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Professional dishonesty

Journalists cover up the reality and frequency of partial-birth abortion

Issue: "Rich man, poor man," May 5, 2007

When we pro-lifers lose in public-policy debates, as we have so often since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, we generally lose as well in the mainstream media portrayal of those debates. And then, when we finally win a single battle in the overall war-well, then, we lose again in the media portrayal.

I said in our April 21 issue that the major media had been singularly untrustworthy in how they pictured the 45 million deaths by abortion in our nation since 1973. It's a colossal number-amounting to almost one-sixth of the whole U.S. population. But it gets nothing like the coverage given to global warming, the dangers of handguns, or even lead in house paint.

Then, on April 18, along came the noteworthy Supreme Court decision upholding the 2003 ban by Congress on the hideous procedure properly called "Partial Birth Abortion." It was admittedly a new direction for the high court, reversing an almost unbroken string of earlier decisions that tended to support abortion. So was it possible for the media-even when you could tell most reporters were upset with the decision-at least to get the facts right?

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No, that was too much to ask.

Typical was the conversation on PBS' NewsHour between Judy Woodruff and Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal:

WOODRUFF: First of all, let me ask you to define the procedure at issue. We know the opponents call it partial-birth abortion. We're told in the medical community it's referred to as intact dilation and extraction.

COYLE: Well, first of all, it's not a very common procedure, and it's used primarily in second-trimester abortions. It's the removal of the fetus by forceps through the cervix as intact as possible in order to minimize tissue retention and trauma to the cervix and the uterus.

WOODRUFF: And, again, as you say, not a common procedure.

COYLE: Right, the more standard procedure is known as dilation and evacuation. And there, the fetus is removed with forceps and a vacuum and generally comes out in pieces.

If ever there were 120 words more intended to obscure and obfuscate the subject at hand, they'd be hard to find. It's the kind of language you expect from an Enron executive, a politician who has taken bribes, or a sports hero on drugs. It is precisely what you shouldn't hear from a newscaster or an expert commentator whose task it is to shed light on a particular topic.

The cover-up-and that is too kind a word for this sort of professional dishonesty-is on at least two fronts: First is the double reference to the supposed rarity of the procedure. Pro-abortion sources themselves (the Alan Guttmacher Institute, in particular) put the figure at 2,200 annually. More neutral experts say it's more like 5,000. Split that difference, and you've got the equivalent of a fully loaded 70-passenger regional jet crashing every single week for a whole year. Still "not a common occurrence," though, in the minds of these steel-hearted reporters. They'll even bother to make the same dishonest point twice in the space of just one minute.

Second, this brief report-like most others of its ilk-deliberately glosses over the horror of the actual procedure. To describe it antiseptically as "the removal of the fetus by forceps through the cervix as intact as possible," right after being asked to "define the procedure"-and to say nothing about forcing sharp scissors through the baby's skull and into the brain-that is journalistic malpractice. One survey says that fewer than one out of four media references to the procedure made any effort to describe it accurately.

On yet another front, such analysis doesn't even belong in any comparison with other causes of death. Abortion is sickeningly different from them all (including death through acts of war) because every individual death is premeditated, calculated, and deliberate. Every such death is personally designed. For America's mainstream media (not to mention the mainstream medical profession) to keep using every opportunity they find to obscure such salient facts makes them co-conspirators of the darkest and ugliest kind. How to call such dominant opinion shapers to account may be a perplexing question-but it is no less important just because it is hard.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.


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