New Ramesh Ponnuru Book Features Chapter on Pro-Abortion Bias

April 30th, 2006 7:47 AM

I'm enjoying Ramesh Ponnuru's new book "The Party of Death," particularly its chapter on the media, "Scribes of the Party of Death." (And that's not just because Ramesh cites my study with Rich Noyes on partial-birth abortion coverage, and how the networks rarely explain what on Earth happens in one.) This is a great line about the New York Times: "The kids at Hogwarts speak the name of Voldemort more freely than the Times editors use the phrase partial-birth abortion." Ramesh brings in his media-elite expert:

Longtime Newsweek correspondent Kenneth Woodward points out that if the editors of the Times really believe the phrase should be avoided because it's not a medical term, they should also remove references to "heart attacks" from their pages as well. If they want to avoid it because one side of the debate objects to it, "female genital mutilation" would have to go as well. The result is not only confusing stories; it is, as Woodward writes, that "every story is framed as a narrative of assault on Roe v. Wade."

I particularly liked the look back at bias in the 1970s:

The bias was there from the start. Consider the New York Times's role in its state's 1970 liberalization of its abortion law. The Times consistently referred to liberalization as "reform" and its advocates as "reformers." It referred -- in the news pages -- to the existing law against abortion as "rigid." Its articles stressed the Catholicism of abortion opponents without delving into the religious views of its supporters. They uncritically accepted Cyril Means's false claim that the state has banned abortion only to protect mothers' lives...

The paper ran puff pieces about the advocates of "reform." It even ran a long profile of Planned Parenthood president Alan Guttmacher in which the chief question was if voluntary birth control and abortion would suffice to fight the population explosion, or if coercive methods would also be needed. (Noting that a birth took place somewhere in the world every half second, the reporter called it "a frightening statistic.") It was furing this period, incidentally, that the Times editorial page established the tone of contempt with which it treats pro-lifers. When its favored bill passed, it credited its leading proponent, who had previously been the subject of one of its puff pieces, with "calm, persuasive argument in the face of intense emotional opposition." In all the years since the newspaper's op-ed page has never featured a regular columnist who is pro-life.

The press has not gotten notably more even-handed in the years since. The Times still runs puff pieces about abortion advocates. Its readers discovered in 2005 that Kelli Conlin, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice America's New York branch, is a "dedicated mother hen"...a similarly sympathetic portrait of a pro-life activist will have to await the apocalypse.