Abstaining from journalism

abstinenceSo frequently the mainstream media reduces religion to a litany of moral statements. The only time you can get coverage of religion, it seems, is when these moral views intersect with public policy or politics. But then when there is a major moral issue in the news -- be it prostitution, plagiarism or embezzlement -- religious understanding is noticeably excluded from the coverage. Terry already noticed a bit of this with his analysis of a New York Times story on the rates of sexually-transmitted diseases among teenage girls. At least one in four teenage girls has an STD.

I also wanted to look at Lindsey Tanner's article on the matter for the Associated Press. Her article is also full of ghosts. But I'm highlighting it here also because if you thought the lack of balance in the Times story was problematic, this one is kind of jaw-dropping. Here is the second paragraph:

Some doctors said the numbers might be a reflection of both abstinence-only sex education and teens' own sense of invulnerabilty. Because some sexually transmitted infections can cause infertility and cancer, U.S. health officials called for better screening, vaccination and prevention.

Ah yes. "Some" doctors say that. How big is this quantity of "some"? That is not important. Nor is it important if or how other people disagree. Or even among those who agree, nowhere is it explained whether the higher rates among certain groups of the population are a result of more abstinence education.

The entire piece advocates against abstinence-only education. A medicine specialist at a New York hospital and a "sex education expert" at a teen Web site called sexetc.org and an OB-GYN in New Orleans speak against it. I guess we found who "some" of these doctors were. The reporter also reached out to find this surprising source to speak out against abstinence-only educaiton:

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the study shows that "the national policy of promoting abstinence-only programs is a $1.5 billion failure, and teenage girls are paying the real price."

Okay, so now that we've stacked the deck with four quotes from opponents of abstinence-only education, let's see who the AP quotes for the response.

[crickets chirping]

[wind blowing through the trees]

That's right -- Associated Press reporter Lindsey Tanner, whose entire story reads like a Planned Parenthood press release against abstinence education, managed to quote not one single critic of her premise.

That's just laziness.

The premise of the piece is weak as well. Even if the federal government is using my hard-earned money to give out various grants for sex education -- be it abstinence or otherwise -- the notion that that is the reason for teen STD rates or pregnancy rates is silly. Even if it has an effect, it would be very difficult and time consuming -- mathematically speaking -- to gauge this. To run a regression analysis, you would have to see where the funds are going and make sure that you are properly getting a sample of teens who are getting sex education from the allocated funds as well as teens who are getting sex education from non-allocated funds. Then you would have to control for all sorts of other things -- quality of instruction, adherence to the message, all sorts of socio-economic data, etc. Reporters aren't constructing or running these regressions. Even of the studies I've seen comparing abstinence education with other sex education, I haven't seen one that even had access to good data, much less a good way to analyze it.

I'm not surprised that Planned Parenthood is opposed to abstinence-only education. I'm not even surprised that "some" doctors oppose it. But teen sexuality is a much deeper story, one with extremely serious implications.

Why do we never see angles on stories like this that discuss the tremendous physical and psychological damage caused by deviation from the ethic that values sexuality within marriage? Too much moralizing? Too obvious?

Too religious?

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