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Only Liberals Have Agendas

The MRC proved that Fox News Channel followed an agenda with its abortion coverage -- it just won't call it that.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 10/31/2003

There is no such thing as conservative bias in the eyes of the Media Research Center, despite the fact that logic dictates that if the liberal bias that MRC employees seem to find lurking everywhere really does exist, there must be conservative bias as well.

This large blind spot on the MRC's part resurfaced again in its criticism in an Oct. 22 CyberAlert of network TV coverage on the recent vote by Congress to outlaw a type of abortion, where -- you guessed it -- all sorts of liberal bias was found but not a hair of conservative bias.

Actually, conservative bias was found, but the MRC's Brent Baker did everything but call it that.

First of all, there is the name of the procedure being outlawed, which conservatives call "partial-birth abortion" -- a non-medical term which was, as one federal judge described it, "coined by legislators, anti-abortion activists and the media." (As one obstetrician-gynecologist put it: "There's no such thing in the medical textbooks, it's purely a political term.") Still, Baker was put out that "network anchors and reporters resisted using the term 'partial-birth abortion' and that ABC's Peter Jennings and CBS' Dan Rather "outright refused to utter the words."

Under a heading called "Agenda," Baker also complains that "The broadcast networks saw the vote as a threat (to) 'abortion rights' and a 'restriction' on women, not as a victory for the rights of the unborn or for the expansion of protections for human life." He later notes that "CBS and NBC failed to describe or show what a partial-birth abortion is, while ABC offered a vague description."

Overall, Baker wrote, "The broadcast networks on Tuesday night, especially ABC and CBS, framed the Senate vote against partial-birth abortion around the agenda and terminology of abortion proponents."

Contrast that with how Baker described Fox News Channel's coverage of the vote:

FNC’s Brit Hume and Major Garrett, on Special Report with Brit Hume, appeared to be in a parallel universe from their broadcast network colleagues. They readily uttered the term “partial-birth abortion,” avoided the “abortion rights” phrase as they preferred to describe those against the Senate vote as “opponents,” and Garrett provided both a detailed description of the procedure and showed drawings of it. ... Garrett concluded by using a term rarely heard on TV, “pro-abortion groups,” as he noted how “pro-abortion groups promise to challenge the federal ban at the Supreme Court.”

That description did not have an "Agenda" heading on it, but one that read "The FNC Difference."

Okay, let's reiterate. Baker notes the following characteristics of network news coverage as evidence of following an agenda:

  • Avoiding the use of the term "partial birth abortion"
  • Usage of the term "abortion rights" to describe opponents of the bill
  • Refusal to describe the procedure in graphic detail

Meanwhile, baker notes that Fox News did the following without being accused of following an agenda:

  • Usage of the term "partial-birth abortion"
  • Usage of the term "pro-abortion" to describe opponents of the bill
  • A description of the procedure in graphic detail

Let's ask the dumb question: If you're doing the opposite of what has been described as an "agenda," isn't that an "agenda," too?

Of course it is. MRC simply refuses to acknowledge that the thesis that underlies the work it devotes millions of dollars in donations to -- liberal media bias is bad -- can be logically extended to say that conservative media bias is bad, too. Even though Baker clearly demonstrated that Fox News followed an agenda, he will not call it that because that's not what he's being paid to do.

Biased? Sure. MRC doesn't claim not to be. The MRC does, however, claim to be a "research and education foundation." Refusal to acknowledge that simple logical leap in its underlying thesis shows the MRC to be either spectacularly stupid or intellectually dishonest. After all, collecting evidence that supports only the message you want to spread isn't exactly research.

The MRC's Tim Graham and Rich Noyes continue their employer's obliviousness to this point in an Oct. 27 "Media Reality Check" that calls the procedure an "Outlawed Horror-Movie Procedure" in the headline and complains that "Including this week’s debate, Big Three reporters have only described the procedure three times in the last five years," asserting what they call "the people’s right to know about partial-birth abortion."

"They’re not discussing the grisly fate the unborn face," Noyes and Graham write. But as was previously noted, if refusal to describe the procedure is promotion of an agenda, then continually describing it (as they do even in this article) is promotion of an agenda. And whining that "journalists frame the abortion issue around the left's sensitivities" (complete with citing "a 1995 survey of elite journalists (that) found 97 percent describe themselves as 'pro-choice,' and 84 percent said they held this view strongly") obscures the fact that Noyes and Graham aren't interested in balance but want the debate to be framed about the right's sensitivities.

Since the MRC is loathe to publicly admit that it has no interest in genuine journalistic balance, we would all do well to remember that the MRC is really a little more than a partisan advocacy organization and take its pronouncements accordingly.

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