Most of the studies that have come out over the years “proving” that newspapers slant one way or the other ideologically seem pretty vague to me. How much does it really affect the coverage, for instance, if the vaguely liberal Brookings Institution is quoted a shade more frequently than the center-right American Enterprise Institute? Is reporting really distorted if most reporters happen to be registered Democrats? And who’s helped by the hugely moronic “he said, she said” format of most news stories? I don’t know, those all seem like decently complicated questions that aren’t answered by easy statistics. Intuitively, my hunch has always been that the coverage in major newspapers tips somewhat to the left on social issues and strongly to the right on economic issues—especially on labor issues. But that’s not always easy to quantify.
Or at least that’s what I would’ve said before reading Garance Franke-Ruta’s piece in the American Prospect today, looking at the New York Times abortion coverage on its editorial page. Franke-Ruta found that over the last two years—at a time when abortion rights have come under serious attack—the Times has printed 124 op-eds mentioning abortion. Of those, 83 percent have been written by men, and more of them have been written by pro-life men than by women on either side. Most strikingly, over the past two years, the Times hasn’t invited a single “reproductive-rights advocate, a pro-choice service-provider, or a representative of a women’s group” to write an op-ed about abortion. Not one. And this from a nominally pro-choice newspaper.
The Times‘ unsigned editorials themselves tend to be strongly pro-choice, but one guesses that these receive somewhat less attention than the op-eds themselves. Moreover, a Times op-ed tends to elevate its author to prominence. So the disparity is a huge problem. The Times op-ed page is supposed to foster debate rather than disseminate propaganda (in theory, at least), so granted, it’s bound to print pro-life op-eds from time to time, but nothing excuses a swing so far to the other side—to the point where women, especially pro-choice women, have basically been shut out of the debate. Hey, perhaps the newly skewed Times explains why we’ve seen the rise of the “thoughtful” male liberal ready to compromise on abortion if it will help the Democratic Party. (Which is, at any rate, a totally flawed electoral strategy.)