Honestly, there was a time about a decade ago or so when I briefly thought that mainstream journalists were making progress when it comes to offering balanced, accurate, fair-minded coverage of abortion issues. At one point there even seemed to be a growing awareness that abortion was not one of those issues that could be labeled as a strictly GOP vs. Republican issue. I mean, there are pro-life liberals out there.
During that time, I had a chance to ask the progressive Catholic pundit E.J. Dionne a question related to this topic during a Pew Forum event inside the Beltway, focusing on faith and politics. I asked him why laws and court decisions here in America protecting abortion rights at all stages of pregnancy were stronger than those in Europe. I think my phrase was "how did America end up to the cultural left of Sweden on abortion?"
A key element of Dionne's answer was that abortion-rights supporters here continue to feel threatened by the strength of their opposition, especially among conservative religious groups. Thus, they resist all efforts at compromise. There is no middle option as, to some degree, there is in parts of Europe.
The news media plays a key element in this fight, of course. You can really see this whenever there is a new threat to the current abortion-rights regime. Take, for example, the the coverage of Catholic activist David Daleiden and the undercover videos released by his Center for Medical Progress project.
Honestly, in this case your GetReligionistas have needed some kind of standing art or logo pointing readers toward the classic "Abortion Bias Seeps Into News" series back in 1990 by media critic David Shaw of The Los Angeles Times. Once again, let me note that Shaw was a supporter of abortion rights and it's crucial that his work was published in a mainstream newspaper.
I could write another piece contrasting the level of press coverage of a grand jury in Texas indicting Daleiden with the coverage produced by the news that all of the charges had been dropped.
I could do that, but I really don't have to -- because M.Z. "GetReligionista emerita" Hemingway has already done a slam dunk on this issue, over at The Federalist. This is another time when I get to pull out the "classic M.Z." logo.
In this case, Hemingway -- backed with a tsunami of URLs -- takes a look at how The New York Times and The Washington Post covered these two stories.
Guess what? These two elite newsrooms covered one of these stories way, way, way more than the other.
Want to guess at the pattern here? This is a must read, of course. But for our purposes it's enough to read Hemingway's take on the coverage in the great Gray Lady. I'll put in the key URLs in this chunk of the text:
When Daleiden was indicted on political charges, here’s how the New York Times covered that story. On page 1. Above the fold. The first column. “Texas Charges Abortion Foes in Video Case,” the headline read. The 1,213-word story was written by Manny Fernandez, with Erik Eckholm contributing reporting.
The next day the New York Times editorial board weighed in. “Vindication for Planned Parenthood,” was their verdict.
That same day, Jackie Calmes wrote a “news” story headlined “Indictment Deals Another Blow to G.O.P. Campaign Against Planned Parenthood.” ...
Another January 27 story was a hagiography of the Harris County district attorney leading the charge against Daleiden, written by Fernandez. The next day he had a very short, very dry piece about how Daleiden’s attorneys thought the case was flawed. Then there was a very friendly piece about the totally awesome attorney who is representing the National Abortion Federation and how pleased he was with the indictments. And another story prominently mentioning the indictments.
All of this coverage, of course, was framed in political terms. What other motivations could possibly have been involved in this undercover effort?
Well, you know where is going. What happened next?
On June 14, a judge dismissed one of the charges against Daleiden. The New York Times made no record of it. Not on the front page, above the fold, first column. Not on any page. ...
On July 26, the judge cleared Daleiden of all charges. The New York Times did not put its story on page one. It did merit some 800 (rather boring) words on page 18. No editorial was published about Daleiden’s “vindication.” No concern trolling about blows to the Planned Parenthood narrative. No puffy profiles of the attorneys who fought the political indictments.
That's enough, for now. I am sure this topic will surface again.
I wish that wasn't the case, but there you go. While you are at it, go ahead and bookmark that classic Shaw series on media bias and abortion coverage. I'm afraid we will need to talk about it again, plenty of times.
IMAGES: Marchers in Ireland protesting media bias in coverage of abortion issues.