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The Aftenposten and Abortion in Norway: The Media Project, November 14, 2014 November 14, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Press criticism, The Media Project.
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“All the News That’s Fit to Print” first appeared on the cover of the New York Times on October 25, 1896. The newspaper’s publisher Adolph Ochs adopted the slogan for professional and business reasons.

Ochs wanted to set the Times apart from its more sensationalist competitors, filling the market niche of New York’s quality newspaper. Pursuing high quality journalism not only was a moral good, it could make money also, he believed.

The business model adopted by Ochs and other “quality” newspapers at the start of the Twentieth Century guided the empirical practices of the mainstream press for most of the last century, though tabloids in the US and the “red tops” in the UK have never followed this code.

Over the last twenty-five years the Ochs model has been challenged by the advocacy press approach, where a newspaper reports on a story from an openly avowed ideological perspective. A French newspaper reader knows that when he reads about the same issue in Liberation, Le Monde, Le Figaro, La Croix and L’Humanite he will be presented with left, center left, center right, Catholic and Communist perspectives of an issue.

In and of itself, such an advocacy approach is not a bad thing. Seeing a story from a variety of perspectives often allows the reader to gain a deeper understanding of the issues than that presented by a traditional newspaper following the “All the News That’s Fit to Print” model. So long as falsehoods are not presented, reading different “spins” or interpretations of the same event can enlighten readers by presenting to them different ways of thinking about an issue.

These musings on the nature of truth, cranks and newspaper reporting were prompted by an item that caught my eye in a story from News in English.no — a website that carries English-language news stories from Norway. Its headline stated: “Abortion opponent disrupted bishop’s ceremony” and the article reported:

Anti-abortion activist Per Kørner demonstrated his views during Sunday’s ceremony in Tromsø consecrating the newest bishop of the Norwegian Church, Olav Øygard. Kørner was eventually seized by two civilian clad police who firmly escorted him out of the ceremony.

… Kørner disrupted the ceremony when he strode forth in the cathedral, sitting down close to the king until he was literally carried out, involuntarily, by the two policemen. Then the ceremony continued as normal. Kørner told newspaper Aftenposten afterwards that he wanted “to challenge the church to fight on behalf of the most helpless members of society,” in his view, unborn children.

Intrigued I went to Aftenposten — Norway’s largest “quality” newspaper. Struggling manfully through the article entitled “Abortmotstander kastet ut av kongens sikkerhetsvakter” with dictionary in hand, I found Aftenposten was telling a different story.

In roughly the same number of words as the News in English.no article, I learned that Kørner was a 78-year-old former priest of the Church of Norway. And after the incident Kørner received a free ride to a police station, but was not charged with any crime. It further noted that the five years ago a similar protest took place at the consecration of another Norwegian bishop. The article ends by stating Kørner was one of three Church of Norway priests who in 1991 founded a breakaway group from the Church of Norway.

The addition of this background material made the story far more understandable to a reader not familiar with Norwegian ecclesiastical politics. But the two articles also differed on what happened. For the News in English.no, Kørner “disrupted the ceremony”.  A reader of Aftenposten would conclude it was the police who disrupted the ceremony. TheAftenposten reported:

Med en refleksvest full av bibelsitater gikk Per Kørner opp til alteret i Tromsø domkirke under innsettelse av ny biskop og gjorde seg klar til å be. …

Wearing a reflective safety vest covered in Bible quotes, Per Kørner went up to the altar in Tromsø Cathedral during the inauguration of the new bishop and prepared himself to pray. …

Kong Harald satt ikke langt fra alteret, men ingen ting tyder på at aksjonistpresten forsøkte å komme i kontakt med kongen. Håndfast geleidet sikkerhetsvaktene Kørner ut en sidedør til Tromsø domkirke.

King Harald sat not far from the altar, but there was no hint the activist priest attempted to approach the King. Assertive security guards then escorted Kørner out of a side door of Tromsø Cathedral.

Why the disparity in accounts? What happened at Tromsø Cathedral? If a 78-year old gay activist had approached the altar rail adorned with a vest or ornaments promoting his agenda, would the police have acted in the same way?

Aftenposten does not ask this question, but sticks to a reporting of events. News in English.no treats Kørner as a crank, and by adopting the position at the start of the story that what Kørner did was improper, the reporter should have placed his actions in the context of similar actions — allowing the reader to decide if this fellow is the villain of the piece.

Now, this approach would be what a traditional newspaper would do. If News in English.no is an advocacy site, then it begins with the premise anti-abortion protestors are cranks and supplies the details to support its argument.

Was “all the news that was fit to print” included in this story? Further detail and analysis can always be added, but Aftenposten did the better job, allowing the events to tell the story, rather than allowing perceptions of the sanity of Kørner to drive the telling.

Some philosophers tell us that no perspective is free from bias. The issue then becomes whether that bias is acknowledged or understood. One man’s crank may be another’s saint.

First printed in The Media Project.

Abortion Blinds The Guardian: The Media Project, November 5, 2014 November 5, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Press criticism, The Media Project.
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Advocacy journalism succeeds when a reader does not perceive he is being led. The best writers of this genre, like George Orwell, do not disguise their opinions. They win over readers by persuasion, not by compulsion. A blistering screed may excite those predisposed to support the author’s point of view, but they seldom convert the undecided.

An article in The Guardian on the forthcoming Tennessee vote on Amendment 1, which if adopted would toughen the state’s abortion laws, comes to its topic from the point of view that legal restrictions on abortion are wrongheaded. It takes the editorial line that Tennessee voters should reject the amendment.

That The Guardian would oppose Amendment 1 is no surprise. But the way in which the article pushes the pro-abortion agenda does not advance or explain the story. Nor does article even seem aware of the story it has in hand. Its relentless cheerleading in support of abortion deafens it to the subtlety of the arguments offered by pro-abortion supporters, who are seeking to turn the arguments of anti-abortion advocates against themselves. However, all of this is lost, drowned by the continuous howl of The Guardian in favor of abortion at any time, for any woman, for any reason, anywhere in the world.

The news “hook” the article takes is presenting the issue through the lens of religion. The lede begins:

The Reverend Dr Judy Cummings likes to say she speaks for the underclass – for the African Americans locked in poverty in Buena Vista, a neighbourhood cut off from the rest of this prospering city by a ribbon of freeways, industrial blight and neglect.

It’s for them Cummings has become one of the leading voices of opposition to Amendment 1, a ballot initiative that would overturn Tennessee’s powerful protections for abortion rights, enshrined since a 2000 court decision. The proposal’s passage would hurt not just poor women and their children in Nashville, she believes. It also would affect thousands of women living beyond Tennessee’s borders who have come to rely on abortion providers in Nashville for services they can’t get in their home states.

The article lays out Tennessee’s stance as an outlier on abortion in the middle South with court imposed laws that exceeds the requirements of federal law turning the state into an abortion hub. Or, to borrow the New York Times’ phrasing, Tennessee is the “abortion capital of the Bible Belt.” The article illustrates these arguments with quotes and views from pro-abortion advocates.

“This issue right here is not about whether we believe in abortion or not,” Cummings said at a rally of liberal ministers earlier this month. “It’s a justice issue. When politicians try to take away the voice of the people, that’s an injustice. And we’re called on to do justice.”

The article quotes spokesmen for the Tennessee Right to Life Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union on the bill, but the religious voices we hear in this story all come from one side — the pro abortion side.

If one comes to this story with no knowledge of the religious and cultural landscape of Tennessee, like most Guardian readers — they might conclude that religious voices in Tennessee are behind the pro-abortion vote.

We do have one nod to reality when the article states Republicans and religious conservatives control the state legislature. But the picture painted by The Guardian is one where the pro-abortion argument is the moral and theological choice.

Conveying that message to Tennesseans has been a delicate task. While commentators in other parts of the country tend to place access to abortion among other women’s rights or even argue it’s a social good, Vote No on 1 campaigners more often attack the amendment on libertarian, pragmatic or even theological grounds.

Ministers such as Cummings argue the amendment will interfere with their ability to counsel congregants who have gone through abortions. Were abortion illegal, they argue – with repurposed pro-life claims that developing foetuses are able to suffer pain –then those foetuses with birth defects would needlessly suffer in utero were abortion illegal.

No religious voices are heard in this story that address these sorts of claims. The article is illustrated with two photos of anti-abortion buttons and posters in Catholic settings, butThe Guardian chose not to offer arguments from morality or theology that counter the pro-abortion moral and theological arguments.

Setting aside the issue of abortion entirely, The Guardian appears not to have done its homework about the political issues in this fight. Tennessee’s abortion laws are the result of an activist state Supreme Court nullifying the will of the people on this topic. Yet The Guardian places at the top of this story a quote that says:

“It’s a justice issue. When politicians try to take away the voice of the people, that’s an injustice. And we’re called on to do justice.”

Politicians have not taken away the voice of the people, judges have — supporters of the amendment have been saying. Could it be The Guardian’s reporter is so tone deaf or ignorant of the issues in this race that they misunderstood the significance of this quote?

Might not the liberal minister be altering one of the oppositions slogans to voice her own views? Should not The Guardian have asked? Should not it even have been aware of what was going on?

And, what sort of minister is the person to whom they have given so much space in their story? What church? What denomination? Is she a parish minister or a chaplain? What is the stance of her denomination on this issue? Is she a Christian minister or something else?

This story is a mess. An example of how not to report a contentious issue. It is unbalanced, incurious, strident and grossly unaware of the political, religious and cultural context of the story. It is a screed — and apart from the true believer, I doubt anyone will listen.

First printed at The Media Project.

Burn baby burn!: GetReligion, March 26, 2014 April 25, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
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Outrage is a tricky thing. The worldview a reporter brings to the coverage of a story, such as loathing or disgust, will color his account of the incident. For an American tabloid or British redtop we expect bias, sensationalism and outrage — faux or genuine.

But when should a reporter for a quality, mainstream newspaper seek out sources who can debate why an act is or is not evil?

A story dated March 24, 2014 in the Daily Telegraph entitled “Aborted babies incinerated to heat UK hospitals” prompts me to ask, “what’s all the fuss about?”

The lede states:

The bodies of thousands of aborted and miscarried babies were incinerated as clinical waste, with some even used to heat hospitals, an investigation has found. Ten NHS trusts have admitted burning foetal remains alongside other rubbish while two others used the bodies in ‘waste-to-energy’ plants which generate power for heat. Last night the Department of Health issued an instant ban on the practice which health minister Dr Dan Poulter branded ‘totally unacceptable.’

The article summarizes the findings of a Channel 4 documentary produced by Dispatches entitled Exposing Hospital Heartache set for broadcast on March 24, summarizing its findings, and offering commentary from government health ministers. In addition to the Health Minister’s comment that “this practice is totally unacceptable,” we learn the NHS medical director has written to all state hospitals ending the practice. The Chief Inspector of Hospitals is quoted as saying:

I am disappointed trusts may not be informing or consulting women and their families. This breaches our standard on respecting and involving people who use services and I’m keen for Dispatches to share their evidence with us.


The issue then, according to the Chief Inspector of Hospitals, is one of respect.

Abortion in the UK is legal. The fetuses burned by the hospitals are not human beings according to the laws of Parliament and all right thinking people. Should not the NHS be lauded for its pioneering efforts at recycling and reducing Britain’s “carbon footprint”?

The bad act under discussion according to the chief inspector of hospitals is not the incinerating of dead babies but the disrespect shown to NHS clients — offending the sentiments of the tissue donors — or parents.

The assumption that under girds this article is that something terrible has happened, but we cannot identity the horror. Naming the evil is forbidden (by political correctness, by an earnest belief in the moral goodness of abortion, by a rejection of Judeo-Christian morality) and in its place we have outrage over poor customer service.

Is a fetus a baby? Or is it a lump of tissue? The law in Britain and the U.S. tells us that it is a lump of tissue. In the moral universe that permits such thinking the recycling of biological waste should be celebrated. For those who follow a different path, the incineration of babies to heat hospitals is but the compounding of an evil — akin to the Nazis making lampshades from the skins of murdered Jews with interesting tattoos.

Which takes us back to my opening journalistic question: How should a newspaper report on evil when its audience is sharply divided over the definition of evil?

Does journalism matter?: Get Religion, April 29, 2013 April 30, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
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Does journalism matter? Not as much as it once did – if audience numbers or circulation rates are any guide.

The influence and authority of the nightly network news and the morning metropolitan daily is on the ebb. They like the sea of faith were once, too, at the full, round earth’s shore and lay like the folds of the bright girdle furled. But now I only hear its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, retreating, to the breath of the night wind, down the vast edges drear and naked shingles of the world — sorry, can’t help myself when I get that Arnoldian urge.

Perhaps journalism is going the way of poetry?  In 1992, Dana Gioia, (who would later become the chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts), wrote an essay entitled “Can Poetry Matter?”.   Unlike fiction­, poetry no longer mattered, and had become the specialized calling of a small and isolated group, he argued. Five years later, the novelist Jonathan Franzen made the same complaint about fiction, deploring the neglect of novels in favor of movies and the web. Journalism — as practiced by the New York Times, Guardian, Washington Post, the BBC and the American networks — suffers from the ills of poetry and fiction — domination by a priestly caste whose views are formed by a closed world shaped by secularist materialist political-left pieties and an increasingly outmoded publishing platform.

Host Todd Wilkin of the Issues, Etc. show of Lutheran Public Radio and I discussed these questions on 25 April 2013 in the context of my GetReligion articles “Gosnell fog blankets Britain” and “Master of my domain”. We began the show with an overview of the British press coverage (none to speak of save in the op-ed columns of the Telegraph and the Daily Mail, which has written more about this story than any non-Philadelphia paper.) I did give Todd an update on the Guardian, noting that on 19 April one of its loonier left Comment is Free contributors explained to the comrades of Islington:

Now the [Gosnell] trial is underway, and anti-abortion activists are insisting there’s been a cover-up by ideologues intent on averting honest discussion about the case in order to suit a cynical political agenda.

They’re right. But the ideologues doing the cover-up are on the “pro-life” side.

Yes, its those nasty pro-lifers who are responsible for the news blackout. Go figure.

Todd then moved to a discussion of Diane Winston’s Religion Dispatches article “The Myth of News Media as Secularist Conspiracy”. I observed her arguments were rather thin — blaming the reader for being stupid is never a convincing argument before we turned to the assertion that this was not a religion story.

The Gosnell story is not a religion story, it’s a crime story. People with religious convictions may read their passions into it, but Gosnell did not seem to be motivated one way or the other by a faith commitment. Yet cultural religionists imply that the absence of religious commitment in the nation’s newsrooms—and consequent acceptance of baby-killing, oops abortion, is among the reasons that the Gosnell story was overlooked.

The notion that the news media is a secularist cabal ignoring stories that challenge its shibboleths is wrongheaded.

No, there has not been some grand conspiracy to spike news stories about Kermit Gosnell. There’s been no need to issue instructions to the troops to toe the line and support abortion no matter the cost to the media’s credibility. But there is quite clearly a secularist cabal that ignores stories or issues that challenge its core beliefs.

Newsrooms are the most intellectually monochrome places in the United States — and I speak as one who studied at Duke and Yale, experiencing first hand the group think of the modern University. There was no need to form a conspiracy as just about all of the alleged conspirators were of one mind about this issue before the trial began.

While there are some ideologues and hacks amongst the press these days, many seek to be faithful to the truth as they see it and to do their job, to do the good. But what we see time and again in the mainstream media is the press’s failure to understand that it’s pursuit of what it thinks is the good can lead to bad through unintended consequences and unacknowledged motives.  The loss of a moral center, of a moral imagination has led the liberal press to become illiberal: single-minded, self-censoring and angry.

The avoidance of coverage of the infanticide, murder and depravity chronicled by testimony presented to the court in the Gosnell case is self-evidently a case of moral and intellectual failure. The press’s avoidance of this major story leads to the question of whether it matters any more. And it is hard to say that it does.

In the closing stanza of Dover Beach, Matthew Arnold wrote:

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

I cannot help but think that if Arnold were writing today, it would be the new church — the media elites — who would man his ignorant armies. Listen to the broadcast and tell me what you think.

First printed in GetReligion.

The Gosnell story and its lessons by Archbishop Charles Chaput: CatholicPhilly.com. April 26, 2013 April 28, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Interviews/Citations.
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Some stories, no matter how unsettling, just can’t be ignored — even when some people are determined to look away.

The murder trial of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell will soon go to jury. And like every other criminally accused person under the law, Gosnell is innocent until proven guilty. Whatever the verdict though, there’s no ambiguity about the kind of business he ran at his West Philadelphia “Women’s Medical Center” ­— an abortion clinic that critics have likened to a meatpacking plant or a butcher shop, with unborn children delivered into a toilet, and jars of fetal body parts stored around the facility.

Dr. Gosnell was originally charged with one count of infanticide and five counts of “abuse of corpse” for killing fetuses born alive by plunging scissors into their necks. Without explanation, the judge in the case accepted a motion to acquit Gosnell of these charges earlier this week. Gosnell still faces four counts of first-degree and one count of third-degree murder. Eight of his coworkers have already pleaded guilty in the case, including three to third-degree murder.

Or so said The New York Times in a report dated April 23. The date is important. Gosnell’s trial began March 18, more than a month ago. The Times coverage, while modest, is significant. Why? Because until shamed into doing it, most prestige national media seemed remarkably eager to ignore the story.

The continuing debate over legalized abortion is a hot-button national issue that drew half a million pro-life demonstrators to Washington in January. The battle over abortion restrictions continues in every state. Forty years after the Supreme Court’s Roe v Wade decision, resistance to permissive abortion remains high. And the vivid details of the Gosnell clinic tragedy have the kind of salacious appeal that few national media would normally avoid — if the issue were anything else. But abortion is too often, and in too many news rooms, exactly the kind of topic that brings on a sudden case of snow blindness.

The real story in the Gosnell trial is bigger than the ugly allegations against Gosnell himself; it includes the failure — the allergic disinterest — of some of our most important national media. A headline in The Atlantic magazine, April 12, states the obvious: “Why Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s Trial Should Be a Front-Page Story: The dead babies. The exploited women. The racism. The numerous governmental failures. It is thoroughly newsworthy.”

The Atlantic story by Conor Friedersdorf is worth reading. But don’t stop there.  Read this by Kirsten Powers, columnist for The Daily Beast, in USA Today. And these excellent analyses by journalists Terry Mattingly, Mollie Hemingway and George Conger.

The irony is that much of the media’s lethargy in covering the Gosnell case really doesn’t surprise. It’s part of the fabric of a culture that simply will not see what it doesn’t want to see about the realities of abortion. And it leads to the kind of implausible claim made recently by one local commentator that “no sense of guilt is warranted” by the media because “there is no causal connection between coverage of [the Gosnell] case and bias.” It’s hard to imagine a more untenable alibi.

The brutality in abortion is intimate, personal and permanent. It violates women, and it kills a developing human life every time — whether the venue is a “Women’s Medical Center”-style meat factory or a soothing suburban clinic. What makes the Gosnell story unique is that it should distress anyone with its details, pro-choice or pro-life, regardless of religion or politics.

But of course, people need to know about an evil before they can do anything about it.

Printed in CatholicPhilly.com

Master of my Domain: Get Religion, April 23, 2013 April 24, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Abortion/Euthanasia/Biotechnology, Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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… (T)he best persuaded of himself, so cramm’d, as he thinks, with excellencies that it is his grounds of faith that all that look on him love him.

Twelfth Night, 2.3.150-152 (1623)

The counterrevolution has begun.

The press is pushing back against its critics over the Kermit Gosnell affair. Stung by the criticisms and the hypocrisies detailed by Mollie Hemingway on this website, Kirsten Powers at USA Today and other outlets, some have begun reporting on the murder trial of the Philadelphia abortionist. Other outlets in their op-ed sections havedefended their non-coverage or sought to deflect criticisms – – the New York Times‘ Tiller editorial is classic sleight-of-hand, substituting one story for another. “Nothing here to see folks. Move along.”

A few have embarked upon the high road. Writing in Religion Dispatches Diane Winston argues in “The Myth of News Media as Secularist Conspiracy” there has never been a golden era when reporters

provided smart, in-depth, contextualized coverage of religious leaders, issues, ideas, and communities.

In support of this contention, the article offers historical examples purporting to show the press has always done a poor job — missing stories, printing pablum in place of news or voicing prejudice such as H.L. Menken’s critique of Fundamentalism in his account of the Scope’s “monkey” trial or the “anti-Hindu coverage that ran through Western newspapers in the 1910s and 1920s.” The crux of her argument is that the problem is not a lack of:

trained religion reporters, but rather Americans’ widespread ignorance about religion. Religion is absent from many high school curricula and university classrooms, and many of us barely know the religious history of our own country much less the role of religion worldwide.

But her argument then pivots, stating:

Yet, I’m not convinced that improving the American educational system is really at the heart of Cannon’s plaint about religion coverage and his subsequent post on Kermit Gosnell.

Making more Americans aware of religion and historical incidents like an anti-Hindu press — a history of which I was not aware — would not have mattered in the Gosnell story as:

The Gosnell story is not a religion story, it’s a crime story. People with religious convictions may read their passions into it, but Gosnell did not seem to be motivated one way or the other by a faith commitment. Yet cultural religionists imply that the absence of religious commitment in the nation’s newsrooms—and consequent acceptance of baby-killing, oops abortion, is among the reasons that the Gosnell story was overlooked.

The notion that the news media is a secularist cabal ignoring stories that challenge its shibboleths is wrongheaded.

I do not agree. There is just a hint of Coriolanus going before the plebs here. That large sections of the media believe an abortionist charged with multiple counts of murder is a crime story without significant religious or moral overtones speaks to the failings and biases of the press, not readers. (One need only look to the loss of market share and trust the mainstream media have experienced to know that all is not well — or the studies and monographs on the triumph of ideology over reporting in major American newspapers.)Nor does she show a logical connection between her observations about ignorance of the audience and the silence about Gosnell.

Criticisms voiced by GetReligion have nothing to do with the private conscience of reporters who write about religion but about their ignorance of the topics they are covering coupled with a self-satisfied, complacent, high opinion of their own importance and disdain for views that conflict with their own. Large sections of the American press are like Mr. Podsnap who “stood very high in Mr. Podsnap’s opinion,” — they see religion reporting through the lens of anthropology and institutions, not through the culture and belief of people.

And it is this failure of intelligence, relevance and imagination that lies behind the Gosnell fracas. The personal views of reporters are irrelevant — it is their professional competence at issue.

Let me offer an example of good religion journalism to illustrate my argument of ideology free competent reporting. In a front page story Warsaw’s Gazeta Wyborczalast week reported on a paper released by the Polish Bishops’ Conference (Konferencja Episkopatu Polski) objecting to in vitro fertilization, abortion, euthanasia, and contraception, arguing they were a threat to humanity.

In vitro fertilization should be “banned” because it:

begins with masturbation… All doubts in the field of human existence should be resolved in favor of life. We must also stand firmly against all kinds of action that are a threat to humans. Even the loftiest purpose does not justify actions that put human life in danger,” reads the document written by the Bishops’ Bioethics Expert Team

“A Christian must care about the truth. This is why he or she should uncover lies, one of which is the particularly harmful suggestion that in vitro fertilization is a treatment for infertility. It does not treat anything. Infertile people stay infertile. They entrust the production of children to strangers,” the bishops write.

According to the authors of the document, in vitro is the poorly-fulfilled desire of infertile couples, who wish to be parents. The church authorities believe that it gives permission “to sacrifice a few human beings” in order to have a child. This refers to the embryos that are destroyed during in vitro trials. “The sperm is obtained from a father through masturbation, the mother’s body is repeatedly manipulated, meaning that the child becomes a product,” the document reads.

These quotes are a gift. When reporters dream, unlike other men (and women), they dream dreams of bishops condemning masturbation. The possibilities for displaying smutty lowbrow humor are endless. Yet given this set up, the Gazeta Wyborcza plays it straight giving the bishops space to explain their views — to paraphrase my colleague TMatt, they allow people not just paper to speak.

Archbishop [Henryk] Hoser is the main author of the paper. Trained as a physician, he is one of the Episcopal Commission on Bioethics’ experts.  Yesterday he said: “The prenatal human is viewed more as a thing, not as a human being [by those who support IVF]. Many lives are lost in a procedure intended to produce a sole survivor. 

[The Church] opposes the creation of extra embryos produced to be frozen and considers this tantamount to killing them. “Most frozen and thawed embryos die in the process or are otherwise unable to continue healthy growth. Yet the embryo is a person and each embryo turns out to be a helpless member of the human family,whose dignity and rights are ruthlessly trampled.”

Against these comments Gazeta Wyborcza sets contradictory medical opinion.

“Not true. Medicine is moving forward. Maybe 20-25 years ago you could propound this thesis, but not today. … [If properly stored the rate of success of frozen embryos] in implantation in the uterus is the same, or even greater than in the case of embryos transferred without freezing,” argues Prof. Waldemar Kuczynski, Chairman of the Section of Fertility and Infertility of the Polish Gynecological Society and consultant to the government program … The bishops’ arguments are “biased and unfair”.

The article also points to what it believes to be an inconsistency in the bishops’ argument.

The hierarchy also criticized contraception and abortion … “Claiming the right to abortion is an expression of a highly unworthy conduct …”. Anti-abortion rhetoric is heard more often in the church, but in the 90s the bishops approved the so-called Compromise Law that allowed abortion in three cases: rape, danger to life or health of the mother, and severe irreversible damage to the fetus.

Why is this a good article? It is a straight forward summary of the report with comments from critics. First off, the article pulled quotes from the report that would excite its readers, while also providing quotes that placed the controversial statements in context. Both sides can hear their points of view expressed clearly, the article provides the key quotes from the report, places them in context and allows the church to explain why it said what it said. It also wrote this story with its audience — not against it. There is no mockery (that I could see) as it takes its audience’s faith seriously — it understands these are moral questions not merely “health news”.

But this is not a pro-church puff piece. The criticisms are given a full airing and the newspaper’s skepticism of the absolutist position on abortion is made clear by reference to the church’s tolerance for some abortions.

Ask yourself if you believe the New York Times would have printed this story? Which takes me back to the defense of the non-reporting on the Gosnell trial. Perhaps it is old news, a local crime story that would upset readers with the testimony of savagery and barbarity worthy of Auschwitz? Or then again could there be a “secularist cabal ignoring stories that challenge its shibboleths”?

Whatever you may decide, what the press has done (returning once more to Maria’s description of Malvolio in Twelfth Night) is that it has shown itself to be an “affection’d ass”.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

First printed in GetReligion.

Gosnell fog blankets Britain: Get Religion, April 19, 2013 April 19, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
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Last week my colleague at GetReligion Mollie Hemingway broke the American media blockade surrounding the Kermit Gosnell trial. Mollie, and Kirsten Powers writing in USA Today, reported on the absence of national press coverage of the trial of the Philadelphia abortionist — questioning why reporters who never tired of Sandra Flake or Komen Foundation stories shied away from this national news item.

Some members of the press and newspapers have sought to repair their damaged credibility and are now playing catch up, while others have retreated into the bunker (Nixonian allusions spring to mind but would likely be lost on the miscreants).

However, the British press appears not to have received the memo. As of the date of this post, the BBC has yet to air a story on the Gosnell affair (though it did run one web piece on 15 April after the Hemingway storm broke and the American media mea culpa.) ITV and Channel 4 have yet to report.

The newspapers have not raised the average. The Times ran one story on 13 April, but the Guardian and Independent have remained silent. The Telegraph does a little better — it had one news article dated 12 April entitled “Kermit Gosnell: US abortion doctor could be put to death over ‘baby charnel house’”. Op-Ed writers Damian Thompson and Tim Stanley weighed in on the Gosnell story as well as the media blackout. On 12 April Thompson wrote:

But British readers must know about the case of Dr Kermit Gosnell, which has been played down in the American media – possibly because the allegations of a homicidal abortion doctor don’t fit into their pro-choice narrative.

Well, Philadelphia is very far away after all. And a story about an abortionist on trial for infanticide in Philadelphia may not be interesting to the British newspaper reading public. American newspapers are notorious for their lack of in-depth overseas reporting due to the perception that  its readers don’t care about the outside world.

Perhaps the Daily Mail is an outlier — it has published 26 stories since 2011 on the Kermit Gosnell case — a number greater than all the news stories of the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, ABC, CBS, NBS, and CNN combined. It must be due to the large number of transplanted Philadelphians residing in Surrey.

The popular British blog Archbishop Cranmer explains the reticence stating:

This low-key response is almost certainly because Dr Gosnell’s case takes us to the question of what it means to be human and humane, and this is why it is so important. What he was doing crossed a fundamental line in law and morality between abortion and infanticide. Abortion prioritises the health of the mother. Dr Gosnell is accused of killing babies after the child was outside of the mother, at a time when the risks of childbirth were passed, though they were now entering the risk-laden world of Dr Gosnell’s post-operative care.

He sees a political explanation in all this. The same news outlets who pushed Barack Obama into the Oval Office are protecting their investment.

There is a political reason behind the silence amongst a media that subjected President Obama to as little scrutiny as Dr Gosnell. There have been efforts to legislate for doctors to be required to provide full medical treatment to babies who survive abortion procedures. Three times the President has voted against it, imperiously ignoring the possibility that men like Dr Gosnell exist. The US Federal Government provides 45% of the $1billion budget of Planned Parenthood, the US major abortion provider.

They, like the President, are very equivocal about this issue of infanticide as this video demonstrates. The lady struggling to answer the clear and direct questions is Alisa Lapolt Snow, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood giving evidence to a committee of Florida legislators. Dr Gosnell’s trial puts the inconvenient truth of abortion and infanticide plainly into the public domain. It puts the brutal bloody facts to the sanitised language and could prove to be the tipping point in the public debate as ordinary people see for the first time how far the pro-abortion lobby are prepared to go in defending their industry.

There is a reason we talk about the ‘slippery slope’.

Why are so few people in the media, American or British, asking these questions?

First printed in Get Religion.

Abortion blindness in the New York Times: Get Religion, April 13, 2013. April 13, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
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Three cheers for my Get Religion colleague Mollie Hemingway! She has done a fantastic job this week pointing out the professional failures of the national press coverage of the Kermit Gosnell trial in Philadelphia. The self-censorship of the New York Times on this issue is of Walter Duranty-like proportions.

But the Gosnell case is not an isolated incident when it comes to questionable abortion reporting — they have form. There is a blindness in the Times coverage of abortion — they see only what they want to see. Or, there is a sleight of hand at work here — like the three card monte dealer they promise you a fair game as the cards pass before your eyes — but the hand always comes out in favor of the dealer — and in this game the rightness of abortion always comes up aces.

Take the Irish abortion controversy that dominated the media for a few weeks after the election. Last November/December the Times ran six stories on the death of Savita Halappanavar.  The lede of its first report set the tone of its subsequent coverage:

The death of a woman who was reportedly denied a potentially lifesaving abortion even while she was having a miscarriage has revived debate over Ireland’s almost total ban on abortions.

The stories that followed focused on Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws — and upon claims that an abortion was not performed when the life of the mother was in danger because of Ireland’s Catholic culture.

Dr. Halappanavar contracted a bacterial blood infection, septicemia, and died Oct. 28, a week after she was admitted to Galway University Hospital with severe back pains. She was 17 weeks pregnant but having a miscarriage and was told that the fetus — a girl — would not survive. Her husband said she asked several times for an abortion but was informed that under Irish law it would be illegal while there was a fetal heartbeat, because “this is a Catholic country.”

The coroners inquest this past week in Ireland has seen blow by blow reports in the Irish and British press — with some papers publishing updates after each session. The Times returned to the story on 11 April 2013 with an article that backed the editorial line taken last year.

A woman who died after being refused a potentially lifesaving abortion even while she was having a miscarriage was told that her repeated pleas could not be granted because Ireland is a Catholic country, an inquest has confirmed. In a case that has reignited tensions over Ireland’s strict abortion laws, Ann Maria Burke, the midwife who attended to the pregnant woman, said at the inquest in Galway on Wednesday that the remark “had come out the wrong way” and that she had not meant it to be hurtful.

The Times reported:

Dr. Halappanavar’s husband, Praveen, has said the couple were told that the country’s Catholicism was the reason for the refusal to terminate the pregnancy, even though his wife was in severe pain and they had been informed that the fetus had no chance of survival. In Ireland, abortion is legal when there is a fetal heartbeat only if there is “real and substantial risk” to the life of the woman. Dr. Halappanavar, 31, was 17 weeks pregnant when she sought treatment at University Hospital Galway on Oct. 21, complaining of severe back pain. Dr. Katherine Astbury, a senior obstetrician who had attended to Dr. Halappanavar, said at the inquest that although the fetus’s prognosis was poor, she had refused to conduct a termination until the fetus’s heartbeat had ceased. “I recall informing Ms. Halappanavar that the legal position did not permit me to terminate the pregnancy in her case at that time,” Dr. Astbury said, referring to a conversation they had on Oct. 23. She also recalled telling Dr. Halappanavar, who she said was physically well at that point but emotionally distressed, that her only option was to “sit and wait” for as long as the heartbeat persisted.

The article then noted that mistakes were made:

The inquest has also heard testimony that several hospital protocols were not followed, amounting to system failures that contributed to Dr. Halappanavar’s death. Dr. Astbury said she might have intervened sooner had she been made aware of the results of earlier blood tests. Instead, she relied on clinical signs, none of which pointed to sepsis.

The article starts with the “you can’t have an abortion because we’re Catholic in Ireland” and then builds upon this theme with the doctor’s testimony about the country’s “Catholic” abortion laws. The question of medical error is mentioned in passing though. Compare this account to that reported by the Irish Independent of same proceedings.

THE DOCTOR at the heart of the Savita Halappanavar case admitted she had not read “significant” medical notes on the chart that would have resulted in her performing an earlier termination. She also accepted that there were a number of “system failures” in Ms Halappanavar’s care.

Dr Katherine Astbury said she had not seen a notation on the 31-year-old’s charts that would indicate a deterioration in her condition. She also conceded that she had not seen Ms Halappanavar’s blood results, which had changed and could have been indicative of severe sepsis. The consultant obstetrician told the inquest that had she been aware of these details she would have brought forward plans for a termination to the Wednesday morning. Dr Astbury had earlier told the inquest that she had been unable to accede to Ms Halappanavar’s requests for a termination on the Tuesday because her health was not in any danger and she feared it could become a legal issue.

In other words the doctor made a mistake.

The Irish Independent reported the doctor as having said she was guided by the legal requirement that there be a threat to the life of the mother before performing the abortion.

The court heard that Dr Ikechukwu Uzockwu, known as Dr Ike, had noted a deterioration in Ms Halappanavar’s condition at 6.30am on the morning of Wednesday, October 24. He made notes of a “foul-smelling discharge” on her chart along with details of a raised pulse and temperature. However, despite receiving this chart, Dr Astbury told the inquest she had not read it. The inquest also heard from Dr Anne Helps, a registrar attached to Dr Astbury, that she may not have passed on significant information on the deterioration of Ms Halappanavar to the consultant.

Dr Helps recalled her colleague, Dr Ike, passing on details to her as they switched rounds on Wednesday. She recalled him telling her of a spike in temperature and that Ms Halappanavar felt unwell but said she could not recall receiving any further details from him. Details of the discharge were included in Dr Ike’s notes, which were also handed over, but Dr Helps said: “I can’t remember reading those notes.” Dr Helps also admitted it was possible she had not mentioned the discharge while reading the notes to Dr Astbury.

Dr Astbury said she would have taken steps to begin a medical termination earlier had she been aware of the issue. She accepted the discharge was a “very significant” finding. “Obviously it should have been communicated,” she said. When it was pointed out that it had been written down on the chart she added, “I should have been aware of it, yes”. Dr Astbury confirmed it was her intention to induce the pregnancy on the Wednesday after forming the opinion that there was a “real and substantial” risk to Ms Halappanavar’s life, but said she would have begun this earlier had she been aware of the discharge.

Yes, the midwife did tell the coroner’s court she was sorry for having made the Catholic remark the Irish Independent stated. The Times was not wrong in having reported this. But in choosing to play up the thoughtless remark and bury the testimony about malpractice, the Times laid itself open to the charge of journalistic malpractice.

What were they thinking at the Gray Lady? The testimony presented makes it quite clear the Catholic comment by one of the midwives played no part in Savita Halappanavar’s care or her death, yet the “Catholic bad” / “abortion good” theme is still being played. I cannot tell if the editors are knaves or fools when it comes to abortion reporting — but what they are not is fair, balanced, accurate or thoughtful.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

First printed in Get Religion.

Church of Ireland rejects abortion on demand: The Church of England Newspaper, January 27, 2013, p 3. January 28, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Ireland.
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The Church of Ireland opposes abortion on demand, but believes exceptions based upon “undeniable medical necessity” should be permitted under law.

Last week the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Michael Jackson and Mr. Samuel Harper, Secretary of the Irish General Synod, testified before the Joint Committee on Health and Children of the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament) as part of three days of public hearings on the implementation of the Government decision following the publication of the Expert Group Report into matters relating to A, B & C v. Ireland.

The case of A, B & C v. Ireland before the European Court of Human Rights ECHR 2032 (2010) held there was no right for a women to have an abortion, although it held Ireland had violated the European Convention on Human Rights by failing to provide an accessible and effective procedure by which a woman can have established whether she qualified for a legal abortion under current Irish law.

In their prepared statement to the committee, the Church of Ireland leaders said they welcomed the government’s desire “to bring clarity” to the issue.

“This is a matter of almost indescribable complexity – both human and medical. We fully recognize that any decision which, in respect of a woman’s health, results in a termination is a terribly weighty one,” they said.

The Church of Ireland “stands with the notion of ‘real and substantial risk’ to the life of the mother in making decisions on terminations of pregnancies. Our statement flows from the Report of the Lambeth Conference 1958 which uses the similar phrase: ‘strict and undeniable medical necessity,’ as follows: ‘In the strongest terms, Christians reject the practice of induced abortion or infanticide, which involves the killing of a life already conceived (as well as a violation of the personality of the mother) save at the dictate of strict and undeniable medical necessity’.”

Following the hearing, Archbishop Jackson and Mr Harper said the “Church of Ireland opposes abortion but recognises that there are exceptional cases of strict and undeniable medical necessity. We believe the proposal to legislate and regulate in the area of abortion is overdue and welcome.

There was a variety of opinion within the Church of Ireland on what constituted “exceptional cases” they said, “but agreement that it includes circumstances where the continuation of the pregnancy poses a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother.”

However, they stated the Church of Ireland “emphasises the right to life and this includes the equal right to life of the mother and of the unborn child.”

Abortion flap divides Zambian diocese: The Church of England Newspaper, January 20, 2013 p 7. January 24, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of the Province of Central Africa.
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The clergy and cathedral chapter of the Cathedral of the Holy Nativity in Ndola, have locked out Bishop Derek Kamukwamba of Central Zambia, accusing their bishop of misconduct.

Shortly before Christmas, the bishop found the door to his office at the Cathedral locked.  He was handed a copy of a letter written by the chapter to Archbishop Albert Chama of Central Africa calling for his resignation.  The letter accused the bishop of having unlawfully ordained his nephew to the diaconate over the objections of the congregation who had reservations about his fitness.

They accused the nephew, the Rev. Stubbs Kamukwamba, of having got with child an underage member of the cathedral youth group and then helping the mother procure an abortion. The objections were brought to Bishop Kamukwamba, but were ignored the chapter said.

The bishop has declined to comment on the allegations as the charges are under review by the province.

Guardian ends the debate on abortion: Get Religion, October 7, 2012 October 8, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
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There are no valid pro-life arguments. All right thinking people have seen the light, the Guardian reports, with support for legal limitations on abortion  limited to the slack jawed troglodytes of the political right, Conservative Party MPs (possibly the same thing) and religious loonies.

I may have overstated things somewhat, but that is what I have taken away from this story entitled “Jeremy Hunt backs 12-week legal limit on abortion.” Not the most striking of headlines, I admit, but here is the lede — trust me, it is worth diving in to this story as it is an object lesson in the difference between news reporting and advocacy journalism.

The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has said that he backs halving the legal time limit for women to have abortions, from 24 weeks to 12.

The intervention by Hunt reignited hostilities over one of the most polarising issues in politics on the eve of the Conservative party conference.

Coming just days after Maria Miller, the women’s minister, backed calls for a reduction in the legal limit for abortions, Hunt’s comments deepened fears among pro-choice campaigners that abortion laws are set to come under renewed assault.

Where do you thing this story is headed? A sober analysis of the state of the abortion debate in Britain, or rubbishing Jeremy Hunt for his views on abortion and for causing political mischief for the Conservative Party — why that would worry the Guardian is beyond me, but there it is. After this rather loaded introduction, the article offers some rather thin comments from the minister in support of his decision.

“I’m not someone who thinks that abortion should be made illegal. Everyone looks at the evidence and comes to a view about when that moment is and my own view is that 12 weeks is the right point for it.”

And this is followed by comments from the Labour Party’s shadow health minister. She calls the comments “shocking and alarming” and “another assault on women’s reproductive rights.” The opposition hammers Hunt for plucking 12 weeks “out of thin air” and not basing his decision on “medical evidence” — and true to form, we get an anti-American crack.

Let me say I do not find the shadow minister’s comments problematic. They are strong comments that candidly express the shadow minister for health’s views. What concerns me is that the Guardian gives her four paragraphs to critique the minister’s two paragraph opening quote.

The article then moves on to an independent medical voice, who perversely claims the minister’s remarks will lead to more abortion. The story line then returns to the minister, who is asked whether he was now, or had ever been a member of the Communist Party Christian.

“I don’t think the reason I have that view is for religious reasons. There are some issues that cut across health and morality, a bit like capital punishment does for crime. There are all sorts of arguments in favour and against in terms of deterrence and justice, but also there is a fundamental moral issue that sits behind it. I think abortion is one of those issues.”

The Guardian tosses in a a few unsourced opinions.

Political commentators have questioned the wisdom of sparking a political row over such an emotive issue as the party heads into its conference.

And the article closes with a knife in Hunt’s back from Prime Minister David Cameron’s office.

A spokesman for No 10 said that the prime minister did not share Hunt’s view about a cut to 12 weeks. Cameron said during the last general election campaign that he would support a reduction to 20 or 22 weeks.

David Cameron does seem set on giving Edward Heath a run for the money as winner of the worst Conservative PM contest. But GetReligion reader, do you notice anything missing?

Might there be someone to speak to this issue other than a marginal Conservative MP whose endorsement does not help but hurts Hunt.  Where is the smartest man in England, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams? Dr. Williams’ views on the economy, foreign policy and other non-church topics are often solicited by the Guardian but we hear nothing from Labour’s favorite archbishop on an issue dear to his wooly heart. Where is the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols or any other Catholic, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Jewish, Humanist or, heaven help us, conservative Christian voice speaking on this issue?

Is the science truly silent on this point? Was no one available from any of the government’s scientific quangos that have been studying embryology, medical ethics, or reproductive health care issues? Maybe a word from someone from the Christian Medical Fellowship — a coalition of Christian physicians in the U.K.? Might they have a view on the 12 vs 24 week mark?

It may be a sign of my age, but a line from a Monty Python record “Matching Tie and Handkerchief” ran through my mind as I read this story.

Man: I think all right thinking people in this country are sick and tired of being told that ordinary, decent people are fed up in this country with being sick and tired.

All: Yes, yes…

Man: I’m certainly not! And I’m sick and tired of being told that I am.

Interviewer: Mrs. Havoc-Jones?

Mrs. Havoc-Jones: Well, I meet a lot of people and I’m convinced that the vast majority of wrong thinking people are right.

Interviewer: There seems like a consensus there. Could we have the next question, please?

There is an absurdist quality to this article. The Guardian does not believe it is important to give both sides of an argument, or it believes there is no credible opposition to the view that abortion is a non-negotiable right. This is advocacy journalism or it is arrogance. It may be seeking to endorse a particular political outcome and has marshaled some facts and omitted others in support of its argument. Or, it truly believes that there are no credible arguments against abortion and only draws upon the fringe for comments.

My sense is that this story is a mixture of arrogance, disdain and advocacy. The Guardian has chosen a side in the culture wars, but in doing so, it has dropped any pretext that it is engaging in journalism in its reporting on this issue.

First printed in GetReligion.