Commentary on Media Bias on Abortion

By L. Brent Bozell, President, Media Research Center Aired Thursday, February 1, 2001 on NPR’s Morning Edition

L. Brent BozellAs one of his first official acts on January 22, 1993, President Bill Clinton threw out Ronald Reagan’s executive order prohibiting U.S. funding for international agencies that subsidize or promote abortion. On exactly the same date eight years later, President George W. Bush reinstated that policy.

Both presidents’ acts were consistent with their campaign platforms. Both fulfilled promises to supporters.

Yet despite these similarities, the news media have treated these presidential actions as different as day and night, casting one as lowly political pandering while describing the other as praiseworthy promise keeping.

This year, ABC’s Peter Jennings said, "President Bush begins by taking a tough line on abortion." But eight years ago, Jennings said only, "President Clinton keeps his word on abortion rights."

NBC did the same. This year, Tom Brokaw reported on “the new President’s very active day, which started on a controversial note.” Yet eight years ago, Brokaw simply reported, “President Clinton kept a campaign promise...”

CBS’s Dan Rather perpetuated this double standard, but then added insult to injury by ascribing a lowly political motive to President Bush, adding that his executive order served to "quickly please the right flank of his party...”

This bias against the pro-life movement is prevalent also in the New York Times and Washington Post, in Time and Newsweek and on radio – including, many believe, National Public Radio.

Why are conservatives always deemed to have a penchant for wading into controversy while liberals don’t? When it comes to abortion policy, why are Republicans pandering to their political base while Democrats are keeping promises to people?

This bias on abortion is not new. Take the 1992 Democratic National Convention. The party’s decision to silence pro-life Gov. Bob Casey generated one – one – network news story. But it was different at the Republican National Convention. When pro-choice Governor Pete Wilson was silenced, the networks reported that story 55 times.

Unbelievably, what I see as a pro-abortion bias got even worse during the ‘96 Conventions. The networks reported on the Republicans’ infighting over abortion 60 times, but reported on the Democrats’ internal struggles once.

Abortion is clearly the most controversial issue in politics today. Everyone has an opinion on the matter; and the country is deeply divided. Yet to listen to the networks is to believe there is only one credible side to the story. Call it a classic case of media bias.