Friday, September 16, 2022

One-Sided Politico Abortion Survey Exposes Media Bias

Were you harmed by the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade? Then Politico wants to hear from you. If you weren’t harmed, or agree with the court’s ruling, not so much.

That’s the entire premise of a survey the Capitol Hill rag published during Congress’ August recess. Based on the tenor of the survey, the publication wants to compile the proverbial “parade of horribles” that have transpired since the ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

“How are abortion laws affecting your access to health care? We want to hear from you,” says the top of the survey. “Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, reports are surfacing of patients — even those not seeking abortion — having trouble filling certain prescriptions, and of patients being denied treatment for pregnancy-related complications.”

The publication seeks people who either have been denied a prescription filling or have “been denied emergency treatment for a miscarriage or pregnancy-related complication.” It does not, however, seek stories of abortion complications that can include the mother’s death.

Political Bias?

I’m not saying that Dobbs hasn’t had an impact, in part due to the twists and turns of challenges to state-level abortion laws, and in part due to medical providers (and/or attorneys working for medical providers) acting overly cautiously to avoid legal liability. I’m also not saying Politico shouldn’t cover people who believe that the Dobbs ruling has harmed their access to care (abortion-related or otherwise). But to explicitly solicit stories from only one side of the abortion debate smacks of acting, well, one-sided.

So I asked Brad Dayspring, Politico’s vice president of communications, whether the tenor of the survey had anything to do with the fact that the publication’s prime reporter on the abortion beat is a registered Democrat. (Disclosure: Dayspring and I worked together on Capitol Hill for most of 2008.) He responded thusly:

Alice Ollstein’s stories on abortion are balanced and contain reporting that reflects diverse views on the issue.

He provided little substantive evidence of this assertion, but engaged in what amounted to a syllogism: Politico is non-partisan, therefore any reporter who works for Politico must by definition be non-partisan.

Relating to partisanship and ideology, the survey in question referred to “pregnant people” — as opposed to calling them what they are: women — consistent with Politico’s recent use of woke terminology.

What Are Reporters’ Motives … ?

I followed up with another question. Democrats had an opportunity to fund all the abortion access money they wanted in their recent reconciliation legislation, which was not subject to either 1) a filibuster from Senate Republicans or 2) Hyde Amendment restrictions that prohibit federal funding of most abortions.

Yet even as Democrats want to run on abortion as a political issue in the midterm elections this fall, lawmakers didn’t even try to raise this issue as part of the reconciliation bill, not offering an abortion funding amendment in either the House or the Senate. Why hadn’t Politico bothered to point out this contradiction? Did that silence have to do with reporters’ political registration? Dayspring responded:

Instead of asking, ‘why doesn’t news organization X write about my preferred storyline instead of Y,’ a political professional such as yourself might look to establish professional relationships with reporters and editors and pitch them ideas rather than personally attacking or making ill-informed judgments about them—it tends to be a more productive approach.

That’s a nice conjuring trick, blaming the person raising the complaint: If we’re not running a story, it’s only because you’re not trying hard enough. Yet at this point we’ve seen far too much in the way of bias by reporters over the past several years not to question them.

Admits Unprofessional Colleagues

Take a look at that quote again, and another feature emerges. On the one hand, Dayspring tries to argue that his Politico colleagues are both professional and non-partisan. But in the next moment, he claims that not questioning motives will lead to a better outcome.

If reporters at Politico are as professional as Dayspring claims, questioning motives shouldn’t have anything to do with their actions. If someone brings a reporter a compelling story—regardless of who that person is, or how the person approaches the reporter—a good journalist should run with it regardless, for two reasons. To assume the purest motives, a reporter should dig into a good story to advance the public’s right to know.

Even if a reporter doesn’t particularly like a story because it disagrees with his or her worldview, or for some other reason, a reporter should still look into it, for no other reason than fear. If a reporter at another publication digs into the matter and comes up with a compelling story or scoop, the reporter at the first publication might face an angry editor questioning why the publication got beat to the punch. (However, that competitive dynamic assumes that media outlets won’t collectively collude to silence stories they don’t want to cover, perhaps a questionable assumption in this environment.)

Dayspring’s statement admits that neither factor motivates Politico reporters. Instead, he states that whether a story gets covered could depend in large part on the extent to which someone sucks up (my paraphrase of his words) to a given reporter. Which makes one wonder about the reaction if and when a story takes off, and someone asks Politico why they didn’t cover that story to any degree of depth sooner—will they really respond, “Because people pitching the story hurt our feelings by not approaching us in the right way?”

The Worm Will Turn

One final thought: Dayspring’s comment about cultivating relationships goes both ways. Democrats won’t remain in power forever, the hopes of some notwithstanding, and sooner or later they will need the conservative sources they ignore — or call “racist,” “semi-fascist,” or another insult du jour.

The past several years should have provided a wake-up call for conservatives in the way the corporate media demonstrate their bias, particularly by silencing stories they dislike. Here’s hoping that the next conservative administration responds to these reporters’ pleas for insights, gossip, and stories with a similarly stony silence.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.