View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Abortion and the media (a personal story)

For more than 20 years I worked part-time for the local Public Radio station WXXI. For most of those years, I was part of the news department - delivering weekend newscasts, doing spot news coverage, writing news copy, filling in on some daily news shifts during vacations, and so on.

One Saturday I came in to find a memo about covering abortion-related stories. From now on in our reports we were told to refer to all groups that support or promote legal abortion as "pro-choice," and all groups that oppose abortion as "anti-abortion." We were never to refer to pro-life groups as "pro-life" unless that was part of their official name.

Some background.

I've spent almost my entire adult life as either a journalist or an English teacher. I'm also a poet and playwright. I'm aware of the power of words. I'm aware that words have not only their literal meanings, but also connotations - added meanings that evoke emotions.

"Pro," for example, immediately adds a little positive spin to whatever it's attached. "Anti" gives a slightly negative spin.

"Abortion" is one of those words with strong negative connotations. "Life" has similar positive connotations.

The forces behind legal abortion are well aware of the power of words. Long ago they concluded that they had to try to control the debate by controlling the language used, and so they sought for more positive word with which to associate their cause.

The chose "choice," a word with strong positive connotations in our society.

Thus they named themselves "pro-choice."

At the same time, they wanted the negative sounding "anti-abortion" label on the opposition. They were adamant that opposition must absolutely not be called the positive sounding "pro-life."

Back to our newsroom.

I contacted my supervisor about the new policy. I said that if the pro-choice groups want to be called "pro-choice," and we were going to respect that, out of fairness shouldn't we extend the same courtesy to the pro-life groups and call them by the name they wanted to be called?

He got back to me.

No.

The new policy as stated was the official policy.

I don't know if that was his decision, or it came from higher up in the organization.

Nor am I sure who pushed for the change in policy in the first place.

But I found it interesting that this policy change came down after Carol Love, the head of the local Planned Parenthood, a business that makes a substantial portion of its profits off abortion, had become the Chair of the WXXI Board of Trustees.

Coincidence?

Maybe ...

Still, the next time you hear - or don't hear - coverage of abortion or the pro-life cause, you might be wise to wonder who's controlling the news you hear.

10 Comments:

Blogger Knitted_in_the_Womb said...

Having worked for a newspaper that is a subsidiary of the Chicago Tribune, I can absolutely confirm that these kind of official policies do exist!

10:41 AM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

Thanks for stopping by. I'm sure there are many more such stories out there.

6:47 PM  
OpenID evanscove said...

Sad... Yes, abortion proponents doubtless know how to use the media to their advantage. And having worked as an English instructor too, I understand what you mean about the strong connotations words can have (e.g., just consider all the negative connotations attached to the word "cult"). Thanks for sharing this story. We need to be aware of these things.

Evan

4:43 PM  
Anonymous Barb Schoeneberger said...

One of the great things about having a blog is that we don't have to use the PC words the pro-death groups want us to use. Redefinition is a way to take control and I refuse to give it to them! It would be really difficult for me to be a journalist and have to follow a policy I thought was just plain evil. And no, it wasn't a coincidence that when the PP woman became the chairman of the board of the station (how did that happen?) that the new policy was handed down.

5:17 PM  
Blogger David Marciniak said...

How is it that Planned Parenthood has become THE policy maker for reproductive health in this nation and beyond? They are a success. Much I attribute to the help of evil, but there is a strategy and shrewd worldliness that has catapulted them to the forefront. It is dabolical, really. It is amazing that a racist, elitist organization bent on genocide is now the voice of reproductive health. They out-foxed us in many ways. Yet when I watch the footage of the March and see the fresh, young faces, I know the Holy Spirit is with us. Oh, but could we fix this NOW God?!? (my impatience is showing...)

9:02 PM  
Blogger kkollwitz said...

I think it's better to have the term "anti-abortion" anyway. As it stands, abortion can be a news topic, but with gauzy terms like pro-choice and pro-life, you may never hear the word "abortion."

9:12 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

kkollwitz - I've heard other pro-lifers say they have no objection to being called anti-abortion.

I don't either.

But then to be fair the other side has to be called pro-abortion. The mainstream media is not interested in being fsir when it comes to abortion, though.

9:21 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

Barb - Public radio gets "prominent" community members on its board, and Love, the local head of PP was elected to it - then rose to become the chair.

9:23 PM  
Blogger kkollwitz said...

"But then to be fair the other side has to be called pro-abortion. The mainstream media is not interested in being fair when it comes to abortion, though."

I prefer for the media to be as straightforward about its biases as it dares to be; either they will be biased and pretend otherwise, or they will be biased and not pretend otherwise. Saying 'pro-life' was just convenient cover for them for the last 20 years: "see how fair we are?" Now they can't stand it anymore...good for them, let all the biases seep up so they can be seen.

5:51 PM  
Blogger Lindsay said...

I, too, am a former English teacher, so I absolutely know where you're coming from. One of the problems I find with "anti-abortion" as a term for pro-lifers is that it narrows the pro-life spectrum to cover abortion and nothing else. Being truly pro-life is about supporting as much of life as possible, from the unborn to the neglected elderly. "Anti-abortion" just doesn't cover that.

12:49 AM  

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