Regular GetReligion readers are familiar with the concept of scare quotes.
For those new to the term, Dictionary.com defines scare quotes as “marks used around a term or phrase to indicate that the writer does not think it is being used appropriately or that the writer is using it in a specialized sense.”
A recent New York Times story on the controversy over the anti-abortion movie “Unplanned” doesn’t rely on scare quotes. But in quoting anti-abortion sources, the piece repeatedly employs what might be characterized as a similar tool.
I’m talking about the Times’ repeated use of qualifiers in the indirect quotations. I’ll elaborate on what I mean in a moment. But first, here’s the top of the story with a few crucial details:
CLIFTON, N.J. — It was a rare packed house for a weeknight in the suburbs, and when the movie was over, the sold-out crowd of about 100 last Wednesday spilled haltingly into the light.
A few — a gaggle of nuns in their habits, at least one collared priest — wore their dispositions on their sleeves. Others communicated in muted gestures, dabbed at tears, or lingered for long stretches in the popcorn-strewn vestibule at the AMC multiplex here, as if still processing the deliberately provocative movie they had just seen.
Since March 29, similar scenes have played out across the country as faith-based groups and many others have gathered en masse to see “Unplanned,” a new movie that paints a scathing portrait of abortion rights in general, and Planned Parenthood in particular.
A few paragraphs later comes the first instance of a qualifier:
“Unplanned” has banked on its ability to draw such motivated crowds, despite what the filmmakers — Christian anti-abortion advocates hoping to make a dent in Hollywood — described in interviews as a torrent of adversity.
Here’s my question: Is the “what the filmmakers … described” qualifier necessary? Or is it a fact that this anti-abortion film has experienced a torrent of adversity? Given similar facts, would the Times use the same style of attribution in a story about a pro-choice film?
In other words, is this just a careful approach to reporting the news by the Times? Or is this yet another example confirming the rampant news media bias against abortion opponents that the late media critic David Shaw exposed in his classic 1990 Los Angeles Times series?
Later in the story:
“Unplanned” is based on the memoir of the same name by Abby Johnson, a former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Tex., who became a celebrity of the anti-abortion movement after what she said was a crisis of conscience.
Is the “what she said was” necessary? Or would that paragraph work without it?
Ultimately, “Unplanned” may not need scientific consensus to be effective with its most critical base of support. At the sold-out AMC theater in New Jersey, several attendees, who identified as being against abortion rights, said they were moved by a film that addressed what they said was the deeper truth of a subject few are willing to face head on.
Again, notice the extra attribution: “said they were moved by … what they said was.” Any chance that extra attribution is inserted as an editorial commentary?