNS serves up logical conflicts by faithfully reproducing Perkins' comment that the girl is "far too young to make such decisions and understand the repercussions, both physical and emotional, of terminating her pregnancy" and not explaining why forcing a young girl to have a baby she doesn't want and has no means to care for -- and also presumably "far too young to make such decisions" about -- is a preferable choice.
A May 12 article rewrites a press release from the Cardinal Newman Society complaining that commencement speakers at some Catholic colleges aren't Catholic enough; none of the 17 named colleges or their speakers were contacted for comment. And a May 16 article recycles a press release from the Terri Schindler-Schiavo Foundation, though CNS acknowledges for once that the story came from a press release.
Just because CNS is expanding into the press-release-as-news business doesn't mean WorldNetDaily has fallen off the pace; in fact, its work to keep up its end of its bargain to uncritically promote the causes of conservative legal groups continues apace. A May 12 article recycles an Alliance Defense Fund press release, and a May 4 article recycles a Thomas More Law Center press release.
One key to cribbing a group's press release -- indeed, the only reason for cribbing a press release in the first place -- is to accurately forward the views of the group you're promoting. CNSNews.com has problems successfully completing even that seemingly simple task.
A May 11 article by Susan Jones on President Bush's proposed "progressive indexing" plan claims: "Under the plan proposed by President Bush, workers with annual incomes of $25,000 or less would get higher retirement benefits than the current system allows, but higher earners (those with annual incomes of at least $113,000) would get lower retirement benefits."
Not only is that factually incorrect, that's not even what the National Taxpayers Union press release on which Jones based her article says. Those making $25,000 or less under Bush's plan will not receive "higher retirement benefits than the current system allows"; benefits for those recipients will remain on the same schedule they are now. Or, as the NTU press release describes it, those recipients "would continue to have their initial retirement benefits based on the increase in average wages over their years in the workforce."
Both Jones and the NTU insinuate that only those earning more than $113,000 "would get lower retirement benefits," which is also wrong. As a USA Today article points out, those in between $25,000 and $113,000 would have their benefits based on some combination of the wage-based benefits currently in place for all recipients and which would be limited to the under-$25,000 crowd and the inflation-based benefits on which the over-$113,000 crowd's lower benefits would be exclusively based, thereby entailing a cut over currently promised benefits for everyone making more than $25,000.
Jones also misread another section of the NTU press release. While it states that "Any reform plan should not raise taxes (either by raising the payroll tax rate or lifting the cap on earnings)," Jones wrote that "NTU insists that Social Security reform must include a hike in payroll taxes or an increase in the current $90,000 cap on earnings."
May 11 must have been a particularly bad day CNS for the inability to accurately copy a press release. In another article cribbing from yet another Liberty Counsel press release, reporter Melanie Hunter calls the group "Liberty Union" on her first reference to it.
How difficult can it be to copy a press release? In CNS' hands, apparently, it's quite difficult.