Almost Comically Unbalanced

By Laura Echevarria
NRLC Director of Media Relations

The news media "elite" is probably as much out of touch with the majority of Americans today as it was 15 years or 20 years ago, if not more so. The differences of opinion between reporters and the general public on many issues remain stark and troubling.

Nowhere is that gap more prominent than on the issue of abortion. One obvious question: is the chasm closing or growing?

Veteran pro-lifers will remember a genuinely landmark 1981 study conducted by L. Robert Lichter, who was then with George Washington University, and Stanley Rothman, then of Smith College. The team surveyed 240 journalists at some of the top media outlets in the country.

The study results were published in the American Enterprise Institute's journal Public Opinion. Lichter and Rothman subsequently published the extensive results in their book, The Media Elite. It generated a torrent of comment.

One of the most significant findings was that not half, not two-thirds, not three-quarters, but 90% of reporters who worked for these elite outlets favored abortion.

Fast-forward nearly 15 years to 1995. Rothman and Amy Black polled the news media as part of an examination of nine "elite" groups in the United States. They surveyed "reporters and editors of major national newspapers, news magazines and wire services." The results were published in the spring 2001 issue of The Public Interest.

They found that things HAD changed. Now virtually all of those surveyed - - 97% - - agreed that "it is a woman's right to decide whether or not to have an abortion." Eighty-four percent agreed strongly with this statement.

The American public, on the other hand, has become increasingly pro-life, especially young adults and teens. Study after study confirms what your own eyes tell you.

For example, last spring, a Gallup poll found that 61% of the respondents said that abortion should be legal in only a few circumstances (42%) or illegal in all circumstances (19%). In a survey published this past fall, 72% of teens ages 13-17 said abortion was morally wrong. A total of 79% said that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances (32%) or legal only under certain circumstances (47%).

Where does that leave the media? Apparently so extreme that everything they do is seen through a pro-abortion lens. What follows is not a comic opera, although it reads like one.

In February, Los Angeles Times music critic Mark Swed filed a review of an opera, Die Frau Ohne Schatten ("the woman without a shadow") by Richard Strauss. He described the production as "an incomparably glorious and goofy pro-life paean.. . ."

But when the article ran in the paper, "pro-life" had been changed to "anti-abortion." The problem, of course, was that "It's about children who aren't born yet screaming to be born - - not abortions," Swed told Reuters.

Swed was reportedly mortified and asked immediately for a correction. The correction ran as follows: "Opera review - - A review of Los Angeles Opera's 'Die Frau Ohne Schatten' in Tuesday's Calendar section incorrectly characterized the work as 'anti-abortion.' In fact, there is no issue of abortion in the opera, which extols procreation."

But, as you see, the error was not attributed to an editor, thus leaving the impression that the Times had a bonehead opera critic in its employ. This served only to further embarrass Swed, jeopardizing his standing as a literate critic among readers and the opera community.

Swed naturally asked for a second correction. It clarified that the first correction "incorrectly implied that it was the reviewer who characterized the work as 'anti-abortion' in Tuesday's Calendar. As the correction should have made clear, the lead paragraph submitted by the reviewer was incorrectly changed to include the term 'anti-abortion.'"

It gets better. The correction of the correction then engendered a memo from the "reader's representative" (ombudsman) that the Times's policy is to issue corrections without assigning blame.

The attempt at political correctness and hiding responsibility clearly risked Swed's standing in the opera community. It made him look like he had no earthly idea what he was talking about.

In all fairness to Swed, he deserved to have the error explained and blame doled out. The Times's knee-jerk reaction to the term pro-life was ridiculous and extreme and said a great deal about media assumptions.

The Swed story fiasco and subsequent Times corrections are the ludicrous results of a pro-abortion mindset that appears in newsrooms across America. Where will it end? I think we are seeing some of the reaction to biased coverage even now: networks are experiencing a drop in ratings and newspapers across the country are scrambling to curb a decrease in readership.

With many "balanced" or "conservative" news alternatives appearing on cable and on the Internet, more and more Americans are canceling their newspaper subscriptions or turning the channel in favor of news coverage that doesn't increase their blood pressure.

The news media elite will recoup its losses when it realizes that its opinion is only that - - opinion - - and it's the minority opinion at that.