Atrocities and the Media

If you're wondering about the lack of posts recently: for the last 2½ weeks I've been travelling on a research trip to Boston and Canada (to Waterloo, Montreal, and Vancouver).  The sashimi in Vancouver is out of this world, by the way.

Mostly I've been cramming my head with physics, but I did spare some time to read reports about the horrible news regarding the Boston marathon bombing, which killed 3 spectators and injured many more.  This was after I had already left, so don't press me for eyewitness accounts of traumatized civilians.

I also read the news regarding the lack of news covering Kermit Gosnell's "abortion" "clinic", in which poorly trained and unlicensed "doctors" murdered hundreds of babies (i.e. viable infants outside of their mothers) and allowed women to die due to malpractice and unsanitary conditions, which the Pennsylvania government received complaints about for decades but failed to stop. This, apparently, is not news so far as the mainstream national media is concerned, but due to the untiring efforts of St. Mollie at GetReligion, at least the media's failure to cover it is now news.

Apparently the journalists are worried that anti-abortion* activists will make hay out of this story, and so therefore advocacy of "women's rights" must, paradoxically, include suppressing stories in which—even from the pro-abortion* viewpoint—the rights of women to safe health care were most certainly violated.

One has to tread cautiously when making accusations of media bias, since it's so easy to be biased oneself in making those accusations.  As a moderate Republican who lives and works among academics in California, I would normally feel rather embarrassed to complain about this, since people would look at me as though I were one of those conservatives, who thinks that Fox News is a straight news source but everyone else is commie pinkos.

(Even though my political opinions are not the same as those around me, I worry sometimes about whether they have been influenced by the desire to look reasonable to other people when I explain them.  Compared to the historical range of opinion, any given time in America there is only a narrow range of acceptable opinions, and this range is even narrower in academia.  There's much less incredulity when my position is some sort of libertarianish compromise...)

Nevertheless, the fact that Fox News is tilted to the right doesn't change the fact that the mainstream newsmedia is clearly left-leaning on certain particular cultural issues, as I think GetReligion has abundantly demonstrated.  I think the media tries to be fair when covering presidential election politics, but it wears its opinions on its sleeve when covering hotbutton social issues.

One also has to be careful in defining what one means by bias.  There is nothing inherently wrong with: 1) media reporting issues which are more likely to be of interest to their constituents (e.g. spending more time on one party's primary election), or 2) straight-up advocacy or editorializing for ones preferred position.

These should be distinguished from 1') concealing relevant facts which ought to be of interest in order to give a partisan slant on reality, and 2') advocacy pieces which pretend to be straight news coverage, but are not.

In this case the news media has been caught out in a clear example of (1').  The sooner they correct their mistake, the quicker they can get to a world where conservative complaints of media bias really are crankish.

In the meantime, let us pray for those who died in these atrocities, for their families and friends, and for the twisted souls of the those who murdered them—that they would receive their rightful justice, and that God would grant them repentance, "so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit" (1 Peter 4:6).

(*) Footnote: I refuse to use the terms pro-life and pro-choice on this blog, since I regard both of them as mealy-mouthed euphemisms.  There was once a time when real men and women were willing to state their opinions plainly, even if it meant they had to be "anti-" something, or actually mention the name of the thing they are supporting/opposing.  (I can respect the term "pro-life" when it is used as a catch-all term for "anti-abortion, anti-euthanasia, and anti-death-penalty", since in this case an abstraction is useful.  Although I do support the death penalty myself.)

The term "pro-choice" is even more Orwellian, since it completely sweeps under the rug the nature of the choice being made, using a term so vague that it could just as well apply to e.g. school vouchers.  Every decision to do anything can be characterized as a choice;  the term avoids grappling with the fact that this choice involves killing one's own flesh and blood.  The usual argument against the term "pro-abortion" is that the proponents do not advocate that all women terminate their pregnancies.  But that's silly, because almost nobody wants that.  Imagine if people who supported the death penalty refused the label because "we don't believe that everyone should be executed, so we prefer the term "pro-justice".  Clarity is sacrificed in order to gain cheap points.

About Aron Wall

I am a Lecturer in Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge. Before that, I read Great Books at St. John's College (Santa Fe), got my physics Ph.D. from U Maryland, and did my postdocs at UC Santa Barbara, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and Stanford. The views expressed on this blog are my own, and should not be attributed to any of these fine institutions.
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4 Responses to Atrocities and the Media

  1. lavalamp says:

    Agree pro-choice and pro-life are both inaccurate; however they're still useful as labels because everybody knows what they mean.

    I personally would use the terms "those who think abortion is murder" and "those who don't think abortion is murder" because this is the true distinction, and people forget that. (Including you; in the post above you treat abortion=murder as a fact about reality and not a fact about you. This begs the question.) However, these don't exactly roll off the tongue.

    The usual argument against the term "pro-abortion" is that the proponents do not advocate that all women terminate their pregnancies. But that's silly, because almost nobody wants that.

    That's a terrible argument against the term. Can you cite someone with an IQ higher than a brick making this exact argument seriously? :)

    I would argue "pro-abortion" is inaccurate on the grounds that those wanting abortions to be legal consider them necessary evils, not positive goods, and would actually like to reduce their necessity. "Abortion is sometimes the least bad alternative" is not catchy.

  2. Aron Wall says:

    The fact that abortion is murder (and that murder is wrong) IS a fact about reality, not about me. Remember, I believe that ethics is just as objective as physics.

    But, I did not make any such controversial claim in my post above. I called Dr. Gosnell a "murderer" because he committed infanticide of viable babies who had already been delivered. That's not an abortion---legally and factually it's murder of a newborn. Why certain people think there's a morally relevant distinction between viable babies inside and outside the mother is beyond me, though.

    I don't know whether you're trying to suggest that my interlocutors have IQ's lower than a brick, or that they are imaginary. Either way, you're wrong. :-)

    While many ordinary people are conflicted about abortion, I'll believe that the pro-abortion activists are all about "choice" as soon as they stop being offended when people outside of abortion clinics advocate for making a different choice than the one they are advocating for. If the "pro-choice" movement really wants abortion to be "safe, legal, and rare", perhaps they could come up with some actual policy proposals to encourage the 1st and 3rd desirata?

    I'm pretty sure that people who are pro-death-penalty also want to decrease the number of situations in which do things deserving of death---it doesn't stop them from being "pro-death-penalty" in those cases.

  3. Aron Wall says:

    Also, I think it is possible to believe that an early abortion is immoral without necessarily believing that it is morally equivalent to murdering a baby or adult.

  4. Darryl says:

    Aron, (and other commenters, too!) I wonder if I might probe your notions on the death penalty. Given that in the US alone at least 120 (a fairly conservative estimate depending on which sources one consults) persons on death row have been exonorated by DNA evidence, what are your thoughts on this quote I came across the other day: "So, as long as the death penalty is in place, you are pretty much guaranteed to occasionally execute an innocent person."

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