Journalism vs. stenography?

Granted, the piece I am about to critique is more stenography than journalism. Read: a reporter goes to a staged news event, soaks up one side's point of view and spits it out on newsprint as the gospel truth. In this case, the story in question has an aura of deja vu, as if this isn't the first time this same reporter has used this same approach on the same subject matter.

Let's start with the headline on the latest report from the Tulsa World:

Religious pro-choice group says anti-abortion legislation endangers women

Now, the reporter undoubtedly didn't write the headline. But the headline certainly reflects the nature -- and tenor -- of his story.

Anybody see any journalistic problems with that headline? Besides, of course, the fact that it favors one side? How about its violation of The Associated Press Stylebook, the journalist's bible?:

abortion Use anti-abortion instead of pro-life and abortion rights instead of pro-abortion or pro-choice.

Obviously, a newspaper could adopt its own style in a case like this. But journalistic fairness would require a consistent style. If you're going to call one side pro-choice, then shouldn't the other side be labeled pro-life?

The top of the story:

Anti-abortion legislation being pushed at the state Capitol and in Washington is endangering women's lives and is framed by a religious viewpoint rather than scientific or health considerations, a group describing itself as "religious, pro-choice Americans" said Thursday.

"If the politicians in the Oklahoma Legislature and Congress want to express religious beliefs and experience their freedom of religion, then they must allow pro-choice families to experience the same freedom," said Kelly Jennings, co-chairwoman of the Oklahoma Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

A half-dozen members of the Tulsa clergy appeared at the news conference at All Souls Unitarian Church.

"The pro-life advocates may think they speak for all religious people - they may even think they speak for God - but I don't believe that is true," said the Rev. Todd Freeman of College Hill Presbyterian Church.

How do the anti-abortion lawmakers respond to this group's charges? What do the "pro-life advocates" say about whether they speak for God and all religious people? There's no way to know as the story contains not one shred of input from the other side.

The story is equally vague on the religious groups represented by the coalition for reproductive choice:

Women who said they remembered life before the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade legalized abortion predominated among the 20 or so people who attended the press conference. Two said they had undergone illegal abortions as teenagers.

"I was date-raped at 16," said the Rev. Mary McAnally, now 72. "I had to go to Arkansas for an illegal abortion ... that rendered me unable to have children."

What is McAnally's denominational background? Where does she minister? The story doesn't say.

This isn't journalism. It's stenography. Perhaps next time the World could consider some actual reporting on a "story" such as this.

Please respect our Commenting Policy