NYTimes revisits high court’s abortion buffer zone ruling

YouTube Preview Image

In grading first-day coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court striking down a Massachusetts abortion buffer zone law, I gave The New York Times a D.

My explanation for the near-failing grade:

The NYTimes’ front-page story does an excellent job of explaining where the justices came down. But the Old Gray Lady shows her bias when it comes to reporting reactions to the decision, giving top billing — and much more space — to Planned Parenthood than the winning plaintiff.

The newspaper improved its performance — let’s give it an A for enterprise and a B for overall content — with a second-day story out of Boston exploring what the Supreme Court decision means for both sides.

The NYTimes gives readers a firsthand view of a clinic where the yellow line no longer matters:

BOSTON — Lorraine Loewen, 74, says she comes here once a week to demonstrate against abortion outside of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts health care center.

On Friday, the morning after the Supreme Court struck down restrictions that had created no-protest buffer zones near abortion clinics, she stood inside the yellow line on the pavement that marked a 35-foot radius around the clinic’s entrance.

Ms. Loewen, a retiree from Dedham, Mass., approached a woman and a man who had climbed out of a taxi and were walking toward the clinic, which provides an array of sexual health services, including abortions, and spoke softly in the woman’s ear. She handed the woman a pamphlet depicting a woman’s face and the words, “It’s your choice.”

“I asked her if we could be of any help,” Ms. Loewen said, adding that she preferred talking close up with the people going to the clinic rather than yelling at them from outside the line.

On Friday, Ms. Loewen and a handful of other demonstrators were among the first anti-abortion activists, as a few police officers looked on and a volunteer escort stood ready to bring patients inside the clinic.

From there, the story offers brief background on the high court ruling and then turns to a long section outlining concerns of state officials and abortion-rights advocates who favored the buffer zone law.

The NYTimes allows one couple to complain anonymously about the protesters:

[Read more...]

Big news report card: Grading abortion buffer zone coverage

___________________________________

___________________________________

As my GetReligion colleague Jim Davis highlighted this morning, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a Massachusetts abortion buffer zone law.

News junkie that I am, I enjoyed perusing today’s front pages and searching Google News to see how various news organizations handled the story.

Using my media critic’s prerogative, I decided to grade some of the coverage.

My major criteria: First, how fully did a particular story cover the important details — including the court’s majority and minority opinions, the reactions by the parties involved in the case and the responses by activists on both sides of the abortion debate? Second, how fairly did the story treat all sides?

My grades:

• Associated Press: D.

The AP covers the justices’ opinions fairly but favors abortion-rights sources in reporting reactions. Pro-abortion Planned Parenthood gets preferential treatment throughout the story, while a quote from the abortion protesters’ attorney is buried.

• Boston Globe: B.

The Globe’s coverage of the ruling concerning its home state features a lead story that quotes a variety of sources, from the main parties to anti-abortion Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston and a pro-abortion health center owner. However, the story lacks details on the court’s decision itself and how various justices differed even as all nine opposed the law.

CBS News broadcast report: A.

In a report that runs about two-and-a-half minutes, CBS presents the key facts and on-camera reaction interviews with both an abortion-rights activist and an anti-abortion advocate — both of whom come across as intelligent and professional.

Chicago Tribune: A.

Godbeat pro Manya Brachear Pashman’s Page 1 story mixes excellent insight on the Supreme Court ruling with an important local angle — the potential impact on Chicago’s 8-foot “bubble zone.” The story is thorough and presents a wide range of sources.

Fox 25 in Boston: F.

It’s difficult to imagine lazier, more biased “journalism” than this television news report manages in three minutes. The report shows five sources on camera — all aghast at the court’s ruling.

[Read more...]

To protest abortion coverage, a #MarchOnMedia

Yesterday I found out about protest against the media’s coverage of abortion. It’s called March On The Media and the band of protesters will go to ABC News studios in Washington, D.C. to demand better news coverage.

Was it a commenter here who suggested that the massive throngs of annual pro-life marchers should re-route through the Washington Post newsroom if they wanted to get noticed? Not a bad idea, actually.

Lila Rose, the human rights activist and undercover sting journalist who heads LiveAction, explained a bit of her rationale for hosting the march on Twitter yesterday. I put the tweets in Storify.


[Read more...]

AP’s abominable (but familiar) abortion approach

So I guess the Associated Press’ reportorial staff in Texas is on vacation this week. Good for them! I hope they’re having a great time. Not good for news consumers, though, as AP coverage of the Texas legislature couldn’t be worse right now.

Take this four-paragraph, six-sentence story published on USA Today that began:

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Republicans armed with Bible verses have given preliminary approval to some of the strictest abortion regulations in the country as time runs out on the Texas special legislative session.

What in the h-e-double-hockey-sticks does this mean? I have no idea. I have no idea what being “armed” with Bible verses means. The remaining five sentences don’t tell us. They also don’t tell us what the Bible verses are. Neither do we learn why in the world Bible verses were mentioned in this “news” report. Or what Democrats were armed with.

You’ll also note, of course, the perennial approach of referring to legislation regarding abortion in terms of “restriction” as opposed to “protection.” This is done so frequently that I doubt that reporters are even aware, at this point, of the built-in bias.

You’ll note the lack of any mention of Dr. Kermit Gosnell or various other doctors in the abortion industry who operate unsanitary, unsafe or dangerous clinics.

Or what about this AP story?

(AUSTIN, Texas) – More than 800 women’s rights protesters crowded into the Texas Capitol on Sunday to watch Democrats try a series of parliamentary maneuvers to stop the Republican majority from passing some of the toughest abortion restrictions in the country.

Um, where to begin? How about with the fact that women are just as likely to be pro-life as pro-choice? Is that a good start? Do you think pro-life women would be surprised to find out that the Associated Press views them as hostile to women’s rights?

Or maybe the Associated Press could explain to us why wanting safer abortion clinics, or more sanitary abortion clinics, or less dangerous abortion clinics — such as the ones the media have reluctantly, if ever, covered — makes you anti-women’s rights. I’d really love to know.

Or what if you are really into the right to life for all women, born and unborn? Could the Associated Press explain to us why that makes one anti-women’s rights?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand that abortion rights activists prefer to identify themselves as pro-women’s rights and those who support unborn children’s right to life as not. I get that. And I fully expect to see such labels used in, say, Mother Jones and other ideological press.

But unless the Associated Press is coming out as partisans in this debate, this is inappropriate bias for a hotly-contested story about a bill sponsored by … a female Texan who has talked about this legislation in the context of how it benefits women as well as the children growing in their wombs. Again, one might personally agree with one side or the other, but the story should not take sides.

Let’s go ahead and look at the next line in the story:

[Read more...]

Media coverage of Roe at 40

YouTube Preview ImageOne could write several volumes under this headline, but we’ll just look at a few items to come out in recent days. Let’s start with this from NBC:

As the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision takes place on Tuesday, a majority of Americans – for the first time – believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

What’s more, seven in 10 respondents oppose Roe v. Wade being overturned, which is the highest percentage on this question since 1989.

Whenever reading stories about polls, check the underlying data. Check the questions.

It’s worth noting that the results of this poll are different from the results of other major polling. Anyway, the poll begins by asking whether respondents approve or disapprove of Roe. Only 39 percent say they approve and 41 percent say they don’t know enough about Roe to have an opinion. The pollsters then completely misrepresent Roe, claiming it only legalizes abortion in the first three months of pregnancy. While pro-lifers might wish it were otherwise, there is far more support for the right to end the lives of unborn children in the first trimester than in the remainder of a pregnancy. Roe and its companion court decisions do not just legalize abortion in the first trimester. Far, far from it.

Anyway, the pollsters then ask respondents if they want not to overturn Roe but “completely” overturn it. Why that bizarre qualifier was added to the question is beyond me, but it’s a good polling trick to suppress one particular response.

So if you misrepresent what abortion law is and then lead people in a particular direction in your answer, you might get the result you’re going for.

Ramesh Ponnuru notes that Washington Post reporter took this information — and another poll — and advised that Republicans “need to stop talking about abortion. Immediately.”

The Washington Post asserts:

The trend line is clear, and Americans are becoming more accepting of abortion rights.

Ponnuru responds that this “thesis depends entirely on an overreaction to a few bits of poll data. A fuller look at the evidence does not bear it out.”The evidence for the Post‘s claim is the NBC poll above and a Pew poll. Ponnuru:

Actually, Pew did not find that support for Roe has been increasing. It found less support for Roe than it did in 2005, which appears to be the last time it asked the question. The ABC/Washington Post poll also found declining support for Roe between 2005 and 2010.

There is much more from Ponnuru but the bottom line is that you would be wise to be at least skeptical of this report.

For a broader and more polemical take on this, I’d recommend reading Tim Carney’s look at media treatment of abortion, Roe and Planned Parenthood. He begins by noting NBC’s misrepresentation of what Roe accomplished, calling it a fitting treatment for its 40th anniversary. He catalogues something you are not likely to even get a hint of from most mainstream media treatment — how “[l]egions of pro-choice judges and legal scholars have admitted that Roe was bad jurisprudence.” He goes on to note that “Planned Parenthood is an abortion business and an abortion lobby” but that its allies in the media obscure this.

He pulls few punches in showing that Planned Parenthood, contrary to media suggestions, doesn’t offer mammograms, offers almost no prenatal care and almost never refers pregnant women for adoption. “If you are pregnant, almost the only service Planned Parenthood provides you involves forceps or a scalpel.” This is true, of course, but it’s not a truth you will learn from most media presentations. Carney is one of the very few reporters covering crony capitalism and how it affects public policy. He talks about how Obamacare authors lobby for Planned Parenthood.

The most important media issue is how we present the terms of the debate. I noted earlier this year that almost all discussion of pro-life work is put in terms of restriction rather than protection. The opposite is true for the pro-choice efforts. If you work to protect unborn life, the media will almost always characterize it as against something. Carney notes a related phenomenon:

In the context of abortion, media and politicians will talk about “terminating pregnancies” and speak as if the only issue at stake is a woman’s body. The premise here is that there is no second person involved.

But we know that there is a second person. Look online at the cutting-edge ultrasounds, and you can see a face, and arms, and legs and a beating heart in the first trimester. That’s a baby.

Now, the fact is that we actually have seen some good coverage of the pro-life movement 40 years after Roe. I hope to highlight some of it. But a year after I witnessed the unabashed media defense of Planned Parenthood against a breast cancer charity that attempted to extricate itself from the abortion business, my eyes have been opened.

I know that if a fringe pro-life group put out something even 1/100th as tone deaf as this ad we saw this week from a major pro-choice group, we would have seen critical coverage. I know that if a staff writer at a popular publication argued that abortion doctors’ lives are lives worth ending, we’d see quite a bit of coverage. Some groups getting pepper sprayed get noticed on all three major networks and others don’t, you know? It’s just par for the course.

But, again, there is good journalism being done, too. Here are the most recent examples that come to mind of quality reportage, fresh angles or coverage of things we’re used to seeing buried. It is easy to focus on either the good or the bad. The whole picture is more complicated and, I hope, getting better. I hope there’s more of a market for good and balanced reporting such as the Washington Post and RNS examples in this paragraph, and less for the unbridled advocacy of an Andrea Mitchell.

Marco Rubio and the media’s curiously inconsistent approach to science

YouTube Preview ImageI wonder if any of our readers have read Thomas Nagel’s new book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. I’ve been reading the reviews and they’re fascinating. The New Republic review says Nagel, a devout atheist, has “performed an important service with his withering critical examination of some of the most common and oppressive dogmas of our age.”

From Alvin Plantinga’s review “Why Darwinist Materialism Is Wrong” in The New Republic:

ACCORDING TO a semi-established consensus among the intellectual elite in the West, there is no such person as God or any other supernatural being. Life on our planet arose by way of ill-understood but completely naturalistic processes involving only the working of natural law. Given life, natural selection has taken over, and produced all the enormous variety that we find in the living world. Human beings, like the rest of the world, are material objects through and through; they have no soul or ego or self of any immaterial sort. At bottom, what there is in our world are the elementary particles described in physics, together with things composed of these particles.

I say that this is a semi-established consensus, but of course there are some people, scientists and others, who disagree. There are also agnostics, who hold no opinion one way or the other on one or another of the above theses. And there are variations on the above themes, and also halfway houses of one sort or another. Still, by and large those are the views of academics and intellectuals in America now. Call this constellation of views scientific naturalism—or don’t call it that, since there is nothing particularly scientific about it, except that those who champion it tend to wrap themselves in science like a politician in the flag. By any name, however, we could call it the orthodoxy of the academy—or if not the orthodoxy, certainly the majority opinion.

The eminent philosopher Thomas Nagel would call it something else: an idol of the academic tribe, perhaps, or a sacred cow: “I find this view antecedently unbelievable—a heroic triumph of ideological theory over common sense. … I would be willing to bet that the present right-thinking consensus will come to seem laughable in a generation or two.” Nagel is an atheist; even so, however, he does not accept the above consensus, which he calls materialist naturalism; far from it. His important new book is a brief but powerful assault on materialist naturalism.

But it was another review of the book, which was also quite favorable to it, that really surprised me. I’ll just give the beginning and closing words from the review in The New Statesman:

Thomas Nagel is widely recognised as one of the most important analytical philosophers of his generation. In both the philosophy of mind and moral philosophy, he has produced pioneering and influential work. This book inherits many of the virtues of that work. It is beautifully lucid, civilised, modest in tone and courageous in its scope…

But I regret the appearance of this book. It will only bring comfort to creationists and fans of “intelligent design”, who will not be too bothered about the difference between their divine architect and Nagel’s natural providence. It will give ammunition to those triumphalist scientists who pronounce that philosophy is best pensioned off. If there were a philosophical Vatican, the book would be a good candidate for going on to the Index.

Yes, the worst sin isn’t even supposing that a prevailing view might be questioned but, rather, giving comfort to creationists. Dunh dunh dunh!

But that’s the media environment we’re in (this is straight up Kellerian philosophy that the New Statesman reviewer Simon Blackburn offered).

I thought of all this when reading the response the mainstream media had to an interview Marco Rubio gave to GQ. In only the second paragraph we get this prophetic bit from reporter Michael Hainey:

Rubio smiles a lot and likes to put people at ease. But he also speaks with the restraint of a guy who knows everything he says will be parsed and, most likely, used against him. “I’ve learned the hard way,” he says. “You have to always be thinking how your actions today will be viewed at a later date.”

You don’t say. I mean, this is obvious. You can’t have had a pulse for the last few years (much less the decades prior to that) and not have noticed that some politicians have to be particularly careful in dealing with the media. There’s a certain freedom that politicians on the left have in dealing with the media that politicians on the right don’t have. When was the last time you heard a pro-choice politician asked why he thought it should be legal to kill an unborn child just because she’s female. Never? That is correct. (Which is just astounding!) When was the last time you heard a pro-life politician asked about exceptions for rape? An hour ago? Probably.

The GQ interview is wide ranging, if by wide ranging you mean questions about Rubio’s favorite Afrika Bambaataa songs, his three favorite rap songs, whether there is a song he plays to psych himself up before a vote in the Senate and whether Pitbull is too cheesy. It’s obviously incredibly fluffy.

Here are two questions asked from the middle of the interview (in order):

GQ: You were obviously very moved by your grandfather’s dignity and your father’s dignity. What are the qualities that would qualify for a man to have dignity?

GQ: How old do you think the Earth is?

What the what?

Rubio gives a fairly standard political answer:

Marco Rubio: I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.

Oh no he did-unt!

Then a bunch of media outlets all lined up to freak out. This smugtastic Slate piece, which had to run a correction about whether sociology, linguistics, anthropology, and other sciences indicate that the Earth is billions of years old, was definitely my favorite.

I guess my problem with the whole scenario is that I don’t trust the media here. It’s not like we have a media where we see routinely tough questions asked about science as it relates to human life and dignity. You remember all of the outrage over opposition to stem cell research that destroys human embryos, don’t you? The cover stories, the factually inaccurate pieces condemning ethicists as anti-science? I do. Why don’t we see the same deluge of stories about embryonic stem cell research now? Do you have any ideas? Is it because embryonic stem cell research kind of turned out to be a bust whereas stem cell research that doesn’t destroy embryos is going gangbusters?

We don’t have a media that questions all sorts of scientifically questionable thinking so long as it comports with a particular agenda.

Instead we have a group of people who have very unscientific ideas about when human life begins (or, at the very least, never even have the thought of asking that question to politicians who support abortion on demand) act outraged.

You know who was the last “journalist” to ask President Barack Obama when he believes human life begins? It was that Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Warren. Do you remember Obama’s response? At the Telegraph: Tim Stanley has thoughts on this:

More importantly, if it’s okay for Barack Obama to say that abortion is “above my paygrade” and refuse to offer a guess as to when life begins, why is it not okay for Rubio to dodge a bullet when asked a question about the origins of the Earth? Considering that the question posed to Obama back in the 2008 election had serious moral consequences and Rubio’s does not, I can’t understand why Obama’s evasion is heralded as a victory for common sense but Rubio’s is treated like a declaration of war on science. The hysteria and hypocrisy are tiring at best.

I don’t care when the world began and I don’t care if my elected officials know either. I’m far too worried about a stagnating US economy and its spiralling debt. And yet, in these strange and worrying times, how “sciency” someone is seems to have become a litmus test for office – regardless of where they stand on the things that they can actually do something about.

It’s the miserable philosophy of a materialist liberalism gone mad – a systematised worldview that prefers to wallow in inconsequential data rather than explore profound questions about life and death. Note to the mainstream media: abortion is a more important issue than the age of the Earth. It personally affects a lot more people.

The hysteria and hypocrisy are getting to me, too. I find the whole thing ridiculous.

Note: I’m sure we all have our own political, theological and scientific responses to Rubio’s comments. I know I do. But while there are many places on the internet to express those views, this site is reserved for a discussion of media coverage. Please keep comments focused on media coverage, which still gives us a lot of room to have fun.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X