As I mentioned the other day, media coverage of the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., always offers conservative activists new opportunities to bash the mainstream press. As a journalist who has always worked in the mainstream, I frankly wish that the mainstream press would make their work a little harder to do. What we have at the top of this post is a pretty typical example of this genre. It is full of movement code words and, I am sure, contains the kind of language -- "pro-aborts," for example -- that will make people on the other side of the issue roll their eyes. It's a conservative video from a conservative group.
However, it makes some valid points. Please watch it, to understand where these media critics are coming from.
For example, you know and I know that crowd estimates have become highly politicized here inside the Beltway. One side sees 100 people. The other side counts 1,000 people. I think it's important for the press to quote the estimates on both sides, since the police are now reluctant to give estimates. It's an imperfect science, at best.
But the CNN language that is quoted and shown? Get out of here. That's just crazy stuff. And what can we say about the online piece from nonNewsweek? Here is the top of the item by Krista Gesaman:
Today is the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case legalizing abortion, and droves of women are prepared to face rainy weather to support their positions during the annual Washington, D.C., demonstrations. But there will be one major difference with the demonstration route this year -- it's shorter.
"The organizers are getting older, and it's more difficult for them to walk a long distance," says Stanley Radzilowski, an officer in the planning unit for the Washington, D.C., police department. A majority of the participants are in their 60s and were the original pioneers either for or against the case, he says.
So this raises the question: where are the young, vibrant women supporting their pro-life or pro-choice positions? Likely, they're at home. "Young women are still concerned about these issues, but they're not trained to go out and protest," says Kristy Maddux, assistant professor at the University of Maryland, who specializes in historical feminism.
Where to begin?
Well, as conservative media critic Matthew Balan noted, the folks at nonNewsweek could have started their research by reading, no, not Right to Life News, but their own sister publication -- The Washington Post. In that newsroom, the rising tide of young marchers has in recent years turned into a theme that runs through the coverage.
But this is a case in which the conservative people that made this video could have strengthened their case by citing accurate, informed coverage, as well as bashing away at some of the inaccurate and often embarrassingly biased coverage that -- this is painful to say -- is out there, year after year.
The folks at ThineEyes.org could have, for example, included part of that recent Metro column in the Post by Robert McCartney, the one that opened like this:
I went to the March for Life rally ... on the Mall expecting to write about its irrelevance. Isn't it quaint, I thought, that these abortion protesters show up each year on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, even though the decision still stands after 37 years. What's more, with a Democrat in the White House likely to appoint justices who support abortion rights, surely the Supreme Court isn't going to overturn Roe in the foreseeable future.
How wrong I was. The antiabortion movement feels it's gaining strength, even if it's not yet ready to predict ultimate triumph, and Roe supporters (including me) are justifiably nervous. ... In this case, I was especially struck by the large number of young people among the tens of thousands at the march. It suggests that the battle over abortion will endure for a long time to come.
Yes, it's important for media critics to stress that their goal is to praise good journalism, as well as to spotlight the bad. Bashing away, year after year, can be balanced with praise for journalists who are striving to get the facts right.
It never hurts, for example, to point journalists toward one of the towering achievements in media criticism on this topic, which would be the famous 1990 Los Angeles Times series on media bias and abortion, written by the late David Shaw. In this case, the reporter himself was pro-abortion rights, but he was also pro-journalism. That series continues to be must reading, 20 years later.
Let's close with one of its more famous passages:
... It's not surprising that some abortion-rights activists would see journalists as their natural allies. Most major newspapers support abortion rights on their editorial pages, and two major media studies have shown that 80% to 90% of U.S. journalists personally favor abortion rights. Moreover, some reporters participated in a big abortion rights march in Washington last year, and the American Newspaper Guild, the union that represents news and editorial employees at many major papers, has officially endorsed "freedom of choice in abortion decisions."
On an issue as emotional as abortion, some combatants on each side expect reporters to allow their personal beliefs to take precedence over their professional obligation to be fair and impartial.
And all of the fair-minded journalists said: Amen.