New York Times columnist Ross Douthat criticizes media coverage of the Komen-Planned Parenthood controversy in his latest column, The Media's Abortion Blinders. Douthat argues that media coverage decisively favored Planned Parenthood, leaving the impression that the organization was itself without controversy. Douthat, however, ignores available information that undermines his claims and that reveals his own ideological blinders regarding the abortion topic.
Partially Reporting Gallup Results
To prove his case, Douthat cites a recent Gallup survey, which he says shows that "[a] combined 58 percent of Americans stated that abortion should either be 'illegal in all circumstances' or 'legal in only a few circumstances.'" Douthat cites this survey in order to argue that the media coverage ignored millions of Americans who disfavor abortion. He also attempts to depict Planned Parenthood as an organization that sits outside of mainstream public opinion.
The same Gallup poll, however, shows that 77 percent of Americans want abortion legal in all circumstances or legal under certain circumstances. This is so because the majority of Americans -- 51 percent -- favor abortion under certain circumstances. Only a minority of the country occupies the most extreme positions in this debate (abortion legal/illegal in all circumstances). While 21 percent want abortion illegal in all circumstances, 26 percent want it legal in all circumstances. So, more Americans favor abortion (with some restrictions) than those who do not. Also, more Americans favor unrestricted access to abortion than those who want it illegal in all cases. These numbers have remained somewhat consistent over the last two decades.
Douthat Relies Upon Heavily Biased Coverage of Planned Parenthood
Douthat contests Planned Parenthood's statement that abortions only constitute 3 percent of its services. To do so, he cites "conservative estimates," which he claims challenge this figure.
Douthat's conservative estimates, however, come from a highly biased analysis in The Weekly Standard, a unabashedly conservative and partisan publication that was previously owned by Rupert Murdoch.
The Weekly Standard article does not even dispute Planned Parenthood's statement about the breakdown of its services. Instead, it reports that revenue from abortion services constitutes a much larger share of Planned Parenthood's overall intake. Because abortion is more expensive than other services the organization provides, this result is not surprising. Still, this fact does not alter the data that Planned Parenthood presents regarding the mix of services it provides to patients. Conservatives, however, including Douthat and Mike Huckabee, continue to make this false assertion.
Douthat Ignores Available Information to Reach His Conclusion
Douthat concludes his column with a volley of claims. He that argues that fighting breast cancer is "unifying" while abortion is "polarizing"; that the Komen decision to defund Planned Parenthood was no more "political" than the decision to fund it in the first place; and that equal numbers of Americans were "probably" angered and relieved by Komen's decision. For several reasons, Douthat's reasoning fails.
While abortion is a polarizing topic, most Americans disagree with the extreme pro-life position. Furthermore, Komen made breast cancer controversial by thrusting itself into the public debate about abortion. This was unwise from a marketing standpoint. Undoubtedly, the public anger over Komen's decision led to the reversal.
Also, contrary to Douthat's assertion, the Komen defunding decision was absolutely political. It follows decisions and plans by conservative states to defund Planned Parenthood. These state policies are illegal because they violate federal Medicaid rules.
Also, reporting on this issue reveals that Karen Handler, the Vice President for Komen, is anti-choice. Handler ran as an anti-choice candidate in a Georgia gubernatorial election, during which she criticized Planned Parenthood.
When Handler arrived at Komen, she pushed the organization to split from Planned Parenthood. Komen seized upon the fact that anti-choice House Republicans had launched a partisan "investigation" of Planned Parenthood. Komen created a rule barring the distribution of its funds to entities under federal investigation. It then used this rule to justify defunding Planned Parenthood.
Komen, however, gives money to other organizations under congressional investigation. Yet, it only cut funding to Planned Parenthood. And while the federal investigation is the initial excuse Komen provides for parting with Planned Parenthood, Douthat accepts an alternative argument the Komen made up after the controversy erupted -- that it defunded Planned Parenthood because the latter did not provide many breast cancer screenings in the first place.
Douthat's article omits a lot of available information on this subject. Douthat does not provide this information either because he has not thoroughly researched the topic or because he wants to ignore facts that challenge his own position.