Media coverage of abortion debates in the major parties
By Tim Graham, Steve Kaminski, and Clay Waters, Media Research Council
Reporters do occasionally acknowledge a pro-abortion bias. In a March 2, 1996 appearance on the CNBC program Cal Thomas, Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz responded to a question about bias: "I think the larger problem is not so much what I would call ideological bias -- the notion that somehow reporters are trying to get more Democrats elected to office...I think there is, however, a problem with what I call cultural bias on these subjects that you mentioned -- religion, abortion, homosexuality. I think a lot of it is unconscious, but I think on those kinds of subjects, most reporters are probably to the left of the American public and probably don't realize that they're not always giving a full weight of views of people who have very different takes on these matters."
But the Media Research Center's studies of abortion and the political parties suggest that by favoring abortion-rights advocates in both parties, reporters may be assisting the Democrats by creating the image of a damaging rift in the Republican Party, while the efforts of pro-life Democrats to diversify their party's stance are mostly ignored.
In prime-time network coverage of the 1996 party conventions, anchors and reporters brought up the Republican abortion platform controversy on 55 occasions -- but not once did they address the abortion platform debate of the Democrats in prime time.
For example, in the three months before the 1996 party conventions, the Big Three television networks offered 60 morning and evening news stories on the struggle over abortion language in the Republican platform, but only one (on ABC's World News Tonight) on the efforts of pro-life Democrats. In the same study period, CNN's Inside Politics, the mid-afternoon program for political junkies, offered the same imbalance in microcosm, offering 38 segments on the GOP struggle over abortion platform language compared to just two on the Democrats.
That bias continued once the conventions began. During the four Sunday morning interview programs on August 11, 1996, the Sunday before the Republican convention, the networks asked 27 questions about the possible exclusion of pro-abortion Republican speakers from the convention podium. In San Diego, reporters brought up the abortion controversy or Republican "rigidity" on abortion on 55 occasions during live coverage in prime time. In Chicago, despite a Democratic platform hardened to include support for partial-birth abortions, the presence of pro-life speaker Rep. Tony Hall and the second straight exclusion of pro-life speaker Gov. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, the networks never mentioned Democratic abortion controversies in prime time.
Pro-life Democrats were almost totally invisible in network coverage. In a year of network abortion stories from mid-1994 to mid-1995, not one pro-life Democrat was featured as a talking head in an abortion story.
In an earlier MRC study of network coverage from July 1, 1994 to June 30, 1995, analysts found that despite the fact that not a single pro-life incumbent lost in the 1994 elections, on 48 occasions, TV network reporters predicted that pro-life advocacy would hurt the Republicans politically. Only one story -- on the victory of Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating -- noted it as a positive factor. Nine stories did suggest that a pro-abortion position would cost Pete Wilson or Arlen Specter in running for the Republican presidential nomination. But three stories touted their stand as a political plus.
Pro-life Democrats were almost totally invisible in these reports. On
television, not one pro-life Democrat was featured as a talking head in
an abortion story. ABC once noted in 1994 that Georgia Democrat
Buddy Darden's pro-life stand might help him win re-election.