Dionne’s salute to a “good cop”

lapd retiredHave any of you taken up my challenge to read the David Shaw series on abortion coverage? (Rather quiet on the comments front, in light of this barrage.)

E.J. Dionne Jr. of The Washington Post is thinking along the same lines — that the best tribute to the work of the late David Shaw is to read the man’s reporting. After all, it was about detail, detail, detail and awesome research. Here is the abortion coverage section of Dionne’s tribute, under the headline “The Media’s Good Cop.” Shaw was

. . . celebrated by many and derided by some for a lengthy 1990 report showing — conclusively, I think — that “the news media consistently use language and images that frame the entire abortion debate in terms that implicitly favor abortion-rights advocates.”

Shaw showed that abortion rights advocates “are often quoted more frequently and characterized more favorably than are abortion opponents.” His conclusion “that abortion is essentially a class issue in the United States” and that reporters reflected an upper-middle-class bias applies across a broad range of other questions. I’d argue that this bias points the media to the right on economic issues. What matters here is that Shaw had the essential trait of the best press critics: He could almost always see through his own biases.

Shaw took a lot of grief for his abortion series, but don’t think he was somehow “anti-feminist.” In 1991 he wrote a series on how the gender of editors affected coverage of stories on sex. Women, he found, tended to favor greater candor in reports on rape, AIDS and the private lives of politicians — and he pointed to a shortage of female editors.

Note that dead-on Dionne reference to the MSM’s elite roots pointing it left on culture and right on economics. Amen, preach it. At least that is what this premodern populist thinks.

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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.

  • Kelly

    I often find myself saying ‘Amen, preach it brother!’ after I read Dionne’s columns and this one was no exception. Of course I get funny looks for saying this to my computer screen.

    Okay, I’ll read David Shaw’s stuff now.

  • keypusher

    I could only find the first article in Shaw’s series at the link you provided. Probably this means I screwed up.

  • tmatt


    Sorry! Here is the link I had posted earlier. I will correct this when I get to a computer that has the website’s software on it.


  • Jacob Shaw

    Whenever I see abortion mentioned online, I feel obligated to quote the following:

    “There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways. … you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is born.” – from the Didache, a general teaching of the apostles, written sometime before John wrote his Revelation.

  • tmatt


    There are stories where that quote is quite relevant, especially in the context of debates about whether ancient faiths — think Catholicism — have created some new standard on these issues. You see phrases sometime such as “the Vatican’s stance on abortion” and that really does not capture the historic context.

  • Mark

    I read his first story on the LA Times website. What an amazing piece. I think it’d be fascinating now to see someone do a followup study to Shaw’s to see how (or whether) things have changed 15 years later.