Abortion and the media (a personal story)
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.
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.
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.
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.