Pro-abortion-rights spell checker in LA?


Has the modern newsroom evolved to the point that editors are using unfair spell-checker programs?

Here is the back story. This past fall, there was an interesting dust-up when Illinois Right to Life leader Bill Beckman sent a letter to the editor of the Chicago Tribune. But a not-so-funny thing happened on the way to the printing press. The Trib changed the actual wording of Beckman’s letter, changing each “pro-life” reference to read “anti-abortion,” in accordance with the newspaper’s stylebook.

Beckman was furious, saying that this was something like editing a person’s direct quotations — forcing him to say words he did not say. Would the Trib change a Planned Parenthood leader’s personal references to “pro-choice” to read “pro-abortion” or even “pro-abortion rights”? Thus, he protested:

“… the Pro-Life movement is much more than anti-abortion because we oppose any cultural expediency that views death as a solution, including euthanasia, cloning, population control, etc. … (The) inconsistency of changing references to the Pro-Life movement when such a change would be unthinkable for other movements such as the equal rights movement.”

Now remember that this is happening long after the landmark 1990 series in the Los Angeles Times by David Shaw, showing just how important these kinds of language issues are in fair, balanced, accurate coverage of this bitterly divisive moral issue.

Wait a minute. Perhaps it’s time to distribute copies of the Shaw series at — the Los Angeles Times.

It seems that critic Mark Swed recently wrote an article in which he noted that the opera “Die Frau Ohne Schatten” is “an incomparably glorious and goofy pro-life paean …” Sure enough, something strange happened on the way to the printing press and “pro-life” had been changed to “anti-abortion.”

“Swed was reportedly mortified, since the opera is not remotely about abortion,” wrote Kevin Roderick, at the LA Observed website.

Yes, the error was corrected.

Opera review — A review of Los Angeles Opera’s “Die Frau Ohne Schatten” in Tuesday’s Calendar section incorrectly characterized the work as “anti-abortion.” In fact, there is no issue of abortion in the opera, which extols procreation.

Of course, Swed’s name was still on the article. So he apparently demanded another correction:

Opera review — A correction in Wednesday’s paper about the review of Los Angeles Opera’s “Die Frau Ohne Schatten” incorrectly implied that it was the reviewer who characterized the work as “anti-abortion” in Tuesday’s Calendar. As the correction should have made clear, the lead paragraph submitted by the reviewer was incorrectly changed to include the term “anti-abortion.” There is no issue of abortion in the opera, which extols procreation.

Surely more discussions followed. But consider this question: Is there a serious possibility that executives at the Los Angeles Times have actually asked someone to program this editorial decision into the computers of the copy-desk staff? Just asking.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Tim Drake

    I can attest that Gannett-employed copy editors operate under the same bias. Our local newspaper, the St. Cloud Times, is a Gannett-owned paper. They frequently change “pro-life” to “anti-abortion” not only in letters to the editor, but also in headlines and in advertisements. Every attempt to address the issue has resulted in the newspaper holding up the AP Stylebook and saying “this is how it’s done.”

  • Jon Swerens

    Four points:

    * Note that the offending words “pro-life” still did not make their way into print, leaving the reader of the corrections to wonder how in the world the phrase “anti-abortion” could be edited into an opera review.

    * The Associated Press Stylebook does indeed say: Use anti-abortion instead of pro-life and abortion rights instead of pro-abortion or pro-choice. But this stylebook is obviously for news writing only, not for letters to the editor or opinion columns.

    * The AP Stylebook is not gospel. My own newspaper uses the tems pro-life and pro-choice — as a matter of style and fairness.

    * I doubt the L.A. Times “asked someone to program this editorial decision into the computers of the copy-desk staff.” But it’s certainly been programmed into the brains of the copy-desk staff.

  • Joe S

    The term “pro-life” is almost always used to refer to opposition to abortion or opposition to abortion rights, and for that reason the terms “anti-abortion” or “anti-abortion rights” are more accurate and specific.

  • Chris

    This makes sense, both papers are owned by the same company!

  • http://http// Jeff Miller

    That was my first take that perhaps they used a macro or something to automatically convert that phrase to the one they desired.

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