It makes sense that a healthy media system, one with widespread informed public participation, would be essential to a flourishing democracy. Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism states that the “central purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with accurate and reliable information they need to function in a free society” and identified nine core principles. Among the nine principles is the obligation of loyalty to the public and the obligation to truth, both principles which seem suspect in most of mainstream journalism. Problems with loyalty to the public and variations of truths are part of our current media system and that’s not healthy. As media scholar Robert McChesney claims, our current media system is set up to maximize profit for a relative handful of large companies and not to maximize public participation. Moreover, rather than act as watchdogs, the current media system operates more like lap dogs who act primarily as megaphones of government, military and corporations. The implications of the erosion of mainstream news reporting for women’s reproductive health means that stories are told but are not interpreted, investigated or contextualized.
For example, the Republican Party platform embraces anti-abortion language with no mention of exceptions for rape or incest. Stories about their platform on abortion have been dutifully reported in the NY Times and Washington Post. Meaningful journalism would go further by illustrating how a substantial number of Republicans, working from this ideological party platform, have become overtly aggressive in their efforts to restrict access to abortion. Calling these restrictions a seismic shift, the Guttmacher Institute claims that states have become increasingly hostile to abortion rights, especially during 2011. This seismic shift in the loss of abortion rights has been and continues to be addressed and contextualized in alternate media sources such as RH Reality Check, Moyers & Company and Democracy Now while mainstream media reports stories about individual state legislation without mapping out the larger picture. What this means for the public, particularly women of reproductive age, is that they are without accurate, comprehensive and reliable information about legislative actions in their state and, thus, are unable to fully participate as first class citizens. This may seem a bit of an overstatement but consider further evidence from polls that point to general approval for legalized abortion, from GOP survey findings that complain about attacks on abortion and from the rise of the Christian right–all issues that are essentially silenced in mainstream news.
Polls Favoring Abortion
abortion, yet the Republicans legislators act according to their own party wishes, disregarding the voices of those they represent. Discrete stories about support for abortion in most circumstances appear in mainstream news sources. What is missing, I argue, are stories that illustrate the complexities of abortion rather than painting it as a black and white issue.
Young People frown on GOP’s Abortion Attacks
Another bit of evidence comes from the College Republican National Committee survey of young people. Among the findings is the call for Republicans to become more tolerant and open on women’s reproductive health particularly around the definition of rape, funding for Planned Parenthood, abortion access and even contraception. The GOP’s response concerning reproductive issues was to claim victimhood by responding that they had been “painted — both by Democrats and by unhelpful voices in our own ranks — in holding the most extreme anti-abortion positions.” Forget the fact, that no one forced Republicans to attack contraception or redefine rape or cut funding to Planned Parenthood. Essentially, they opined that they needed to avoid allowing the abortion debate to be “conflated” (as if this was something done to Republicans instead of something they openly and oftentimes eagerly do to themselves) with debates over contraception, rape and Planned Parenthood but not change its stance on the issue of abortion itself. Again, mainstream media picked up the story about the findings in the survey but took it no further. It was other sources, such as Salon, Politico, RH Reality and Huffington Post, that connected the dots for those who follow alternate news sources.
The Rise of the Christian Right within the GOP
In yet another news oversight is the rise of Christian right as a powerful voice within the Republican Party and the Party’s further shift to the right in legislating morality and legitimating its ideological myths about America. Under the influence of conservative Christians, Republicans have sought to defend a traditional concept of family through debates that opposed abortion, feminism, stem cell research and gay rights. Religion is at the heart of these debates which blurs the boundaries between separation of church and state. And, according to evangelical radio broadcasters, this boundary blurring seems to be exactly what is desired as they march toward the front line of the culture wars fighting against their perceptions of judicial tyranny that legalized abortion and outlawed school prayer.
In 1995, amidst the tumultuous events of far-right militia actions against the perceived corrupt and tyrannical federal government and the anti-abortion activists’ destruction and murders against clinics and doctors, Laura Flanders, writing for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), astutely asked, “When will media see the connection?” Citing expert testimony that far-right militias and anti abortion activists were one and the same, as well as citing the 1994 Supreme Court’s agreement with pro-choice groups that anti-abortionists could legitimately be investigated for conspiracy, she argued that “the national media’s gentle handling of the anti-abortion story has amounted to a quasi-conspiracy itself” by turning a blind eye to the connections. In 2013, I would repeat Guttmacher that there has been a seismic shift away from abortion rights. The obvious lack of investigations about the actions of the far-right legislators (militia) documented attacks against a woman’s right to access abortion and other reproductive health care is more than turning a blind eye. The lack of better reporting is indicative of what Pew cites as the continued erosion of news reporting due to financial cutbacks, increased use of advertising dollars spent on digital technology, and a shift toward digital news consumption. The good news for reproductive rights is that majority of Americans have increased their news consumption after hearing about an event or issue from friends and family. Social networking is now a part of this process including sources such as Abortion.ws, RH Reality, Moyers & Company and others to provide in-depth news about reproductive health care issues.
So it seems that while mainstream news sources such as the NY Times and the Washington Post continue to report on discrete reproductive health issues, it will be up to us to connect the dots for ourselves, to act as cartographers to map the abortion landscape, and to share our work with our readers, particularly in the coming elections where we should seize opportunities to speak publicly about supporting the rights of women through political donations, petition signatures and plenty of Facebook and blog postings.