Liberal media critics seem to blame the liberal media whenever conservatives get a win — or in the case of the Alito draft on abortion, a prospective win. Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan dragged the media as patsies for the pro-lifers under the headline: “The media fell for ‘pro-life’ rhetoric — and helped create this mess.“
Sullivan explained that the doctor who delivered her baby boy in Buffalo is also an abortion provider, and his son is the leftist journalist Eyal Press, who is blaming the media. (She recalls how Buffalo abortionist Barnett Slepian was shot dead in his home by an anti-abortion activist in 1998.)
“One of the great successes of the antiabortion movement was to stigmatize a very common medical procedure,” he told me this week, “and to put people who defend abortion rights on the defensive.”
And part of that, he thinks, lies in the power of language — and a failure of media.
An award-winning journalist and author, Eyal Press knows a thing or two about how words can be deployed, or weaponized. When journalists agreed to accept terms such as “pro-life” to describe those who oppose abortion, they implicitly agreed to help stigmatize those who support it. After all, what’s the rhetorical opposite of “pro-life”?
Press repeated “the media shares some of the blame, inadvertent though it may have been, for ushering our nation to its current moment.”
But can Sullivan and Press truly cite any evidence that the media favored the pro-life side or routinely used the “pro-life” label? That’s not our experience. They’re routinely called “abortion rights opponents” or some other liberal lingo. A quick search of network news transcripts in the last week found “pro-life” only when used by pro-lifers in their soundbites.
Press went on to make the usual liberal complaint, that you can’t be “pro-life” and against “strong gun-control measures,” and somehow pro-lifers haven’t ”shown much dismay over high infant and maternal mortality rates.” He argued “Journalists need to do a better job of connecting these dots,” he said. They should “unpack just what ‘pro-life’ means.”
He also objects to the term “abortion doctors,” since it concentrates on only one aspect of a doctor’s OB/GYN care. “It would be like referring to orthopedic physicians as “ACL doctors,” he claimed. “This is a case where the media fell in line with a stigma label.” Once again, the networks usually use “abortion providers” or other approved terminology, like they perform “abortion care” or “reproductive health care.”
Press was also complaining that medical schools have been “reluctant” to teach abortion techniques. “By allowing themselves to be put on the defensive, they — like the media — have fed the culture of intimidation.”
What next? When the Democrats lose in the midterms, will Sullivan blame the liberal media for that?