NY Times Public Editor Questions Coverage of March for Life

Wednesday's Example of Media Bias   —   Posted on January 29, 2014

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-Read the excerpt below from Don Irvine's post at Accuracy in Media.
-Read "Types of Media Bias" in the right column (or here). Then answer the questions.

From a post by Don Irvine at Accuracy in Media (original post date 1/25/14):
In her latest columnNew York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan wondered why the paper’s coverage of the annual March for Life rally in Washington was limited to a photograph buried deep within the paper, instead of a more substantial news story:

Hundreds, if not thousands, of New Yorkers – many of them Catholics – piled onto buses in the freezing cold and headed down to Washington this week for the 41st annual March for Life, the world’s largest anti-abortion gathering.

Was this local participation, or the event itself, worthy of a news story in the paper of record? Apparently not.

Sullivan seemed genuinely puzzled as to why such a large event, that draws hundreds of thousands of people, was covered by the Times with just a single photograph and a two-line caption on page A17 of the paper.

People participate in the annual March for Life rally on the National Mall in Washington

2014 March for Life

She noted that this lack of coverage drew several complaints from readers, and decided to ask the Times’ Washington bureau chief, Carolyn Ryan, why the paper didn’t assign a staff reporter to cover the story.

Ryan told Sullivan that the Times had given extensive coverage to opponents of abortion with its front-page story on Tuesday – the day before the march. The story was about newly energized efforts by Republicans using ballot initiatives and legislation in Congress, and a three-column live staff photograph of the event on its national election page, plus a Reuters story on the event.

Ryan added that they cover every protest, and that they tend to focus on the “substance” of the issue. She also alluded to the smaller crowd this year, due to the bitter cold, as yet another factor.

Sullivan, to her credit, didn’t buy Ryan’s excuse and said that the Times should have covered the march with a staff reporter in Washington. She said that even though the crowd was smaller, it’s still a major event, and there were fresh angles to cover.

Not covering the event, Sullivan said, only “gives fuel” to those who accuse the Times of being anti-Catholic, and those who see it as reflecting a liberal bias by the paper. She added that the march had significant news value, and deserved more than a photograph in Thursday’s paper.

Yes, a big snowstorm that struck the D.C. area on Tuesday combined with the bitterly cold temperatures to keep the crowd size down this year, as compared to previous years. But that doesn’t diminish the March for Life’s newsworthiness, as Sullivan said.

Questions

1. What is Roe v. Wade?

2. What is the the March for Life?

3. What is a public editor?

4. What type of bias did the New York Times display in its reporting on the 2014 March for Life?

5. NY Times public editor Margaret Sullivan quoted two readers who wrote to her to complain about the Times’ lack of coverage.  They wrote:

–“I believe a paper of the NY Times’ stature has a duty to fairly report significant national events.” and

–“A massive pro-life march in a winter storm is all but ignored. And the motto of the New York Times is, ‘All the News That’s Fit to Print.’ I guess pro-life news is not fit to print.”

a) Were you aware that there was a pro-life rally, held every year in January for the past 40 years, attended by so many young people?
b) Do you agree or disagree with the assertions made by these two readers? Explain your answer.
c) Do you think The Times (and the media in general) portray pro-life/right-to-life/anti-abortion supporters in a negative light while portraying pro-choice/pro-abortion in a positive light, or vice-versa, or do you think they report only the facts about the supporters of each position? Explain your answer.


Scroll down to the bottom of the page for the answers.
























Answer(s)

1. Roe v. Wade was a 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion; the justices ruled that women have a constitutional right to an abortion.

2. The March for Life is an annual pro-life rally protesting abortion, held in Washington, D.C., on or around the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing abortion in the case Roe v. Wade. The overall goal of the march is to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision. The march has previously drawn around 250,000 people annually since 2003, though estimates put both the 2011 and 2012 attendances at 400,000 each. The 2013 March for Life drew an estimated 650,000 people. Many teenagers and college students attend the march each year, typically traveling with church/youth groups. Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney estimated that about half of the marchers are under age 30. (from wikipedia)

3. A public editor (news ombudsman) is employed by a newspaper to receive and investigate complaints from newspaper readers (or listeners or viewers of radio and television stations) about accuracy, fairness, balance and good taste in news coverage. He or she recommends appropriate remedies or responses to correct or clarify news reports. (from studentnewsdaily.com/example-of-media-bias/ny-times-public-editor)

4. The New York Times displayed bias by omission and story selection over its reporting (or lack of reporting) on the 2014 March for Life.

5. a) b) and c) Opinion questions. Answers vary.