Ohio Newspaper Becomes Case Study of Media Bias on Abortion
by Steven Ertelt
December 21, 2003
Dayton, OH (LifeNews.com) — When an editor at the Dayton Daily News inserted a paragraph from a pro-abortion op-ed into a news article — verbatim and without attribution — the newspaper turned itself into, what one leading pro-life advocate calls, a case study of media bias on abortion.
Last week, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals called an Ohio ban on partial-birth abortions constitutional and said the state could enforce the law.
Reporter Wes Hills, who has covered court issues for 20 years and wrote articles on two previous trials of Ohio partial-birth abortion bans, wrote the story for the newspaper.
For the most party, the story was balanced and well-written, said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee.
However, the following paragraph concerning the abortion procedure appeared in Hills’ article, unattributed:
"The procedure is designed primarily for 5- and 6-month-old fetuses that are dying, malformed, or threatening the woman’s health or life. The procedure involves pulling the fetus from the womb, except for the head which is too large to pass without injuring the woman. The head is then collapsed to allow removal."
Johnson was first struck by the misinformation found in Hills’ words.
He said that partial-birth abortions are performed on healthy babies and the myth that they are done on unborn children with mental or physical disabilities was discredited long ago.
Johnson also said the head of the unborn child is not removed from the womb not because it would injure women, but because the abortion practitioner must kill the child before the entire baby emerges. Otherwise, a live birth has happened.
Yet something else about the paragraph caught Johnson’s attention that was more unnerving and incredible.
"I had read the same paragraph a few days earlier, in a strident editorial by an obscure author, attacking the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act," Johnson says. He found the article posted on little-known website.
"The paragraph apparently had been lifted from that source and inserted, without attribution, into the News story," Johnson explains.
In fact, an article entitled "Ban on ‘Partial-Birth’ Abortion Would be a Blow to Women’s Rights," contains the following paragraph:
"Partial-birth" abortion, most commonly known as intact dilation and extraction (D&X), is designed primarily to be used in the case of 5- and 6-month-old fetuses that are dying, malformed, or threatening the woman’s health or life. The procedure involves pulling the fetus from the womb, except for the head which is too large to pass without injuring the woman. The head is then collapsed to allow removal."
Johnson says, "Obviously, the paragraph in the December 18 Dayton Daily News story is verbatim the same, except that the phrase ‘designed primarily to be used in the case of’ was shortened in the [Dayton Daily] News to designed primarily for.’"
Johnson contacted Hills to find out why the paragraph appeared in the story.
Hills told Johnson that the paper’s Assistant Local Editor Hal Davis had inserted the article into the article without consulting him.
Hills also told Johnson that he agreed the information was in error, but said any request for a correction should be taken up with Davis.
Johnson then emailed the Davis noting the factual errors and pointing out the strange similarity of the paragraphs.
Vince McKelvey, the Public Affairs Editor of the Dayton newspaper responded. He emailed Johnson and said Davis was "attempting to present factual, objective information about the procedure" by the paragraph from the pro-abortion editorial.
McKelvey, whose wife was on the staff of a local Planned Parenthood for many years, also said Davis is "an accomplished editor who was trying hard to find a good definition of the procedure. It was as simple as that."
Davis also contacted Johnson and said that, when he found the pro-abortion op-ed, he felt that he had found "a reliable source of information."
Johnson said Davis’ explanation offers no excuse for his editorial decision.
Davis easily knew that the editorial was extremely pro-abortion, in light of it calling unborn children "parasites" and saying pro-life laws turn women into "breeding mare[s]."
"He had on the screen before him a story on an important court decision, written by a reporter with 20 years of experience covering federal courts and eight years experience covering partial-birth abortion litigation," Johnson said.
McKelvey admitted that Davis "made a poor chioce [sic] in using the material unattributed . . . it’s not good practice — nor our practice — to use information without citing our sources."
However, Johnson said that even if the paragraph had been properly attributed, the information was erroneous and was an editor’s opinion that didn’t belong in the news story.
Johnson said he believed Davis wanted to find an explanation of the abortion procedure that he agreed with, rather than one that objectively presented the facts.
The tendency by some media outlets to go "quote shopping" or finding facts that agree with their pro-abortion point of view "is one of the main things we are talking about when we talk about ‘pro-abortion media bias,’" Johnson concluded.