The decade's most triggering comedy
In a matter of weeks, the Texas Heartbeat Act has become one of the most covered news stories of the year; unfortunately, much of that coverage has been biased from the moment of its conception. The level of partisan journalism rose even higher on Thursday night, as an Obama-appointed judge issued an order blocking courts from enforcing the Texas law, which protects unborn babies with a fetal heartbeat from being aborted.
The legacy media’s attempt to manipulate the narrative through the use of language became clear, as nearly every story on the subject includes the exact same words — or more specifically, one word:
The continual use of the same adjective reveals more than the legacy media’s lemming-like conformity and lack of imagination. Their word choice proves that the mass media have already accepted one side of the abortion debate, and their stories exist to promote their preexisting biases.
What to notice: The legacy media always refer to pro-life bills that protect human beings from being aborted as “restrictions,” “restrictive,” or “strict.” On the other hand, they call laws that remove protections for unborn children “protections,” because they “protect” abortion and its practitioners.
This bias is not restricted to just the Texas bill, nor to one or two reporters, but appears in the language surrounding every pro-life bill, in every news outlet, every time.
First, let’s look at the pro-life policies the media consider “restrictions”:
Now, consider the things the media describe as “protections” in the abortion debate.
The opening line of a CBS News story perfectly encapsulated the state of the legacy media’s reporting: “The Supreme Court reaffirmed abortion protections on Monday, striking down a Louisiana abortion restriction.”
This laden word choice is deeply important, because only 40% of people ever read a news story beyond the headline, according to a study from the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the American Press Institute. Shallow knowledge and outrage also drive social media, where 59% of Twitter users share stories without ever reading them.
The impact of media bias is obvious: When readers read a headline saying that a state passed a new “restriction,” it produces a negative connotation. When they read that a state passed a new “protection,” it produces a positive connotation. So, what lies behind this editorial choice?
“Words matter”: The stark contrast in media coverage of pro-life and anti-life laws is certainly not because journalists do not appreciate the importance of language. On the contrary, they are keenly self-conscious about the way word choice affects their coverage. For example, The Associated Press ran a lengthy, navel-gazing story by David Bauder about whether the January 6 Capitol Riot should be called a riot, a protest, or an insurrection, because “words matter.” And the media certainly believe words matter when it comes to abortion. In 2019, NPR issued an official “Guidance Reminder” that its employees should never use the phrase “the unborn” and adding the scientifically dubious and self-refuting sentence, “Babies are not babies until they are born.”
The Associated Press is right about one thing: language matters. Americans would not describe a bill that outlaws dog-fighting “harsh,” “strict,” or “restrictive.” The media did not describe their proponents as “zealots” or “fanatics,” nor did they call Michael Vick a “sporting rights advocate” for taking part in such bloody, abusive spectacles. “Certainly mainstream reporters, who weren’t in the bag for criminal franchises that sponsor vicious dog-fights, wouldn’t use such language,” wrote John Zmirak at The Stream. “Nor would we speak of ‘harsh’ laws banning spousal rape, domestic violence, or child porn”:
But news organizations whose staff overwhelmingly favor legal abortion, from bottom to top, use such language about laws intended to protect unborn children. … Not only do most journalists agree on abortion; most of them don’t even have any pro-life friends.
In fact, journalists use this wording with the full knowledge that it mimics the language of the abortion industry. Yet they employ this formulation because they have decided that abortion is a positive good, an unalienable right, and that any law seeking to override the unrestricted right to abortion in any case and for any reason is harmful. Their stories’ content follows their word choice. With these ideological presuppositions, they produce pieces of advocacy rather than works of journalism.
Zmirak says the first step toward reality is to refuse to perpetuate inaccurate language about pro-life protections:
Don’t speak of “banning” abortions. Talk about “protecting unborn Americans.” Hence we should say that a law “protects unborn Americans starting at 20 weeks after conception.” Or that a law “denies protection to unborn Americans conceived by rape.”
Don’t call a good law “harsh” or even “strict.” Call it “principled” and “comprehensive.” Don’t call a weak law “liberal” but “lax.” Describe our current situation, where a child may be aborted for any reason all through the nine months of pregnancy as “chaotic.” It’s a “Wild West,” “Darwinian” legal climate where women and doctors have “the power of life and death over every unborn American.”
Until the legacy media — or even some self-proclaimed conservatives — get this right, the least informed media consumers can do is notice the game being played.
This is the second in a collection of articles dissecting the ways the media bias news stories. Read part one.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.