The media as referees. NBA referees.

Apparently Dan Rather was on Jon Stewart's Daily Show not too long ago where he scoffed at the idea that the media is biased in a liberal fashion. He said that criticizing the media for liberal bias is just "working the refs." I'm going based on second-hand reports because I'm traveling right now and for some reason the wifi system I'm on won't let me actually watch this video. This is a somewhat common liberal response to conservative complaints of bias, suggesting that conservatives are targeting the media itself in order to curry more advantageous coverage.

I'm less interested in having a conversation about conservative complaints or the liberal response to those complaints than I am in exploring the idea that journalists are referees. What do you think of that idea? Should they be seen as refereeing society or should they be seen more as announcers in the broadcast booth? Should they have an active role on the field or should they simply be informed observers?

I'm just noodling on this right now so I'm curious what you think. Obviously journalism includes all sorts of judgment about what to report on and how and in this year alone we've seen that this news judgment means that we see light coverage of massive pro-life rallies but massive coverage of Susan G. Komen's decision to stop giving funds to Planned Parenthood. We've seen restrained coverage of the largest religious freedom lawsuit in recent memory with, for instance, some networks ignoring it and other networks devoting a solid 19 seconds to it. And while it was hard to go a day, much less a few hours, without a "war on women" update for a few months, we have seen very little coverage of recent news about Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers' support of sex-based abortion.

I think coverage of the abortion issue is really where we see the media behaving like refs, albeit NBA refs, and less like observers. I was thinking of this when following Salon journalist Irin Carmon's coverage of the Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health's Provider Awards. Former New York Times Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse keynoted the event which fetes those who perform abortions:

Carmon tweeted a few lines:

"I do feel part of the family. I wrote my first article on abortion in The New York Times in 1970." -- Linda Greenhouse

Greenhouse says she's been "liberated" from the "sanctimonious" journos who condemned her for speaking out as prochoice

Greenhouse is a mightily talented reporter but her personal opinions dominated her coverage, a practice she attempted to defend a few years ago. The second tweet may be a reference to how her bosses told her to ease up on the literal marching with abortion rights supporters she was doing.

Anyway, all of this is a really long introduction to note how the media are covering (or not covering) the recent stings from anti-abortion activists showing that some abortion clinics are fine with doing abortions for no other reason than the unborn child is female.

The video above is the third undercover journalism piece put out by group LiveAction. (I'm on record as opposing undercover journalism, but most mainstream media outlets are fine with it and many win awards for doing it themselves.) The Washington Examiner's editorial page did write up the most recent news coming out of these videos:

Staffers at two National Abortion Federation clinics in Arizona agreed to help a woman get a sex-selective abortion, which is a felony in the state, according to video taken by pro-life activists at Live Action.

"Don’t tell us that, because we don’t want to know," the worker at a NAF clinic in Phoenix told a woman who said she wanted to get an abortion because she didn't want to carry a girl to full term. The NAF aide explained that "state law says we cannot do a termination on somebody just because of race or gender." The woman told the NAF aide that she wanted to try to have a boy.

The NAF aide then told the woman she could feel comfortable telling the abortion doctor that she wanted to get an abortion due to the gender. "You can tell her, she’s gonna tell you the same thing, just: Don’t let it be known! She’s really good about that," the Phoenix staffer said, adding that she had dealt with other cases of women who wanted an abortion due to gender-selection.

I'm looking for more mainstream coverage of this and not seeing it. I also noticed a lack of coverage of the earlier videos. They are difficult to watch but not in a way that wouldn't be appropriate for broadcast journalism. Watching the way professional clinic staff handle the counseling of women seeking to abort their unborn daughters is just captivating, if uncomfortable. It would seem like it would make excellent fodder for news shows and articles.

According to the pro-life media site LifeNews, coverage of the sting has been uneven:

The three broadcast networks continue to act as guardian angels to Planned Parenthood, shielding the abortion provider from any hint of controversy. Live Action videos showing Planned Parenthood’s apparent willingness to cooperate in sex selection abortion have been completely buried by ABC, CBS, and NBC for an entire week (morning shows of May 30-June 5, evening shows of May 29-June 4).

Live Action has come out with twovideos showing Planned Parenthood staffers actively assisting a Live Action actor to procure a sex-selection abortion. In the week after the story broke, the networks gave zero coverage to the Live Action reports. (Cable outlets CNN and Fox News have both given the Live Action videos coverage.) The videos coincided with a House vote to ban sex-selection abortion, which the networks also completely ignored.

The broadcast networks’ silence regarding the Live Action videos is standard operating procedure when it comes to negative news about Planned Parenthood. But when cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure planned to stop giving less than a million dollars a year to Planned Parenthood, the networks unleashed a blitz of stories against the cancer charity.

So what do you think? How well is the media refereeing public discussions regarding abortion? Are they people in authority who are responsible for presiding over the game from a neutral point of view and making on the fly decisions that enforce the rules of the sport? Or are they more like NBA referees? And is "referee" the right way to view journalists in the first place or is there a better way to look at it?

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