CBS on Partial Birth: Don't Use 'Color Phrase' for 'Anti-Abortion Rights' People

The Supreme Court hears the latest arguments Wednesday from late-term abortionist Leroy Carhart objecting to a partial-birth abortion ban, and the media bias wouldn't be complete without the major media rejecting the term "partial-birth abortion" as a propagandistic pro-life term. Brian Montopoli on the CBS blog "Public Eye" offered a little inside detail:

With the case approaching, CBS News Senior Vice President, Standards and Special Projects Linda Mason sent an email to the CBS News staff regarding the terms "late term abortion" and "partial birth abortion." Mason wrote that CBS News should use the term “late term abortion” when referring to the procedure in question, not "partial birth abortion." I asked her why. "We thought that 'partial birth' is a color phrase for people who are anti-abortion rights," said Mason. "This is a procedure usually done after 20 weeks. Therefore, 'late term' is appropriate. Now, some colleagues have come back to me and questioned this because the name of the law before the Supreme Court is the 'Partial-Birth Abortion [Act].' When people refer to the case, they should call it by the correct name. But a CBS reporter should call the procedure a 'late term abortion.'"

What Linda Mason is arguing for here is a term with LESS precision (and less emotion). A ban on the partial-birth procedure is NOT a ban on late-term abortions in general. So you're left with reporters saying "a certain type of late-term abortion procedure," and then reporters rarely actually explain the grisly particulars of the procedure.(CBS is actually a tiny bit better on this topic. This, from 2003: "In an MRC study of 217 stories mentioning the issue of partial-birth abortion on ABC, CBS, and NBC, analysts found news reports explained the medical basics in only 18 of those stories, and 15 of those descriptions occurred before 1998. Including this week’s debate, Big Three reporters have only described the procedure three times in the last five years — all of them on CBS. Even on June 28, 2000, when the Supreme Court overturned Nebraska’s partial-birth ban, only CBS described the procedure in dispute. ABC and NBC have avoided it for five years.")The obvious question is that if CBS means to avoid "color phrases" from advocates, then will it stop using "affirmative action" instead of "racial quotas"? If CBS means to avoid partisan sounding bill titles, will it stop describing a bill by its title like the "Clean Air Act"? CBS seems to hate using "anti-abortion rights" terms because they oppose the "anti-abortion rights" movement.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis