Surprise! Yes, it IS possible for mainstream media to produce fair, balanced abortion news

Just yesterday, I critiqued a Fort Worth Star-Telegram story on abortion that — in its headline and lede — favored the pro-choice side.

In that post, I pointed readers toward the classic 1990 Los Angeles Times series — written by the late David Shaw — that exposed rampant news media bias against pro-life advocates. 

I noted that this longstanding and indisputable problem remains painfully relevant for people who run newsrooms today.

So imagine my surprise today when I read a National Public Radio report on abortion that impressed me as extremely fair and balanced. (As always, I invite you, kind GetReligion reader, to read the report yourself and challenge my assessment if you disagree.)

Let's start with NPR's headline:

U.S. Abortion Rate Falls To Lowest Level Since Roe v. Wade

That's pretty straightforward, right? Just the facts, ma'am.

In case you're new to this journalism blog, that's how we like it: We promote a traditional American model of the press, with impartial reporting, fair treatment of all sides and sources of information clearly identified.

Next up, let's check out the lede:

The abortion rate in the United States fell to its lowest level since the historic Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalized abortion nationwide, a new report finds.
The report by the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports legalized abortion, puts the rate at 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age (ages 15-44) in 2014. That's the lowest recorded rate since the Roe decision in 1973. The abortion rate has been declining for decades — down from a peak of 29.3 in 1980 and 1981.
The report also finds that in 2013, the total number of abortions nationwide fell below 1 million for the first time since the mid-1970s. In 2014 — the most recent year with data available — the number fell a bit more, to 926,200. The overall number had peaked at more than 1.6 million abortions in 1990, according to Guttmacher.

What's not to like?

The journalist — Sarah McCammon — clearly reports the relevant details without editorialization. She even identifies the source of the report as a pro-choice group, which is important to readers as they assess the credibility of the findings.

From there, McCammon offers a transition sentence:

Perhaps not surprisingly, given the longstanding controversy around abortion policy, the meaning of the report is somewhat in dispute.

Here's what I like about that transition: It lets readers know that NPR intends to present opposing viewpoints. Without that transition, it might not be clear that the next source quoted — Planned Parenthood's top official — will be followed by a spokeswoman for Americans United for Life.

If I might offer a bit of constructive criticism, two squishy words bog down that transition: "perhaps" and "somewhat." I'm not sure either is needed. Could anyone challenge the accuracy of that sentence without those two words? Then again, "not surprisingly" might be interpreted as offering an opinion rather than simply reporting. But if that's the case, I don't know that adding "perhaps" to it changes that overall dynamic.

The rest of the story gives each side an opportunity to respond to the report's findings.

As McCammon notes in the above tweet, pro-choice and pro-life forces both find good news in the report — but for different reasons.

Kudos to NPR for highlighting those reasons.


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