This past week, on the day of the annual March For Life, I wrote a post that raised a few questions about how The Washington Post team framed debate about the GOP retreat (surprise, surprise) on a bill that would have protected unborn children after the 20th week of a pregnancy, right on the front door of viability if born prematurely.
Yes, I just used that wording again, to help underline the obvious.
... You saw how I described that bill -- using the word "protect." It would even be possible to frame this issue by stating that the bill would have "expanded" legal "protection" for the unborn.
That is loaded language and I know that. It's the kind of language that, say, Pope Francis uses in speeches that draw minimal coverage. But that is the language used on one side of the abortion debate. ...
Now, what would the framing language sound like on the opposite side of this debate?
That post was noted and, for the most part applauded, by the online site for the National Right to Life News -- which wasn't so sure that words such as "protect" and "expanded" were, as I put it, "loaded."
Yes, that is loaded language, in mainstream media. Thus, let me note that my point was not that I wanted mainstream reporters to replace biased pro-abortion-rights language with language that favored those who oppose abortion and/or favor expanded restrictions on late-term abortions. No, I wanted journalists to stop and think about the language that they were using and to think strategically about how they could frame this issue in a way that was accurate, fair and balanced for believers on both sides of this hot-button issue.
I also urged readers, journalists in particular, to check out this classic Los Angeles Times series -- "Abortion Bias Seeps Into the News" -- by the late David Shaw, a mainstream reporter and media critic who was himself pro-abortion rights.
The key to this language war is who gets to be called "moderate," as opposed to who is "radical," "extremist" or worse. By the way, it does not appear that anyone in American life is "liberal" on abortion, even though the United States is one of only a handful of nations -- standing tall with North Korea and China, for example -- that allow late-term abortions, after viability (again, here is the must-read post at The Federalist by GetReligionista emeritus M.Z. Hemingway).
So see if you can spot any framing devices in this Los Angeles Times piece:
After spending the last few years butting heads with his most conservative members, House Speaker John A. Boehner has a new headache: a revolt by moderates.
Tired of staying quiet while tea-party-minded conservatives pull the Republican majority further to the right, more temperate voices are starting to rise in the new GOP-led Congress.
Female lawmakers pushed the party to drop Thursday's planned vote on legislation that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, forcing leaders to abruptly switch course and pass a different antiabortion bill.
Wait, I thought that the tea-party crew leaned libertarian, as opposed to a cultural conservatism that often is -- think Gov. Michael Huckabee -- harder to label on issues of spending and government programs. Someone at the copy desk needs to work out the precise meanings of these negative political labels.
And check out this three-paragraph bite of Associated Press coverage, which appears to be the totality of the March For Life 2015 coverage in The New York Times (unless my search missed something later). Study the third paragraph, please:
WASHINGTON -- Anti-abortion demonstrators have crowded the National Mall for an annual march coinciding with a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.
Demonstrators at Thursday's annual March for Life carried signs with slogans like "Defend Life," ''I am a voice for the voiceless" and "Thank God my mom's pro-life." The march is held annually on the day that the Supreme Court announced its decision in the Roe v. Wade case in 1973 and ruled that the Constitution protects a woman's right to an abortion.
As demonstrators were packing the National Mall, Republicans muscled legislation through the House tightening federal restrictions on abortions. The White House warned that President Barack Obama would veto the measure, all but ensuring that it would not become law.
That middle paragraph was interesting, falling into the "when in doubt, quote people" school of coverage. And that third paragraph? Can some one find me a mainstream media example of a case in which cultural liberals "muscled through" legislation that, oh, restricted the freedom-of-association rights of elderly nuns who work with the poor and the elderly?