Today, an article by CBS leads with the following statement:
Republicans emphatically approved a toughly worded party platform at their national convention Tuesday that would ban all abortions and gay marriages, reshape Medicare into a voucher-like program and cut taxes to energize the economy and create jobs.
Here is what the platform in fact says:
The unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. It opposes using public revenues to promote or perform abortion or to fund organizations that perform or advocate abortions. It says the party will not fund or subsidize health care that includes abortion coverage.
As I’ve written in the past, I’m a moderate Republican, or Libertarian who votes Republican. I believe in a woman’s right to choose. And in the past year, I’ve grown more and more disenchanted with the Republican Party’s drift to the right on social issues. But CBS transformed the Republican Party’s statement, that an “unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed,” into a total ban on abortion.
If that is what the Republican Party meant to say in their platform, they would have said as much, or completed the sentence with something like: “. . . therefore, we support a complete ban on abortion.” Even Todd Akin, to the far right on abortion rights, supports the legality of abortion in some very limited cases. The platform clearly opposes public funding for abortion. If the Republican Party opposed abortions in all circumstances, I don’t think they wouldn’t even need to bring up the public funding issue, since there would be no abortions to fund.
Romney has stated his position on abortion:
“My position has been clear throughout this campaign,” Romney said. “I’m in favor of abortion being legal in the case of rape and incest, and the health and life of the mother.”
While it concerns me that the media distorts Republican positions, it mishandles the Democratic Party in much the same way. For example, when President Obama announced his support for gay marriage earlier this year, Fox ran the following headline:
Fox switched its headline shortly thereafter to a somewhat less partisan one:
Let’s examine the original headline. First, the use of the word “flip flop,” which remained in the updated headline, is unnecessarily provocative. A more favorable commentator might say, “Obama reexamines beliefs and supports equal treatment of gays.” Or the headline could read, “Obama changes opinion on gay marriage.” The latter headline, I might add, is value-free and accurate.
And in the case of gay marriage, it is very telling that many Republican commentators view support for gay marriage as destructive to traditional marriage, or marriage between a man and a woman. Republicans often speak of liberty. But Republicans who oppose amendments that allow gay marriage seem to place their own moral values over the liberty of individuals to seek the same legal benefits granted heterosexuals.
Democrats, on the other hand, also speak of freedom, but limit that freedom as it applies to business and industry. When it comes to liberty, I am not sure that either the Democrats or the Republicans apply it with any consistency to their party’s platform. Each side picks and chooses what we should and should not be free to do, just as reporters pick and choose how they present complex issues.
That brings me to the reason for this article. The obligation of the media is to report on the news objectively. Editorials are an exception, of course, but even an opinion piece is more persuasive if it provides the facts first, without a partisan filter. The problem with a straight-up news piece that leads with a distortion of the facts is that everything that follows is subject to question. Instead of informing and educating, this sort of writer filters the truth and in doing so, loses the chance to change the minds of his or her readers.
If a writer really believes in her argument, she should provide the facts that both support and belie it. A fearless writer, after all, is unafraid of being proven wrong. And a civilized debate is one in which the participants seek not victory, but truth. To me, that best serves the public discourse.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on media distortion and the public discourse. Please be respectful and civil as you analyze the issues.