Whiplash: Don't look for ethical consistency in newspapers

politics | Aug 04, 2012 | By Stephanie Block


Page one of today’s local paper carries the poignant headline “Suspected DWI Takes Tiny Life.”  Drunk driving is a major issue in this state and many groups are trying heroically – desperately – to change the culture that accepts it.  Stories that tug the heart and appeal to emotional sensibilities are part of that effort and, after all, what could be more tragic than the photo of a bruised, grieving mother? 
“They are powerful images,” writes T.S. Last, the Journal reporter who covered the story.  “One is of an anguished young mother lying in a hospital bed holding her lifeless baby.  The other is of the father, saying a prayer over the tiny boy just before handing him over to the Office of the Medical Examiner.  It was the only time Zach and Aileen Smith held their son…” [i]
The purpose of this front page story is to hammer home that the offender who rammed their car had at least four prior DWI convictions.  This time, he is responsible for the death of a child and is being charged with vehicular homicide.
The child was seven months in utero: 28-31 weeks. 
Meanwhile, on page three of today’s local paper, in a section called “Around the Nation” that discusses national news, the reader learns that a federal appeals court has temporarily prohibited Arizona from enforcing a ban on abortions, except in the case of medical emergencies, starting at 20 weeks of pregnancy.  
In story one, we are looking at a cherished baby boy; in story two there is no mention of what is being aborted at all.  Even the word “fetus” is missing, which, to think about it, is rather a feat in journalistic obfuscation.
Checking out reports of the event from news sources around the country, we learn that Associated Press and Reuters coverage does mention, somewhere in the midst of talk about hearings, regulations, and the burden this might place on pregnant women, that this proposed law concerns fetuses and the point at which they may experience pain.  But there isn’t much emphasis on this: the story concerns legal actions, not fetuses.  Any emoyional content is reserved for expressions of relief on the part of abortion-activists: “’We are relieved that the court blocked this dangerous ban and that women in Arizona will continue to be able to get safe, appropriate medical care,’ ACLU staff attorney Alexa Kolbi-Molinas said in a statement.”[ii]
Of course, it’s nothing new that secular (and even some religious) news reporting on the topic of abortion is…schizophrenic.  When the topic is “abortion rights,” the bias is unabashed.  Craig Bedward collected headlines from several papers around the country concerning a 2002 investigation by Life Dynamics that discovered Planned Parenthood was performing abortions on minors who had become pregnant by older men (which would implicate them in the crime of abetting statutory rape).[iii]  The headlines collected by Bedward were:
ABC News: “Abortion foes seek to lure staff into legal limbo in deceptive calls”
Telegram: “Abortion activists use deceptive calls to expose violation of state laws”
Columbus Dispatch: “Teen imposter lures abortion clinics into legal trap”
Dallas Morning News: “Protests Stifled – Abortion Foes Change Tactics”
Houston Chronicle: “Abortion foes make deceptive calls to clinics”
New Haven Register: “Planned Parenthood clinics caught in anti-abortion snare”
New York Times: “Abortion Foes Reveal Deceptive Tactic”
Patriot News: “Abortion foes try deceptive tactics”
Star Telegram: “Abortion Foes Entice Clinics to Break Law”
The media bias in this case was so pronounced that it blinded the writers of the above headlines to the story itself.
On the other hand, there are situations where it is vital to acknowledge the personhood of the fetus in order to elicit the appropriate emotional response, as in today’s front page story about an intoxicated driver.  It’s also vital to acknowledge the personhood of the fetus to properly prosecute criminal abuse, as in the (true) case of a jealous man who tells his pregnant ex-wife or girlfriend that he’s going to “stomp it out of her.”
Personhood conferred as a matter of legal utility or rhetorical expediency and withdrawn when no longer self-serving creates serious “cognitive dissonances.”  It becomes all too apparent that the “moral” foundation on which abortion is built is nothing but self-interest…which is changeable.
Trying to follow such contradictory positions in the same paper on the same day, however, causes serious spiritual whiplash.  I wonder if I can sue…?
Spero columnist Stephanie Block also edits the New Mexico-based Los Pequenos newspaper.
[i] T.S. Last, “Suspected DWI Takes Tiny Life: Four-Time Repeat Offender Faces Vehicular Homicide,” Albuquerque Journal, 8-2-12.
[ii] Steve Gorman, “Federal Appeals Court Blocks Arizona's Late-Term Abortion Ban, For Now,” Business Insider (Reuters), 8-2-12.
[iii] Craig Bedward, “Media Bias on Abortion,” www.bedwardfamily.com/Commentary/MediaBiasOnAbortion.htm.



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