As SCOTUS decision on abortion looms, major media ignore pro-abortion attacks on churches, Kavanaugh

(Religion Unplugged) – There have been at least 41 incidents of attacks against churches and crisis-pregnancy facilities since the May 2 leak of the Supreme Court draft decision that revealed the potential fall of Roe v. Wade.

The attacks have included property theft, vandalism, arson and property destruction.

How do we know this? A front page New York Times investigation this past Sunday?

No.

A round-up story in The Washington Post, USA Today, the Associated Press? Coverage on CBS, CNN or another major network?

No, no, no and, alas, no.

We know this because of The Washington Stand, which is described as the Family Research Council’s “outlet for news and commentary from a biblical worldview.” In other words, these events are “conservative” niche news (as opposed to, let’s say, attacks on “sanctuary movement” churches because of their activism on immigration).

This awful trend should come as no surprise. At least it wasn’t to me. I wrote a story recently at Religion Unplugged on the rash of vandalism — especially acts against Catholic churches — throughout this spring. I opened my news account with the theft of a tabernacle at a Brooklyn, N.Y., church (see this related GetReligion piece). Here’s an excerpt from my piece:

The desecration was the latest in a string of incidents across the United States, triggering fears of future vandalism given the supercharged political climate around abortion, LGBTQ rights and bishops denying politicians Communion.

The vandalism may not necessarily be tied to one or more of these factors — rising crime rates is also a possibility in the wake of the pandemic — but church officials remain vigilant as the summer approaches. While the motivations remain a mystery, the outcome has rattled Catholic churches across the country. Some have resorted to increased security measures, like locking doors when Masses aren’t taking place, installing security cameras and even erecting barbed wire and fences to avoid being targeted.

As we await a final Supreme Court ruling, we could be in for a long summer of violence and vandalism. My criticism here is not in the news coverage this issue has received. Instead, it’s the lack of coverage. The vandalism of the past few weeks and the lack of news coverage could very well be a template of what’s to come once the Supreme Court makes public a final decision.

Why such a lack of news coverage? The answers, in one form or another, have been woven into GetReligion posts over the past 18 years whenever today’s mainstream press is put under the microscope. It’s also the reason why so many polls and survey over the past few years have shown shocking levels of distrust in the news media.

Americans of opposing political parties, for example, are sharply divided on how much they trust the news reported by national organizations, according to a Economist/YouGov poll released in April. This is what the poll found:

YouGov asked 1,500 Americans where they get their news from and how much they trust a variety of prominent media organizations and news anchors. The poll, conducted from March 26 – 29, shows that while Americans are more likely to trust than distrust many prominent news sources, there are very few organizations that are trusted by more than a small proportion of Americans on both sides of the political aisle. In fact, the most Americans overall place trust in an organization that rarely covers domestic politics: the Weather Channel (52% of Americans trust it). The Weather Channel is trailed by the U.K. news outlet, BBC (39%), the national public broadcaster, PBS (41%), and The Wall Street Journal (37%).

In the particular case of attacks on Catholic churches and pro-life groups, I will attempt to answer that question of lack of coverage with some examples. In the mist of these awful acts, Justice Brett Kavanaugh was the target of an alleged murder plot. You don’t need to have 20 years newsroom experience, like I do, to know that this is a front-page story, probably with a banner headline.

Then again, maybe not.

The New York Times couldn’t be bothered to put it on A1. Instead, it was relegated to page 20 in its print edition on June 9. Kavanaugh’s suburban Washington home has been the site of illegal protests since that May 2 leak. Nonetheless, the Times could not be bothered to signal to its global readership just how important it is whenever a troubled gunman decides to plot an assassination attempt against a (conservative) Supreme Court justice.

Bill Maher, who is politically on the left, took a shot at the Times during his HBO show Real Time with Bill Maher this past Friday night. Maher is an old-school First Amendment liberal who has not, in recent years, been afraid to take on both the left and the right.

None of the major papers or TV networks covered those comments. They, again, were relegated to getting attention on Fox News and other right-wing outlets. It should also be noted that none of the Sunday morning political talk shows could be bothered to talk about Kavanaugh or attacks on churches in this highly volatile political environment.

Kavanaugh, a Catholic, is part of the Supreme Court’s conservative bloc and, of course, he was approved by the Senate in controversial fashion in 2018. Writing in The Pillar on June 10, Ed Condon made this very important point:

I assume the story led on Fox News and similar stations for some time, though I can’t be sure, since I would rather eat my television than watch cable news. But you probably did not read about it in the New York Times, where the story was back on page 20, or in the Washington Post, where it was filed under “Local Crime and Public Safety” — next to a report about a motoring accident.

I confess I was surprised that what appears to have been a fairly credible attempt on the life of this particular Supreme Court justice wasn’t bigger news for the country’s self-styled papers of record, especially given their previously dedicated coverage of all things Kavanaugh.

When he was arrested, Nicholas John Roske apparently told law enforcement that he was upset about the possibility of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and believed killing the justice in a murder-suicide would “give his life a purpose”.

Roske’s plan was presumably made more workable because the home addresses of several justices were circulated by Ruth Sent Us, a group coordinating protests in defense of abortion, at the judges’ homes and at Catholic churches.

Condon noted that journalism “consistency” is what was needed, in this case. Here’s some more from him:

So I was also surprised that the group appeared to distance itself from the attempt on Kavanaugh’s life, albeit obliquely. Surely the premise of legal abortion on demand is that there is a right, even a compelling necessity at times, to end an innocent human life for a supposedly “greater” benefit?

I would have thought that, for groups committed to killing on demand in the name of “choice,” the picking off individual justices in their family homes to preserve Roe as the law of the land could be, like abortion itself, seen as a practical necessity of difficult circumstances.

Maybe they wouldn’t go as far as to print “Shout Your Assassination” t-shirts, but I’d have expected at least some kind of through-line of values, given their belief that getting the life you want sometimes requires taking someone else’s.

On the other hand, of course, I should note that after the attempt on Kavanaugh’s life, Ruth Sent Us made a renewed call to target the home of Justice Amy Coney Barrett— details provided, of course — which they did yesterday.

Wait. There’s more. The same organization circulated information about the location of the school attended by Barrett’s children — suggesting “voice your anger” on-site protests.

That might be an angle worthy of news coverage, as well.

It was a month ago that National Review had foreshadowed some of this. Here’s a key section addressing Catholicism:

What’s puzzling, then, is the specific focus on Catholic churches. Yes, the Catholic Church has historically played a significant role in the pro-life cause. But it is one among many, and its role in Dobbs itself is marginal compared with the zealous activity of others on both sides of the case. It was not a party to the case. It did not play a role in drafting the Mississippi law. It did not lead the campaign to build support in Dobbs. Though the Church has long opposed abortion and filed several amicus briefs in the case, these actions were no different from the thousands of other parties that filed similarly and did so much more. Clearly, in this round of the fight against abortion, the Church joined millions of Americans in cheering from the sidelines rather than jumping into the arena. The idea that it is somehow singularly responsible for the Dobbs decision in any meaningful way, to merit such protests, is a stretch.

This makes one wonder why the activists are so obsessed with Catholics. Many faith groups, NGOs, and institutions across the country are pro-life, yet no systematic protests have been planned against them. Catholic churches are the establishments — apart from the homes of Supreme Court justices — that have been singled out for demonstrations.

Several Catholic news sites have covered this violence. Catholic News Agency has a “church vandalism” tag on stories that involve such attacks.

The latest such story they reported on was on June 10. Here’s the top of the story:

New video footage shows the four vandals who wrote “Janes revenge” on an archdiocesan pro-life pregnancy center in Hollywood, Florida, over Memorial Day weekend.

In the four separate video clips shared with CNA by the Archdiocese of Miami, four people in masks can be seen approaching the South Broward Pregnancy Help Center and spray-painting the wall of the clinic.

They then can be seen walking away from the scene. But before they leave the camera’s view, one of the vandals can be seen turning around to face the wall while holding up an object. It appears to be a cell phone camera. It’s unclear whether the person was taking a photo or not. They then left the scene.

Photos of the vandalism show the words “If abortions aren’t safe then niether [sic] are you,” and “Janes revenge.” Another non-legible phrase is also written in spray paint. You can watch the footage below.

It’s the type of story you did not read in the national press or as part of a larger trend. Since news outlets like the Times — an agenda-setting source for editors in other newsrooms — ignore these stories, the coverage is relegated to places like Fox News or the Catholic press.

This lack of news coverage around violence and vandalism at out-of-favor churches and nonprofits is both dangerous and disappointing. It’s dangerous because it turns journalism, the reporting of facts, into activism, which is not journalism.

Ignoring stories or trends that counter your narrative hurts our national discourse on what’s important and what isn’t. The vandalism against churches and anyone you may disagree with is important — regardless of who is committing such heinous acts or why — for our national conversation. Readers, no matter how much of a cocoon they choose to live in, deserve the truth. It’s the role of the journalists to do just that.