You'll never guess who called Texas bill to end abortion the 'most extreme measure' yet

A Texas minister who reads GetReligion called my attention to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's coverage of a bill to criminalize abortion in the Lone Star State.

Michael Whitworth's tweet to me made clear where he stands on the issue:

Whitworth's question came in response to the headline atop the Star-Telegram's abortion bill story:

I replied that I wouldn't attempt to analyze the story in a 140-character-or-less Twitter post. However, I said it looked like good fodder for GetReligion. 

Of course, my role as a media critic is not to give my personal opinion on abortion. It's to critique the journalistic quality of the Star-Telegram's report and address questions such as these:

1. Is the headline slanted in favor of one side? What about the story?

2. Is the story fair to both sides?

3. Is the story balanced in terms of the sources quoted, the space given to pro-life and pro-choice voices and the willingness to present each side's best argument(s)?

I'll get to those questions in a moment, but first, a bit of familiar background for regular GetReligion readers: In abortion-related coverage, news stories heavily favoring the pro-choice side are a longstanding and indisputable problem. If you somehow missed it previously, check out the classic 1990 Los Angeles Times series — written by the late David Shaw — that exposed rampant news media bias against abortion opponents. Go ahead and bookmark that, because it remains painfully relevant for people who run newsrooms.

Back to the Star-Telegram story: Let's start with the first question. The answer is easy: Yes, the headline favors the pro-choice side. So does the newspaper's lede:

A Tarrant County lawmaker’s plan to abolish abortion once and for all in Texas has already been dubbed by critics the “most extreme measure” so far in the Legislature this year.
But state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, said he is determined to end abortion here and is going to fight for passage of his bill criminalizing the medical procedure in Texas.
“I’m pretty passionate about the pro-life movement,” said Tinderholt, father to a 7-month-old daughter with wife Bethany. “When you read and see how abortions are performed, and how they end the life of an innocent child, it amazes me that we allow that.
“When we look back over history and we see … the cultures that took the lives of children, people are appalled by that,” he said. “People are going to do that with America, too, and look back one day and say they can’t believe we allowed this.”
Tinderholt’s House Bill 948, one of several measures addressing abortion in the Legislature this year, drew a quick response from critics.
“This cruel bill is the most extreme measure we’ve seen at the Texas Legislature,” said Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas. “It takes away a pregnant person’s legal rights and could open up to investigation and prosecution of anyone who has a miscarriage or who seeks an abortion.
“When politicians criminalize safe medical procedures, they put patients’ health and safety at risk,” she said. “HB948 strips away our constitutional right to abortion.”

The editorialized headline and opening sentence prejudice the entire story. They indicate that the newspaper has picked a side — the one that supports abortion rights. 

From a journalistic perspective, that's a real shame. Even more so because — if you keep reading — the Star-Telegram wrote an otherwise extremely fair and balanced story (see the second and third questions).

Overall, in fact, this is one of the more impressive abortion news pieces I've seen in terms of quoting advocates on both sides in their own words — including mentions of "God" both to support a ban and to advocate letting a woman choose.

It's impossible to know whether the opinionated intro came from the reporter or was, in fact, a change made by an editor. In either case, it's too bad the Star-Telegram didn't see fit to whack that first sentence and produce an impartial lede. Especially since a pro-abortion rights group voicing opposition to an anti-abortion measure isn't exactly stop-the-presses headline worthy. Next thing you know, a dog will bite a mailman.

How easy would it have been simply to start the story with the second sentence? I'd also delete "medical" before "procedure" to eliminate an unnecessary adjective that the pro-life side would view differently than the pro-choice side.

My proposed rewrite:

State Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, said he is determined to end abortion in Texas and is going to fight for passage of his bill criminalizing the procedure.
“I’m pretty passionate about the pro-life movement,” said Tinderholt, father to a 7-month-old daughter with wife Bethany. “When you read and see how abortions are performed, and how they end the life of an innocent child, it amazes me that we allow that.
“When we look back over history and we see … the cultures that took the lives of children, people are appalled by that,” he said. “People are going to do that with America, too, and look back one day and say they can’t believe we allowed this.”
Tinderholt’s House Bill 948, one of several measures addressing abortion in the Legislature this year, drew a quick response from critics.
“This cruel bill is the most extreme measure we’ve seen at the Texas Legislature,” said Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas. “It takes away a pregnant person’s legal rights and could open up to investigation and prosecution of anyone who has a miscarriage or who seeks an abortion.
“When politicians criminalize safe medical procedures, they put patients’ health and safety at risk,” she said. “HB948 strips away our constitutional right to abortion.”

Now, imagine if the headline followed suit and read something like this:

Tarrant County lawmaker pushes for criminalization of abortion in Texas

With that headline, readers' reactions would be related to the proposed legislation — either to praise it or criticize it.

But in that case, nobody could have accused the Star-Telegram of doing anything except its job ... reporting the facts.

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