By Mike Wade
Published November 1, 1990
Three months ago something happened that could forever help us in our fight to see abortion abolished. The details of the incident are necessary to study in full, before we implement this new weapon in the effort to overturn legalized child killing in our nation. We will study a list of gaffes by the “pro-choice” media, then, in a future article, we will look at how this new found knowledge can help us in our efforts.
I say all of this to warn that our real concern should not be that we now have a weapon with which to bloody our political opponents – rather our concern should be how to effectively use this weapon without defiling ourselves and dishonoring the Lord. So just what is this so-called “weapon?” Something that could only be the result of prayer, and also something that we are sure to loose if we do not soon discover what has been literally dropped into our laps: The news media has admitted that it is biased against the pro-life movement. No, that’s not a typo or a glitch in our computer. I said, the news media has admitted that it is biased against the pro-life movement.
David Shaw, of the LA Times-Washington Post Service, wrote a two part editorial, that was printed in newspapers throughout the country, based on a comprehensive study by the LA Times of major newspaper, television and news magazine coverage. More than 100 interviews with journalists and with activists on both sides of the debate led the study to conclude that bias in favor of the pro-abortion side “often exists.”
Now, this is just one man writing about one study. But that it came from within the bowels of the very system itself should have pro-lifers dancing in their prison cells. What gives the study so much substance are the concrete, unavoidable examples that they cite. The following cases are not only helpful in pinning editors to a wall (in love), but perhaps even more valuable in training us what to look for in scrutinizing future news coverage.
Some of these inconsistencies cited by Shaw are the following:
- The news media consistently uses language and images that frame the entire abortion debate in terms that implicitly favor abortion-rights advocates.
- Abortion-rights advocates often are quoted more frequently and characterized more favorably than are abortion opponents.
- Events and issues favorable to abortion opponents are sometimes ignored or given minimal attention by the media.
- Many news organizations have given more prominent play to stories on rallies and electoral and legislative victories than to stories on rallies and electoral and legislative victories by abortion-rights opponents.
- Columns of commentary favoring abortion rights outnumber those opposing abortion by a margin of 2 to 1 on the opinion/editorial pages of most of the nation’s major daily newspapers.
- Newspaper editorial writers and columnists alike, long sensitive to First Amendment rights and other civil liberties in cases involving minority and anti-war protests, largely have ignored the same questions when Operation Rescue and other abortion opponents have raised them.
- When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Webster case, over a year ago, that states had more freedom of choice to regulate abortion, the decision was labeled “a major setback from abortion rights.” Shaw asks, “Could it not also have been called ‘a major victory for abortion opponents?’”
Words are everything
One of the activists interviewed was Douglas Gould, former vice president for communications at Planned Parenthood of America. Says Gould: “The language is everything.” Comments Shaw: “In the abortion debate, the media’s language consistently embraces the rights of the woman.”
- When the networks broadcast an abortion story, the backdrop has often been the large word ‘abortion’ – with the ‘O’ in the word stylized into the biological symbol for female. The networks could just as easily stylize the ‘O’ to represent a womb, with a drawing of a fetus inside, but they don’t.
- When Time magazine published a cover story on abortion last year, the cover was a drawing of a woman; when Newsweek published a cover story on abortion two months later, its cover featured a photo of a pregnant woman. Neither depicted a fetus.
- When the Washington Post wrote recently about proposed anti-abortion legislation in Louisiana, it spoke of the state House of Representatives making a decision on a “woman’s reproductive rights.” Shaw quotes a pro-lifer protesting the choice of language, stating that the newspaper is adopting “both the paradigm and the polemic of the abortion rights lobby.”
- When the Los Angeles Times covered the same story, it referred to the proposed legislation as “the nation’s harshest.” That’s the view of abortion rights advocates; it’s ‘harsh’ toward women’s rights. But abortion opponents regard the legislation as benevolent – toward the fetus.
Shaw points out that, for some reason, pro-lifers have been much less successful than abortion rights advocates at feeding their terminology into common news media usage, especially since the Webster decision.
“With that decision, the long dormant abortion rights movement suddenly was energized anew. Membership and fundraising skyrocketed. Political activism blossomed. Courtship of the media began in earnest.”
Not that the media wasn’t biased before Webster. Semantics, labels and stereotypes have been around for a long time. In the abortion debate they somehow always work to favor abortion rights groups.
Abortion opponents are sometimes identified as Catholics (or fundamentalist Christians),” says Shaw, “Even when their religion is not demonstrably relevant to a given story; abortion rights advocates are rarely identified with religion. Abortion opponents are often described as ‘militant’ or ‘strident.’ Such characteristics are seldom used to describe abortion rights advocates, many of whom can also be militant or strident – or both.”
He cites the following examples:
- The Louisville Courier Journal described an anti-abortion rally at which clergy men “ranted” against (Roe vs. Wade); in the same story, abortion rights advocates … ‘hailed’ the importance of the decision.
- The Associated Press, Washington Post, Boston Globe, and Time magazine, among others, have referred to those who oppose abortion “even in cases of rape and incest.” But the media almost never refer to those who favor abortion rights “even in the final weeks of pregnancy.”
- The United Press International reported last year on a poll that showed a minority of all Americans take absolutist positions on abortion. The story said “only” 18 percent believed abortion should always be illegal. But there was no “only” before the 27 percent who said abortion should always be legal.
- Newsweek said last summer that under new abortion regulations, “many women will be forced to seek out-of-state abortions – incurring travel expenses and losing time and income in the process.” But abortion opponents argue no one is “forced” to have an abortion and that Newsweek’s statement is tantamount to saying that if guns were outlawed, many murderers would be “forced” to use knives.
- Some news organizations say that polls show that ‘most’ Americans favor abortion. But what polls really show is that Americans are enormously ambivalent about abortion, their answers depending on precisely how the question is phrased.
And on and on. This painful list is not printed to make you feel sick, although that might be a fitting response. The value here lies in the categorization of instances of news media bias. This list should help you to identify future cases. Members of the press must be held accountable, and I don’t think any of us expect that to be done from within the institution itself.
How to go about using this new weapon will be the subject of the next article in this series.
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Part 1 is a response to some of the recent writings by Frank Schaeffer, the son of the late Francis Schaeffer. This was originally written as a defense against Frank’s attacks on pro-life street activism – a movement that his father helped bring into being through his books, A Christian Manifesto, How Should We Then Live? and Whatever Happened to the Human Race? These works have impacted literally hundreds of thousands of Christian activists.
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