Accuracy in Media

One of the tricks of political campaigning is to set up a statement along the lines of “This is now banned except for these exceptions” and then watch as the phrase becomes “This is now banned.”

To be silly about it, “Drinking alcohol is banned except for those over 21 and not on probation” and then watch as this morphs into a repeat of Prohibition – at least when journalists get their hands on it. Having been journalists – some of us still are – we assure you this is how it works.

This brings us to Vice reporting on something from the Guttmacher Institute. That second is vehemently in favor of abortion rights.

What primarily concerns us is this: “As of Oct. 2, 13 states had implemented total abortion bans, the Guttmacher Institute found.”

That’s news to us. And, in fact, it’s news to Vice too, for three sentences on, we get, “All of these laws have some exceptions.” So that’s not a total ban then, is it?

We see the same thing at Guttmacher itself:

“Our analysis, which builds on research we conducted 30 days after Roe fell, focuses on the 15 states that were enforcing either total or six-week abortion bans as of October 2. While most of these bans include very limited circumstances when an abortion may be allowed, those exceptions are designed to be difficult to navigate and are often unusable in practice.”

“States Where Clinics Stopped Offering Abortions or Closed Entirely”

“In the 13 states that had implemented total abortion bans as of October”

We’ve not edited that in any way – well, OK, we stripped out the HTML for typeface and bold, but that’s it. They barefacedly, without shame, move from telling us that there are no total abortion bans to asserting that there are. Which is exactly the thing that Vice then does.

This is, of course, the aim of the way that Guttmacher has phrased this. So that Vice and others will then go on to claim total abortion bans – even in cases of rape, incest, physical danger to the mother and so on – when such bans don’t exist.

This is a well-known technique, claim with the exceptions, knowing that the exceptions will be lost in the repetitions. All that then stands is the claim and yet the original claimant will be able to say – not honestly, but with a straight face – that we included the exceptions.

Vice is a significant media outlet these days. The TV offerings reach 60 million American households via cable, the magazine has a 900,000 distribution. The website gets 30 million visits a month and Vice ranks No. 79 in news and media outlets in the United States.

This is a positive contribution to that mis- or dis- information about abortion, that there is a total ban in 13 states. No, there isn’t – so why is Vice saying there is? What is this if it isn’t mis- or dis- information about abortion?


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