Journalism “unfair in content, tone, choice of language, prominence of play.”

In a splendid article on the Real Clear Politics website the media’s greatest sacred cow is put under the microscope for our consideration. It presents us with a wretched story of gross injustice in the name of rights, rights perceived through the tinted glasses of global group-think and it will make – or should make – those complicit in its perpetration blush with shame when the history of our age is written.

Ireland’s working journalists should read this and put their hands on their hearts and tell the truth about the part they play in this self-righteous charade. They collectively, through the country’s major media organisations, if not necessarily individually – there are honourable exceptions, – tick all the boxes in this sorry catalogue of dishonesty and wilful blindness.

Carl M. Cannon, in an article posted on Real Clear Politics just over two months ago, recalls the recent history of journalism’s flight from the truth and responsibility for even-handedness which should be the hallmark of all reporting media. The history of journalism is not wanting in other aberrations of this kind down the decades of two centuries or more. But has any aberration been as persistent as this one?

In America’s newsrooms of the 1970s and 1980s, Cannon observes, a general consensus emerged on two fraught political issues. The first, affirmative action, was understandable. Expanding the pool of what had been a white male-dominated profession was not only a laudable social goal, it was a logical business imperative for newspapers seeking to expand their reach. And it was even more than that. If you worked for any major news organization, including the sprawling newspaper chains that dominated the landscape, it was also official corporate policy.

 The second issue, in a sense, grew out of the first. That issue was abortion, or in the vernacular adopted by the media, “abortion rights.” To say that big city editors and reporters were “pro-choice” is to understate the case. Mostly, it went without saying: Roe v. Wade was the law of the land, and any reporter or editor who harboured doubts about it — and those who voiced them aloud — was considered a sexist, or perhaps a religious nut.

 Editorially, most newspapers supported abortion rights. Two studies done in the late 1980s showed an overwhelming majority of U.S. journalists personally supported legalized abortion, numbers that were almost certainly higher among elite news organizations. And after the Newspaper Guild formally endorsed “freedom of choice,” journalists began marching in pro-choice rallies.

 He speaks of a former editor whom he worked for in those years, James R. Bettinger, city editor of the San Jose Mercury News, who now remembers the nagging feeling that his paper’s coverage of demonstrations by those opposed to abortion suffered because of the monolithic views of the reporting staff.

We might wish that some of the editors serving the Irish public today were afflicted with even a little of this nagging feeling.

 Bettinger, now the longtime director of the Knight Journalism Fellowship program at Stanford University, says “I was convinced there were stories we were missing and nuances we were trampling on because we weren’t hearing [the pro-life] perspective voiced in the newsroom. For all I know, there may have been reporters and editors who felt strongly on the issue, but it wasn’t getting voiced. It felt to me like a failing.”

 Cannon then quotes, influential Los Angeles Times media critic David Shaw who tackled this issue in 1990 with a 5,000-word opus that began on Page One. It pulled no punches, Cannon says. Shaw noted that it is certainly possible for reporters and editors to put aside their personal beliefs and follow the obligation of their chosen profession to be fair and impartial. But, he said, that wasn’t happening on this issue.

 “A comprehensive Times study of major newspaper, television and newsmagazine coverage over the last 18 months, including more than 100 interviews with journalists and with activists on both sides of the abortion debate confirms that this bias often exists,” Shaw wrote. “Careful examination of stories published and broadcast reveals scores of examples, large and small, that can only be characterized as unfair to the opponents of abortion, either in content, tone, choice of language or prominence of play.”

 In the years between 1973, when Roe v. Wade was decided, and the publication of Shaw’s opus, “viability” — i.e., the amount of time a fetus had to develop before being able to survive outside the womb — had steadily been shrinking. For journalists who ridiculed conservatives’ supposed hostility to science, this should have been a huge warning flag. Cutting-edge science and traditional religion were in sync. In the press, we were mainly in sync with Democrats.

 In 2008, at a joint appearance with John McCain at Saddleback, the sprawling Southern California mega-church founded by evangelical pastor Rick Warren, Barack Obama was asked, “At what point does a baby get human rights, in your view?”

 “Well,” Obama replied, “I think that whether you’re looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade.”

 This answer prompted widespread ridicule of Obama among social conservatives — and of the mainstream press for accepting such a dodge. But the exchange between Warren and Obama succinctly illustrates how the sides in this debate talk past one another. Those opposed to abortion frame the question as being about the rights of the unborn. Those who defend it talk about abortion as being integral to a woman’s right to control her own body, a necessity that trumps theological teaching or scientific advancement.

 Because it had long ago chosen sides in this debate, the media collaborated with the pro-choice side to sanitize this debate to the point where the details of the procedure abortion are almost never mentioned and the word “abortion” itself extraneous. Who is so sexist they can oppose “a woman’s right to choose”? How un-American to oppose “choice.”

 The ‘pro-choice’ movement has corrupted language and made choice a weasel word. The media has colluded in this corruption and in doing so has undermined the very principles of truth and honesty on which its credibility, its right to respect and its very raison d’être rests. Pay grade? For what?

Cannon has much more to say, and it is all profoundly unsettling.

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