NPR Apologizes for Biased Story Using Term “Abortion Doctor”

Opinion   |   Tim Graham   |   Sep 19, 2011   |   10:09AM   |   Washington, DC

On September 1, NPR reporter Carrie Johnson filed a slanted story touting the Obama Justice Department for cracking down on allegedly violent pro-life protesters like 79-year-old grandfather Dick Retta. (Matt Balan wrote it up here.) The National Abortion Federation’s Facebook page raved: “Listen to a great segment on NPR’s Morning Edition featuring NAF Vice President and General Counsel Sharon Levin about the U.S. Justice Department’s enforcement of the FACE Act against abortion clinic protesters.”

After this piece celebrating the Obama Justice Department’s crackdown on the nasty pro-life grandpas — unbelievably — NPR ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos wrote a blog on Thursday finding fault with this “great segment” — because it wasn’t favorable enough to the abortion advocates! He confessed that he and the reporter had used the apparently loaded and offensive term “abortion doctor.” Somehow, it is emotionally loaded to call a doctor who earns his lucrative living performing abortions an “abortion doctor.”

“We don’t say a physician is an STD doctor. Or a child-birth doctor. Or a breast-exam doctor,” Schumacher-Matos began. He did not explain that it would be odd to be a doctor who kills human patients instead of healing them. The preferred leftist term is “abortion provider,” which seems to imply that you don’t have to be a doctor to provide them. Schumacher-Matos located this paragraph of Johnson’ s story as troubling:

The National Abortion Federation, which tracks violent incidents, says major violence is down since the murder, two years ago, of abortion doctor George Tiller…But Sharon Levin of the Abortion Federation says there are still some signs of trouble- two incidents this summer involving Molotov cocktails, and the arrest in Wisconsin of a man who told police he wanted to shoot abortion doctors.

Notice this is all free publicity for the NAF, which is described only as a tracker of violence, not as a very passionate and ideological lobby for those abortion doctors. No one called them “liberal” or even “feminist,” so NPR instead applied their politically correct instincts to apologizing about “loaded language” which is in fact plain on its face. While NPR usually casts skepticism on large and profitable industries, the abortion industry and its NAF lobbyists are given a pass.

Schumacher-Matos explained that Johnson had missed the clear rules of the NPR style guide, which also discourage the term “abortion clinic” to describe a clinic where abortions takes place:

In dealing with the issue earlier, NPR’s own internal style guide says: “Do not refer to murdered Dr George Tiller as an ‘Abortion Doctor.’ Instead we should say Tiller operated a clinic where abortions are performed. We can also make reference to the fact that Tiller was a doctor who performed late term abortions.”

The guide adds: “NPR doesn’t use the term ‘abortion clinics.’ We say instead, ‘medical or health clinics that perform abortions.’ The point is to not to use abortion before the word clinic. The clinics perform other procedures and not just abortions.”

These aren’t loaded terms. NPR’s guides are insisting on making sentences longer and more euphemistic. What’s emotionally loaded is the act of abortion, especially when performed on a child who could survive outside the womb. When the ombudsman brought this alleged linguistic abuse to Johnson’s attention, she responded:

Thanks, this was my first story on the abortion issue since joining NPR and while I tried to vet my story with others who cover the issue more regularly, neither they nor I caught this. The responsibility is of course mine and I accept it. I will be more cautious in the future and will consult the NPR online style guide.

He concluded: “Labels carry consequences. It would be too much to say that media usage of ‘abortion doctor’ was behind the murder of [Dr. George] Tiller. [!] But the label certainly channels hostility against doctors who do the operation. Anti-abortion rights advocates use such phrases in an attempt to frame the issue from their singular point of view. That is their right. But the media’s responsibility is to be accurate in framing an issue in all its complexity. Stoking tempers doesn’t help either.”

Sorry, Ed. You stoke tempers with loaded liberal terms like “anti-abortion rights” as well. Note: Tim Graham is the director of media analysis for the Media Research Center, a media watchdog group. He was a White House correspondent for World magazine in 2001 and 2002. This post originally appeared on the NewsBusters web site.