unborn child

When is a heartbeat not a heartbeat? When NPR (briefly) calls it 'sounds from the fetus'

When is a heartbeat not a heartbeat? When NPR (briefly) calls it 'sounds from the fetus'

If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?

You know the answer to that one, don't you? In a way, that old puzzler reminds me of questions your GetReligionistas face from time to time. I am thinking, to be precise, about emails in which readers send us items claiming that this or that newsroom has committed this or that atrocity, yet there is no URL provided and, when push comes to shove, there is no way to know if that news report ever contained the words or phrases quoted by the offended readers.

You see, it's so easy to change the content of online news and there is no common standard for digital corrections. (At GetReligion, when non-troll readers -- especially journalists -- leave comments noting typos and clear errors of fact we change the text, but we thank them and leave their comments live at the end of repaired articles.)

Thank goodness there are people who know how to use the "screen grab" (or screen shot) function in their computer browsers. I say this because of a remarkable "Heartbeat Bill" fix in a story at National Public Radio, which led to a piece by Bre Payton at The Federalist, as well as cyberspace shouts from readers.

Before we get to the NPR case study -- backed by a screenshot -- let me remind readers why stories about abortion show up so often at GetReligion. First, these public-square debates always involve activists from religious groups. Second, it's virtually impossible for activists on either side to describe their beliefs without raising moral and theological questions, as well as questions about science. For decades, abortion-coverage issues (click here for the classic Los Angeles Times series by reporter David Shaw) have played a crucial role in discussions of both media bias and religion-news coverage.

So what is the "Heartbeat Bill" in Ohio? Let's look at how The New York Times started a story on this topic, to get a sample of the language being used. Here is the overture:

WASHINGTON -- Gov. John Kasich of Ohio on Tuesday signed into law a ban on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, but vetoed a far more restrictive measure that would have barred abortions after a fetal heartbeat was detected, as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

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New York Times on the death of an unborn child

You might recall that the New York Times told readers Kermit Gosnell was on trial for killing fetuses rather than newborns. There was a similar problem at USA Today. We noted when a reporter for a different outlet apologized for calling a newborn child a fetus.

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NYTimes finally makes some changes on the fetus front

Oh to have been a fly on the fall during any editing discussions at The New York Times national desk during the time between the newspaper of record’s early report on the verdict in the Dr. Kermit Gosnell case and the final version that is currently online.

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