The Media Cannot be ‘Neutral’ on Roe v. Wade

Angrily written June 24, 2022 after throwing a rock around the yard for a half hour.

Image from Aiden Frazier

Let me set the scene for you:

6pm EST; my grandmother’s living room. 

We zoom in slowly on local newscaster Ryan Bonazzo: hair sharp, sporting an amazing shirt and tie combo.

And then a rift into a Margret Atwood series opens. 

Had I not started shouting, waking the dogs, I would have written down the exact words spoken, but this is my best recollection after I finished cursing: 

“Depending on how you feel about the abortion issue: this is a day of mourning or celebration”.

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So what’s wrong with that, Emily? It’s just a nice, fair news opener for a law being repealed, right? Us watchers assume that the news is fair and informed, the ideally structured place for public discourse. But this entire assumption assumes that neutrality is even possible. 

“Fairness” is a sticky residue of our colonial past, where the assumption is made that there’s some sort of ‘view from nowhere’ where issues can be discussed without bias, behind a ‘veil of ignorance’. While this makes great a great thought experiment, it falls apart when we end up in an extremely identity-driven social landscape, such as the highly partisan environment we find ourselves in currently. 

I belong to many social groups and identities – as do you lovely reader! – and as a result, there are some issues we cannot speak on without bias. As an editor, I cannot stand by and ignore a missing serial comma, it’s just wrong! As a person born with ovaries, it’s equally wrong to hear anyone pass laws that tell people with ovaries that they don’t deserve full healthcare. It boggles my mind that any person with a body can be okay with the government being in the business of forced births but that’s somehow a different discussion altogether.

Neutrality or fairness is a smokescreen used to disguise the power structures that already exist: asking us to take them as natural or given. It’s not a ‘given’ that the news has to tell both sides of the story: that’s how climate deniers received such an enormous platform – they were given equal time in the name of “fairness”. When each side is presented equally we pit grieving parents against gun advocates; refugees against racists. We end up with more division, partisanship, and extremism because we ignore the actual people being hurt in the process by treating both sides as though they start on equal footing.

The idea of an unbiased opinion is one spoken spoken by someone who is not affected by those biases: someone unaffected by racism, so they can say “we’re over it as a country”; someone unaffected by climate change who jokes that “their summers keep getting better” as thousands die in heat waves; someone who “isn’t political” because everything is fine in their life.

The “unbiased” opinion is spoken by anyone who is not having their rights taken away as a result – someone who can choose to not listen and act because they’re at no loss for shouting their opinion – we generally call this privilege, but ignore the larger implication: that someone else tangibly loses their rights as a result.

Abortions will still happen. You can look into any type of prohibition to find out that it doesn’t work. Making abortions illegal means that procedures will become unsafe, because laws never prevent crime, they restructure it. 

So when you open a newscast acknowledging both sides in this issue as equal, that’s a huge problem. That means that these are being positioned as equal fights, while one side is fighting for safe healthcare and the other fights to deny them that right. 

If you’re more of an experiential learner, I have an easy experiment that will make this all super-clear: go up to a woman in your life (not a random one, that’s creepy!) and start off with: “Based on my perception of your gender, I don’t think you deserve full rights and freedoms because you lack the capacity to make good choices with that freedom. Let me tell you more.” And see what happens. 

Please report back. 

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