As hundreds of thousands descend upon D.C. this weekend for the March for Life, expect television news crews – one journalist’s study suggests – to deliberately slant the story.
According to LifeNews.com’s Katie Yoder, a study of the last 10 years of TV news reports on the annual march – which demands an end to legalized abortion and a right to life be recognized for the unborn – reveals 91 percent of ABC, NBC and CBS anchor reports dodge even mentioning the point of the march: the word “life.”
Instead, the study reveals, TV reporters engage in a deliberate attempt to paint the marchers as “anti-abortion protesters,” while more graciously referring to advocates of legalized abortion as “defenders of abortion rights.”
According to Yoder, in 22 reports over the time span, the word “life” was used just twice – in 2003, when NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell introduced the marchers as a “pro-life group” and in 2007 when Russ Mitchell of CBS’ “Early Show” described the event according to its own title, a march “for life.”
In the other 20 reports studied, Yoder found the marchers referred to as “anti-abortion activists” or “opponents” of the landmark Supreme Court abortion case Roe v. Wade or using other labels that mark pro-lifers by what they’re against, rather than what they advocate.
Never mind that the marchers call themselves “pro-lifers” or “pro-life marchers,” the Associated Press style book – which informs and guides most news outlets in the U.S. – expressly states, “Use anti-abortion instead of pro-life and abortion rights instead of pro-abortion or pro-choice.”
If that dictate be inherently biased, as some pro-life advocates claim, the vast majority of news coverage in the U.S. necessarily follows suit.
In 2010, for example, National Public Radio specifically cited the AP guidelines in announcing its policy, “On the air, we should use ‘abortion rights supporter(s)/advocate(s)’ and ‘abortion rights opponent(s).’”
David Sweeney, NPR’s managing editor, explained, “This updated policy is aimed at ensuring the words we speak and write are as clear, consistent and neutral as possible.”
Author Wesley J. Smith noted last year that the Washington Post and New York Times even went so far as to misreport the title of Richard Doerflinger as the “Associate Director of Anti-Abortion Activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.” Doerflinger’s actual, official title is “Associate Director of Pro-Life Activities.”
Columnist La Shawn Barber scoffed at the “neutral as possible” explanation offered by NPR.
“Mainstream media, take a memo,” she wrote in a tongue-in-cheek column published shortly after the NPR decision, “and frame all news stories this way: Refer to abortion supporters as ‘right to life opponents,’ refer to gun control supporters as ‘gun rights opponents,’ refer to ‘hate speech’ backers as ‘speech rights opponents.’”
“Who wants to be against rights, right?” Barber quipped.
A quick and informal survey of print articles from this year’s march reflects a similar trend, as USA Today referred to the pro-life marchers merely as “marchers” and “protesters,” the Washington Post referred to them as “antiabortion activists” and the Detroit Free Press referred to the marchers as “abortion protesters” and “anti-abortion demonstrators” (before a later online edition changed the language to merely “protesters” and “marchers”).
A live blog posted by U.S. News & World Report, however, refers to the marchers as “pro-life advocates.”