We don’t have a free press. Discuss.

With the headline “Stupid Press, Stupid People: Non-Reporting the March for Life,” you know Anthony Esolen has something to say:

Our founders believed that a free press was essential for a free society.  We believe we have a free press.  But what good is nominal freedom—the government does not censor our newspapers—if the writers are liars, or are ill-educated, or feed the populace a lot of claptrap, or ignore important events because they don’t like the people involved or the cause?  What happens, if the “teaching” of three hundred million Americans is in the hands of people who give headlines to a football player with a fictional girlfriend, or to the sleazy habits of a porn girl turned celebrity, or to “scientific” studies about when your “relationship” is going to end, rather than to anything of substance, anything that requires learning, listening, investigating, and thought?  What happens, particularly, if the only stories about faith come from the category, “Benighted Believers”?

What happens is what we got for non-reportage on this year’s March for Life in Washington.

The issue he raises in the first paragraph is something that’s been on my mind a lot lately. I’d be the first to point out that it’s easy to blame the media. At least a a large part of the blame lies with the people who care more about fictional girlfriends than global concerns. But it’s also true that our media have problems with accurately conveying information and have strong biases that affect their coverage. What’s worse is is that I think that many know this and just don’t care. We have a media that is content to go after some people, certainly (my prayers go with you if you’re a conservative woman in any field, for instance) but don’t seem that interested in how corporate interests helped write, say, Obamacare or all other pieces of legislation. They’ll go after you with the fury of a firestorm if you decide you don’t want to fund an abortion business any more but they don’t seem terribly interested in said abortion businesses. (Did you see much coverage of this riveting documentary out just last week about the abortion doctor who is charged with eight homicides?) They’ll go after you if you don’t share their doctrinal approach to sexuality. But if you do, you’re probably going to be just fine. And on and on. This is not speaking truth to power or being properly adversarial. And is it a truly free press? I think Esolen asks a good question.

The piece, published at Crisis isn’t just about the big-picture problems with how the media portray the abortion debate. He also brings it down the story level, fisking an Associated Press report on the recent March for Life. Let’s go ahead and look at it:

But the Ministries of Truth mostly ignored it.  What they didn’t ignore, they belittled or distorted.  In doing so, however, they revealed their own ignorance.  Here is the AP story, in News-speak, with my comments in brackets:

Thousands of anti-abortion demonstrators

[That’s a lie, right there.  If 650 people show up at a town meeting, and the reporter says that “several” people showed up, that reporter is a liar, and should be fired.  If 6,500 people show up at the State House to protest a bill, and the reporter says that “dozens” showed up, he’s a liar, and should be fired.  If a crowd fills the Rose Bowl, and the reporter calls them “hundreds,” he should be fired.  The March for Life is, year after year, the largest peaceful assembly of people in the nation.  To know this, and to fail to report it, is to be a liar.  Not to know this is to be a moron; no third possibility exists.  Meanwhile, a gun control protest was held in the same place a few days later, and “thousands” were reported to have taken part in it, when the actual number was about 1,000.  The two stories together show an exaggeration of 50,000 to 65,000 percent, in favor of what the reporter favors.]

marched through Washington to the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday to protest the landmark decision that legalized abortion.

 

 

 

[Ignorance on display.  Abortion was legal in many states before the decision.  The Court struck down every state law that placed some restrictions upon it.]

The annual event took on added significance for many in the crowd since it coincided with the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that created a constitutional right to abortion in some circumstances.

[Another lie.  “Some circumstances”?  Exactly which have been ruled out?  The decision made abortion on demand the law of the whole nation.  But the writer is too inattentive or too dumb to notice that he’s given the ballgame away.  For the Court can, in justice, only recognize a constitutional right.  This Court created one.]

I’m going to stop here and quibble with this last part. I think it’s good that the reporter wrote “created” and I don’t think we can know the reporter’s motivation or reasoning for it. I think we can simply acknowledge that this was a proper word choice without making it personal. I will say, though, that it brings to mind something from that David Shaw investigation from the Los Angeles Times:

The major media paid no attention to the discovery by Bob Woodward of the Washington Post that two justices who had played a major role in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion had conceded, in private memos, that they knew they were “legislating policy and exceeding (the court’s) authority as the interpreter, not the maker of law,” as Woodward wrote.

I might also point out that this confusion about what Roe (and its companion decision Doe v. Bolton) is so widespread that it’s good to link to some resource explaining just how radical their decisions were. Media ignorance on what Roe, etc., legally accomplished is widespread and must be corrected.

And even as Obama [sic] this week reaffirmed his commitment to “reproductive freedom,” state legislatures continue to consider varied [sic] restrictions on a woman’s ability [sic; ability is not the issue; permissibility is] to receive an abortion. [sic; “May I present you, Tina, with this lovely abortion?]

This language problem has gotten out of control. All attempts to protect unborn children are rephrased as “restrictive” while all attempts to permit their killing for any reason (including for being the wrong sex) are about “protecting” women. This is an egregious bias against unborn children. Earlier in his critique he pointed out that pro-lifers are referred to as restricting “abortion rights” when they don’t believe that there even is a right to kill an unborn child. Obviously this is tricky territory. Whether or not governments have the natural right to dehumanize one subset of the population — be they slaves, the disabled, the unborn or the wrong ethnic group — if the law says you have the right to kill them, how do you phrase such a dispute in neutral terms? I’m not sure the current terminology is helpful and I’d love your thoughts on how it could be improved in a manner fair to all sides.

Esolen goes on to discuss how the report portrayed those who were in attendance, picking out someone who protests at abortion clinics but neglecting to mention the huge numbers of young people or the diversity of the crowd or movement. The only arguments provided in the AP report, interestingly enough, are proof-texts from the Bible — even though that fails to capture the religious diversity of the crowd as well.

And since all reporters like to talk about rape and abortion this year, it was curious that they missed one of the highlighted speakers — a product of rape whose mother did not kill him.

The irony is that it is easier than ever to do the job of a reporter, yet we rely on a couple of paragraphs of gabble and mendacity from a couple of wire services, and that’s it.  A free people require a free press.  What sort of people settle for a stupid press?

Well, it’s true. A free people do require a free press. That’s why this is so important. Is our press free when it fails so miserably, year after year, to cover a major human rights movement? I think it’s obvious that some people are getting more than a little fed up with a press that is only adversarial toward the benighted believers (however the press choose to define that group). What will happen next? Will the press reflect on and correct these problems? Will things get worse? And how bad is this for civil society?

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    If pretty much the same people do the same thing year after year after year, is it news? Or to what extent is it news? Or what is the news in the event? Particularly if there’s a challenge in linking the event to anything that happened other than the event? These are all journalism questions to be applied to the annual marches by people opposed to abortion rights.

    Yep. Big crowd. But fewer people than attended the college football bowl games. Even if you buy the crowd estimates offered by the organizers — and such are almost always hugely puffed for any large event if there’s not been actual data collected — it wasn’t even rounding error in a nation of more than 300 million. What has happened in the US because of these annual marches? What’s different this year compared with last year because of last year’s big march? Unless there are good answers to these questions — and good answers there may well be — it’s not big news.

    People who organize events — partisans of any stripe — want to claim their event itself is big news per se. But it almost never is.

    I can think of a very few notable exceptions off the top of my head: The MLK “I Have A Dream” event because of the unprecedented size and, with hindsight not available to live coverage, the impact on American history. The “Million Man March” because, again, of the unprecedented nature and size of the event. In this case, hindsight says “meh” about longterm impact. And the original Woodstock. For lots of reasons…1:-{)>

    • Martha

      If it has been going on constantly, every year, for forty years, then is that not news itself? To take your point about the college football games, do the media in all their guises say “Oh, another SuperBowl, yawn, how boring, tell us the result if anyone is interested in the 48th time this has been played”?

      Even if it’s not news every year, how about the fact that this is the fortieth anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision – isn’t that newsworthy to mark? If the row about the interference of Catholic bishops in public policy is newsworthy, the fact that the Pope tweeted a message of support might be an interesting angle on the debate (plus, that would give the opportunity for some sub-editor to use the irresistible headline about “Marching Orders from the Vatican”)?

      I don’t agree with everything Mr. Esolen said in his post (obviously, he’s angry and that comes out in the use of the word “liar” which I think is too far). But the point is that newspapers (and TV/radio news, magazines, etc.) are commercial entities which need to generate income to keep afloat. That means – particularly when the circulation figures aren’t enough to pay the bills – selling advertising, which means publishing the kind of stories and articles that will attract readers and viewers as a market for advertisers. Otherwise, they will be a rich man’s (or whomever their benefactor is) toy and will follow the editorial slant of that man or that foundation (no matter how much there may be protestations of complete separation, no influence, no interference).

      Those facts have to be recognised when we’re talking about a “free press”, no matter whether it’s in Europe or in America.

    • Patrick

      “Even if you buy the crowd estimates offered by the organizers — and such are almost always hugely puffed for any large event if there’s not been actual data collected — it wasn’t even rounding error in a nation of more than 300 million.”

      Weird perspective. One the one hand, we don’t know how many people were there. On the other hand, who cares how many people were there?

    • Debra Vessa

      I agree that every news story needs an angle — even the straight ones. So how about this one? I was at the march and I can attest to the large number of young people present. They were, by far, the largest represented demographic. Why? Is it because young people are more educated in the development of a fetus due to recent technologies? Is it because of what they can see on the Internet? Is it because women are, in general, more educated and more independent than they were before the Roe vs. Wade decision? Do they feel they are better able to support a child on their own, if necessary? Has feminism actually created a new generation of feminists that are doing an about-face on this issue?? And what about the young men? And, wait, oh……my…..gosh……What about actually interviewing some of these young people to find out what’s up? …. Journalism 101, here.

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    And one other thing: The above critique has zero to do with whether the debate about abortion rights is an important and ongoing news story. It is and will continue to be. These are only questions about coverage of this particular event — and apply to *any* event.

    • Martha

      Jeffrey, if we’re talking about a small local protest in Ruralville, I agree – no expectation of national coverage. But a huge mass event that has been going on for decades, with international participation, in the nation’s capital, on a controversial topic, on a significant date – that doesn’t warrant more than “Several hundreds showed up in town earlier this week. See continued on p. 95″?

      Even a good old-fashioned row would be something! Invite a guest columnist to rip into the patriarchal misogynists oppressing women! Write a “why oh why” article about the waste of taxpayers’ money paying the police overtime and the expense of cleaning up after all these rubes and rednecks! But “thousands turned up one place one day, and thousands turned up elsewhere another day” – particularly if the second event had far fewer participants – is feeble, to say the least.

  • Steve

    I have come to accept that our Media system is broken and would in all likelihood usher in a restrictive government if it was in accordance with it political leanings. I worry less about freedom of the press (create your own media outlets if that is a concern) and more about freedom of individuals (religion, speech, etc.) against the Leviathan of government. Mr. Esolen certainly had the freedom to write his perspective — the problem is not one of too little freedom for the press, but that the nation has given undue influence to a few media corporations. Expand the options . . .

  • Jerry

    When I read a statement which is clearly false like this:What happens is what we got for non-reportage on this year’s March for Life in Washington. I ignore everything else that is said because I don’t want to be bothered trying to validate all the other points. The event was covered quite a bit as many posted in the bunch of other GR topics on this issue. There were pictures showing the large crowds that were there. There were crowd estimates and so forth. So criticize the coverage but don’t pretend there was none.

    The low level of journalism needs no other example than Rush Limbaugh’s statement that ‘It’s up to me and Fox News’ to stop immigration reform. When you expect the media to advocate a policy, whether it’s a liberal or a conservative policy, there’s something fundamentally wrong.

    But at the same time we need to remember the problem is nothing new. In the 19th century, we had quite a bit of yellow journalism. And today’s situation is to me not any worse than it was back then except for the even further concentration of the MSM into a few gigantic outlets seeking to monopolize our news consumption.

    Things will change when people’s consumption habits change. Because then advertisers will note that people are not paying attention to their ads and demand a change. I watch Religion & Ethics Newsweekly on a regular basis, watch the PBS News Hour only occasionally and turn on other TV news outlets only when a live camera pointed at a developing situation is important. If more people voted with their feet, we’d be better off.

  • Daniel

    “Particularly if there’s a challenge in linking the event to anything that happened other than the event?” The event commemorates Roe versus Wade. “The annual event took on added significance for many in the crowd since it coincided with the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade,” It’s surprising that this has to be pointed out, but I guess there really are some sleepy people out there who didn’t notice the anniversary or what this event was linked to.

    • Patrick

      “but I guess there really are some sleepy people”

      Pretty much nobody knows anything about Roe vs. Wade – not journalists, nor most of the self-identified pro-abortion rights folks or pro-lifers. And absolutely, there are lots of pro-life people in this country who have no idea that the March for Life happens at all, much less every year for the last 40.

      The New Deal probably got covered in 10 pages in your high school US Government classes; cases like Marbury v. Madison and Dredd Scott got a couple of pages and a breakout box in my textbook. How many pages did Roe v. Wade get? Well, none, that I can find.

      Who’s arguing Marbury v. Madison anymore? No Dredd Scott decision supporters meet annually to march the capitol.

      If the government recently decided that up to a certain age, you counted as NO fifths of a person, you’d think we’d all be well-educated in the reasoning behind it.

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    Martha, if the Super Bowl were always the same teams playing to the same score, you’d have a point. In this case, not so much. That this is the 40th year is a “so what.” Absent an earthquake at the Supreme Court or a sudden change of heart on the part of those opposed to abortion rights, we knew it was going to happen this year a year ago and a year before that and a year before that. Etc.

    News is partly, well, stuff that’s new. Unexpected. Exactly what about this event was unexpected or new? Grist for small features. But news? I’ve not seen anything in the religious press — which I’m assuming would be all over such — to make me think there was *anything* new or unexpected. This was a pep rally for the faithful. A large preaching-to-the-choir. Worthy of *some* note, to be sure.

    But I tend to agree with Jerry: The event wasn’t ignored. That it didn’t get the coverage the partisans would have liked is not necessarily a failure of the journalists.

    If I’ve missed it and there was something that happened there that was new or unexpected or will have clear consequences for the months to come that will be significant, new and/or unexpected, I’m all ears. (Or maybe that should be “all eyes?”)

    • mollie

      So terribly interesting, this comment. I spoke to a crowd of people the Saturday after the March. Many of the speakers had said that this was their first March for Life. The event organizer asked the crowd how many conference attendees were at their first march. The vast majority of hands went up (it looked to me like nearly every hand went up).
      I wonder if some of the disconnect the press has from the people here is that in the mind of the press this is just a ho-hum annual event of predictability whereas to the people who are part of the movement, this is a major event, a diverse and ever-changing event, and one whose media coverage encapsulates most of the things that are wrong with how this issue is covered.
      I don’t have any answers here but I think that Jeffrey’s perspective is a valuable one in that it represents so much of the media approach. Perhaps we could use a bit more dialogue between the media and the people who are being told their hugely important (to them) event is of relatively little importance to the media.
      And I mean that — it’s clear that the media are not quite clued into why people are so very terribly fed up with how this march and the movement in general are covered. But how well have pro-lifers explained this to the media folks themselves?
      Or are we past the point of dialogue? Is there something else at play?
      And why am I asking so many questions?

    • Martha

      That this is the 40th year is a “so what.”

      Memo to Hallmark: scrap your range of anniversary cards, nobody cares that Grandpa Joe and Grandma Sally have been married for fifty years and this is their Gold Anniversary. So what? It’s just been the same old thing for years and years (now, if only Grandpa Joe would run off with the ex-wife of his son’s brother-in-law, and Granma Sally decided she was interested in forming a polyamorous relationship, then we might be interested).

    • Patrick

      “This was a pep rally for the faithful. A large preaching-to-the-choir.”

      Very large.

      How large? About as many people nowadays are against abortion as are for gay marriage – 40 years after the legalization of abortion in this country. This is an animating issue for many millions of people, and one that undeniably affects more people than gay marriage EVER will. Of course this is newsworthy, with tons of special interest angles for the open-minded journalist to uncover. In every way, this is an un-official holiday for the pro-life cause, and at the very least as worthy of note as the obligatory MLK-day stories are. You may be bored with it because it doesn’t flatter your politics, but journalists have an obligation to the rest of us to write the stories that you would ignore.

    • Kristen inDallas

      Superbowl XXV- Superbowl XXVIII. The result was so astoundingly similar each year that Buffalo even earned themselves a reverse-acronym. Boy, I Loves Losing Superbowls. Don’t remember the major news outlets dropping coverage in 94 though, predicatable as the whole affair was. And if we’re talking about “how is this event going to change anything…” as a criteria. I can tell you the result of every superbowl that has ever and will ever occur: approximately 60 grown men fight over a leather ball, the team that plays better wins, fans will continue cheering for whichever team they had been cheering for previously. Some will be slightly more chipper for a week. Some will mope, and most will stop caring the second the tv turns off. You’d have a nice point, if there were any truth in its ability to predict coverage of non-newsroom-objectionable topics.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Based on some comments here I presume that once Selma had passed or Martin Luther King, Jrs. “I have a dream speech” was over, coverage of civil rights demonstrations should have ended–”Just another civil rights demonstration doesn’t need coverage.” But fortunately widespread coverage of the civil rights movement did not cease.

  • Ben

    It’s a problem, and it feels like the solution is to create outlets with different interests and outlooks but – unlike Fox – a real commitment to hard news, and data-grounded analysis, not opinion and advocacy. So much of conservative media is opinion writing or gotcha stunt journalism. I honestly do not understand why this has to be so.

    • Mollie

      I don’t quite understand it either (although I think it would be the same for liberals if the mainstream media hired from conservative outlets instead of liberal ones) but at least part of it has to be lack of competition. I mean, Fox can capture a huge market share simply by being not-liberal.
      Charles Krauthammer once joked that Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes are geniuses for figuring out that there is a niche product that appeals to 50% of the American people.
      I can’t help but think that the presence of one serious competitor for that that niche would improve the entire scene.

  • FW Ken

    Technically, Jeffrey Weiss is correct, but Mollie raises the main point: the mainstream media is pervasively pro-choice. Perhaps the slow collapse of the newspaper business is a symptom of a major disconnect.

    By the way, there was also a Walk for Life in San Francisco that drew maybe 50,000 folks.

    http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/S-F-abortion-rally-shows-40-year-split-4226324.php

    • tmatt

      Pro-choice….

      The AP Style term is pro-abortion rights.

  • John M.

    The Founders also said that in order to be free, the nation must be virtuous. I’d say we’re pretty well on our way to testing that hypothesis also.

    -John

  • michael

    All the usual comments about media bias and the tired discussion of whether or not the March is news miss what I think is the most provocative part of Esolen’s essay: the suggestion that journalism on the whole makes us stupid (which in turn makes the abundance of stupid journalism rather unsurprising) and that a people who think in journalism (newspeak) will be a people who are ultimately incapable–and worse, uninterested–in thinking. I have my own theories about this, not to mention a few qualifiers, which I’ve trotted out here from time to time, and I wish he had done more to explain why this is so, but clearly he wanted to vent about coverage of the March. I can’t say that I blame him. Yet to me this essay is as much an indictment of the culture dominated by its superficial media as it is an indictment of the superficiality of the reportage. And this seems to me to be much the point of the article: that the two are made for (and by) each other.

    The coverage of the March illustrates this. But having read the piece several times now, I think Esolen unnecessarily diverts attention from this point and so muddies the waters of his critique with the additional accusation of mendacity. And he seems to commit an unforced error in doing so, for instance when he says, “The March for Life is, year after year, the largest peaceful assembly of people in the nation. To know this, and to fail to report it, is to be a liar. Not to know this is to be a moron; no third possibility exists.” But mendacity and stupidity are not opposites, and so a third possibility does exist, namely, to be a lying moron. Just because a story may be misleading or untrue, even maliciously so, doesn’t mean it isn’t also stupid.

    So one way to rephrase some of Mollie’s concluding questions from the perspective opened up by Esolen’s criticisms would be to ask, “Can we have a free press without an intelligent press? Can we have an intelligent press without having a press that is deeply interested in truth? Is ‘newspeak’ really an adequate form of rationality for apprehending, penetrating, and stating the truth? If the answer to any or all of these questions is no, then we are compelled to ask fundamental and critical questions not just of this or that journalistic product, but of journalism as a thought form and an institution, and we are compelled to conclude that the imposition and enforecement of mass stupidity is a great part of the social function of the contemporary media. That seems to me to be Esolen’s deeper point, and it obviously does not bode well for the future of civil society.

  • F. Lynx Pardinus

    A free press means that this blog can publish whatever it likes on abortion without government interference. A free press does not mean that the rest of the media has to publish what you want it to publish. In fact, if the rest of the media was required to publish what you want it to publish, then that would be the opposite of a free press.

  • Daniel

    KGO 7 coverage for San Francisco:
    http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/local/sanWORD10%%&id=8969279
    Abortion rallies in San Francisco draws thousands from both sides | abc7news.com
    Thousands attend abortion rallies in San Francisco Saturday, January 26, 2013
    Mollie,
    I am afraid it’s true the banality of a lot of journalism in the U.S. is having a stultifying influence on citizen participation in the Republic, for which reason I fear for the future of civil society.
    I’m not quite sure which direction it goes: Network? 1984? Animal Farm? An amalgamation of all three?
    To me, the scariest direction society could go is tyranny from below, instead of, or as well as, from the top, as imagined in “Bumberboom” (Avram Davidson.
    Freedom of the Press is a Constitutional treasure for us, but the benefit of this treasure is abused whenever and wherever “contemporary media have made people shallow and inattentive, squandering their cultural heritage.”
    Tyranny from below would protect and reinforce slipshod protection of civil liberties from above.
    If we want to foster bad government, let’s foster a stupid press.
    If the direction we are going is the collapse of public morality, I think the question we should answer is What sort of people settle for a stupid press?
    The answer is an intellectually lazy, pleasure mad, beer swilling rabble who yawn when the news gets too serious.
    And to the statement that “free people require a free press.” I rejoin that this Constitutional privilege should not be wasted on intellectually dishonest and entertainment driven hacks and ethically bankrupt shills and Apparatchiks. I’m not arguing for the removal of the civil liberties. I’m arguing that the readership should educate itself, and choose the type of intellectual stimulation that helps rather than hinders the cause of freedom. Perhaps the problem is that journalism isn’t as market driven as it ought to be. But I don’t lament the demise of newspapers and magazines that are so dumb nobody wants to read them. People are, when they wake up, able to select interesting and informative fodder for the mind. For instance I find George Conger one of the most interesting writers here.
    I guess that we all have to admit that if we take too long to write one, a comment no longer seems relevant. As I think something over, I had better post it quickly before it becomes outdated. If I think of something later, I can always come back and visit you again.

    • mollie

      I agree about George Conger. It’s rare to find a writer who has such great style and substance.

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  • kyle

    The hundreds of thousands at the Washington march do not include the many more thousands who marched in their own communities and state capitals. Comparison to attendance at college bowl games or to the U.S. population as a whole is, to put it gently, an apples to oranges comparison, for this and many other reasons. The most logical, direct comparison is to other protests — to those protesting war, protesting for or against gun control, Occupiers, Tea Partiers, etc. (Most of those things at their deepest level involve perennial issues, too, where often the pace of change is glacial to nonexistent, yet reporters manage, correctly, to see them as news anyway.)

    And on that comparison what becomes clear is that, well, the March for Life is remarkable. It is simply enormous. Forty years of protesting has not dimmed its intensity. The idea that this is not news is simply absurd.

  • kyle

    “Whether or not governments have the natural right to dehumanize one subset of the population — be they slaves, the disabled, the unborn or the wrong ethnic group — if the law says you have the right to kill them, how do you phrase such a dispute in neutral terms?”

    “Supporters of legalized abortion” and “opponents of legalized abortion” would seem like an improvement to me.

  • Jon in the Nati

    Esolen wrote: “But what good is nominal freedom—the government does not censor our newspapers—if the writers are liars, or are ill-educated, or feed the populace a lot of claptrap, or ignore important events because they don’t like the people involved or the cause? ”

    Well, as to the claim about a free press, the only thing that matters is government censorship. Esolen admits that the government does not censor our newspapers, which means that we have a free press, according to the meaning generally given that term, by everyone from the founders onward.

    He gets it right in the headline: we have a stupid press. But a stupid press is still (in this case) free, and Esolen’s references to the beliefs of the founders regarding freedom of the press are a non-sequitur to what follows.

    • michael

      I suspect that Esolen has a richer sense of the meaning of “freedom”, “free press” and, more importantly, a “free people”, than “the meaning generally given that term, by everyone from the founders onward.”

      That “everyone”, by the way, does not include John Paul II or Benedict XVI, who maintain that freedom dissociated from truth is not true freedom, and leads not to a free society but to its opposite.

      At which point the question of the relation between a stupid press and a free society once again rears its ugly head.

  • Julia

    FW Ken: That SFGATE article you linked was very informative and even-handed (in my opinion).

  • cken

    Did we have a free press back in the days of Murrow or Cronkite or did we just not have the internet to get other view points. Clearly all of the mainstream media has biased reporting. The mainstream media when limited to TV really doesn’t matter as they have so few viewers. Who reads newspapers or news magazines anymore. Most people get their information from the local news on TV or headlines on the internet. Unfortunately the primary sources on the internet, such as Yahoo, etc. also have their biases. Americans choose to be uninformed. A significant number of voters in the last election couldn’t tell you a week before the election who the VP candidates were. We also forget a significant number of Americans can’t read, don’t care, and think reality TV is real.
    There are no easy solutions and to quote Forest Gump, stupid is as stupid does. When we point a finger at others we need be wary of the three pointing back at us and stop expecting others to solve our problems for us.

  • Susan

    The coverage of the annual March for Life is poor at best, but I found it “less objectionable” than usual. The Washington Post actually had a picture above the fold on the front page, although the main story was in the B Section (local). It’s the code language and bias that are telling–not pro-life but anti-abortion, and as others have noted, the question of women’s rights is raised, with no thought to the unborn child. Josef Pieper’s “Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power” comes to mind.
    There is a roll-the-eyes approach to coverage in general. However, I was surprised many years ago when I was interviewed at the march and a classmate from college called to say she had seen the interview and was glad I had stood up for the pro-life movement. I am a journalist, and a reporter from a local TV station here in DC interviewed me. We knew each other from the White House press gallery, and perhaps that is why it went well–he knew me.
    Perhaps we should be more proactive in terms of the march and its coverage. And perhaps we need to look at how negative the “rally” before the march has become. I have stopped attending them, choosing to attend Mass and march and pray with my brothers and sisters. But vitriol doesn’t serve anyone, and it could help change hearts in terms of coverage.

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    Mollie, I will totally agree that more dialogue would be a good thing. And fewer accusations of bias, stupidity and bad intentions. It’s perfectly possible to be wrong without being evil, after all.

    Here’s what would make these marches big news to me: Evidence that they change minds. Of course, the marches are newsworthy. That’s why they get coverage every year. Whether the marchers are literally the same people every year was not my point. They are, I suggest, the same people would would have wanted to be there last year. Not everybody who opposes abortion rights can get to these marches every year, after all…

    I see little evidence that either side of the debate has been able to swing the people in the middle very far. If I had been given the assignment to cover this event, that’s the angle I would have pursued. That 40 years after Roe v Wade, so little has changed about public opinion. (http://www.gallup.com/poll/1576/abortion.aspx) A significant and amazingly stable majority of Americans continues to believe that abortion is immoral but should be legal. Fairly remarkable, I’d say, given all the efforts by the partisans on both sides.

    Contrast the March for Life events with the civil rights marches that either reflected, led or were simply correlated to dramatic changes in both public opinion and the law.

    I’ll go back to my questions: What about this march was unexpected? What about last year’s march — or the march before that or the march before that — had an impact on the world beyond the march? What are the possible effects *this* march will have on the world (and provide evidence for speculations, please)?

    Those are journalism questions. There are no wrong answers. And if the organizers of the march have *good* answers, I suggest they reach out to reporters with them. They’ll find an audience. Because there is *one* bias that reporters *do* have: They want to have good stories that get good play about important issues.

    • Patrick

      “That 40 years after Roe v Wade, so little has changed about public opinion.”

      This sounds like a great story to me – two successive generations of Americans, despite the tremendous social and religious changes this country has seen since RvW, have taken up abortion as a moral issue. Many of them are young people, some religious (what does that mean?), some not. So, who are these people, and what do they believe?

      Also, somebody could do a great story informing us how the March has waxed and/or waned over the past decades – any interesting stories to be told about Marches that almost weren’t? Verbal skirmishes and party politics inside the big tent?

      Usually, public protests die down awhile after the courts make opposition moot. When gay marriage becomes the law of the land in 201x, we won’t be looking forward to street marches against the idea of it in 202x. What is the difference here?

      So, there you go – now we can look forward to awesome stories from you every January for the next three years. Can’t wait!

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