No objectivity, No neutrality
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No objectivity, No neutrality

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August 5, 2011, 8:12 pm
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New York Times is pushing the abortion agenda
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By Reynold N. Mason

I don’t know much about journalism or about the standards to which they are supposed to aspire. But I have come to expect facts from a news paper story and a modicum of neutrality. I prefer to decide things for myself. That is the reason the Time's coverage on the federal courts abortion decisions offends my sensibilities.  I decry the lack of objectivity in the Times coverage, not because on my position on the issue but because I detect virulent opposition on the part of the Times on an issue that is hotly debated in the public forum.

Excerpts of the Times reporting I find offensive and condescending:

In three new rulings, federal judges in different states have acted to block immediate enforcement of measures that restrict abortion rights and…………….these rulings are important victories for women’s health and reproductive rights.

Commenting on the Indiana law partially blocked by the court the Times said:

The mean-spirited law is part of a Republican-led national campaign to end public financing for Planned Parenthood. The Obama administration promptly told Indiana, and other states weighing similar legislation, that the measure violated federal law by imposing impermissible restrictions on the freedom of Medicaid beneficiaries to choose health care providers.

And about the South Dakota law the NYT said:

In South Dakota issued a preliminary injunction blocking, on constitutional grounds, a deeply intrusive state law requiring women to wait at least 72 hours after an initial doctor’s visit before terminating a pregnancy.

These Rulings do not, however, address other threats to women’s health. Those include the slashing of state support for family-planning services by governors like Chris Christie of New Jersey, and attacks from Congress like the bill Republicans pushed through the House in May that would use the nation’s tax system as a weapon to end abortion insurance coverage in the private market. Still, these rulings serve as a reminder that courts have a vital role to play in blocking the extreme anti-abortion, anti-family-planning movement accelerating in the states and in Washington

Yet the paper ignored a decision on the same issue by the 9th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals issued on July 29, a few days after it reported with accolades on the other three. The 9th Circuit decision is more far reaching because it binds all federal courts within the circuit, which  includes most of the states in the west, California, Montana, Nevada, Arizona, Alaska, Oregon, Washington and Idaho and has wider application than the other three decisions combined. The 9th circuit struck down a so called bubble law prohibiting abortion protesters from coming within 8 feet of an abortion clinic. No one was ever arrested for handing out pro-abortion flyers, but anti-abortion protesters were regularly carted away and charged under the law. This type of statue sheds all pretense of neutrality and is intensely pro-choice. The enforcement was transparently biased and designed to stifle opinions that were not in accord with the popular official position.  The Oakland Ordinance is not the first attempt to muzzle anti-abortion protests by imposing restrictions on free speech. Last week a New York federal court struck down a city ordinance because it was aimed at discouraging anti-abortion speech. The law required anti abortion literature to say that the City encouraged consultation with other health providers like Planned Parenthood.

The Times owes its very existence the principle of free speech enshrined in our constitution. It should never put itself in the untenable position of advocating free speech only for those whose views it finds acceptable. It should not be an advocate for laws that have a   disproportionate,  adverse impact on viewpoints it opposes. If objectivity and neutrality are principles of journalism, the Times has run afoul of both in its reporting on the abortion decisions handed down last month.

It said about the New York decision:

 In a setback for women facing a particularly vulnerable moment in their lives, a federal judge has temporarily barred New York City from enforcing a new law that would require so-called crisis pregnancy centers masquerading as licensed medical facilities to disclose basic facts about their services. These centers, run by abortion opponents, have sprung up in many places around the country. They typically draw clients with advertisements that appear to promise neutral abortion counseling. Staff members in medical attire collect information and perform pregnancy tests and sonograms and try to convince women not to have an abortion.

The Times characterizes the judges concerns about free speech as mistaken, even though the ordinance is clearly aimed at making the dissemination of anti abortion information more difficult. New York City has no ordinances that place any restrictions on Planned Parenthood or other groups that espouse the official position. Whatever the reason for the advocacy by the Times, its reputation is being eroded by the opinion-shaping bias of its coverage of this issue. No longer is seeking and reporting the news enough, crossing the line between reporting and advocacy seems to be the new unwritten journalistic credo at the Times.

Author: Reynold Mason
Reynold N. Mason teaches law courses at Zenover Educational Institute In Atlanta, Georgia. He has been a judge on New York City Civil Court and, a Justice on New York State Supreme Court. Mason has been an adjunct professor of law at Medgar Evers College and Monroe College in New York. He has authored several legal opinions published in New York Miscellaneous Reports and New York Official Reports as well as the New York Law Journal. He lives in Atlanta.
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