March 23, 2011

Where's the Journalism?

This showed up in my morning paper yesterday.

Senate passes bill to deter some abortions

It's just a tiny little story. Nothing to see here, move along. But at the very least, it's a sloppily written little story, and I think it shows how the basic untruths of Republican politics are being glossed over by most journalists, and downright enabled by some.

We all know a great many Republicans are saying things that simply are not true. (I could go on for pages and pages--these examples are the most egregious.) Since this is known--or bloody well should be--to anyone who reads a paper, watches TV, or surfs the Net, it should therefore behoove reporters to question claims Republicans make. In this case, it wouldn't take much: a quick follow-up question to statements made in the story.

Republican supporters have said that statistics show a high percentage of abortions are being sought by minority women and that abortion clinics intentionally locate in minority areas.

The first part of this statement is true, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The obvious follow-up question would then be: why are minority women having more abortions? (You should expect your elected representative to know this--I found the answer with five seconds of Googling.) This article gives an excellent answer to that question.

These patterns of abortion rates mirror the levels of unintended pregnancy seen across these same groups. Among the poorest women, Hispanics are the most likely to experience an unintended pregnancy. Overall, however, black women are three times as likely as white women to experience an unintended pregnancy; Hispanic women are twice as likely. Because black women experience so many more unintended pregnancies than any other group—sharply disproportionate to their numbers in the general population—they are more likely to seek out and obtain abortion services than any other group. In addition, because black women as a group want the same number of children as white women, but have so many more unintended pregnancies, they are more likely than white women to terminate an unintended pregnancy by abortion to avoid an unwanted birth.

So the correct answer would be that minority women are having more abortions because they're having more unintended pregnancies, and the sex of the fetus has nothing to do with it.

As for the second part of that statement: see here. (Brief synopsis: 63 percent of abortion providers are located in predominantly non-Hispanic white neighborhoods.) Again, the Guttmacher Institute crunches the numbers.

See how misleading the original statement was? The first part was technically true but so incomplete as to border on fibbing, and the second part was an outright lie. I'm no journalist, but I found all this within ten minutes on my computer; if I did, the original reporter could and should have.

Instead, Republicans get away with unchallenged statements like this.

"This legislation really is needed," said Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix. "Sex-selection abortions are happening in this country, and it is time we address it head-on."

Only problem is, the study she cites (abstract here) does not attribute these variations to abortion, and there hasn't been enough research in this area to say for sure whether it's actually happening or not. If it is happening, it would seem to be in the families of recent Indian, Chinese and Korean other words, people coming from countries where sex-selective abortion is practiced.

In that case, the solution would be a) women's empowerment and b) teaching women to value their daughters. Not taking away their reproductive rights.

Nevertheless, that's not the point, and it certainly wasn't the question that should have been asked (and wasn't). It's a simple question. When Republicans assert "sex-selection abortions are happening in this country," you say, "Do you have any proof it's happening in Arizona?"

Lather, rinse, repeat as often as necessary. If those pushing the legislation won't answer you, note that fact. All it takes is one line.

When asked to provide evidence of their claims, Republicans could not. 

I don't understand why the original reporter didn't ask this question. Doubting Republican claims should be a given in this day and age; they've long ago forfeited credibility on just about every subject. 

This sort of journalistic skating away takes place all the time, and it's getting tiresome. We need pugnacious reporters who don't mind getting in people's faces and yelling. When Jon Stewart and Bill Maher are better journalists than actual know the profession's in trouble.

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