Actress Kerry Washington explained how the lack of accurate and representative media portrayals of abortion can increase stigma, explaining to Women's Wear Daily that "by not having those moments represented in media, we add to the idea that there's something shameful to be talked about."
In a November episode of ABC thriller Scandal, Washington's Olivia Pope character had an abortion. In a January 27 interview with Women's Wear Daily, Washington explained the need for TV to reflect the full experiences of women who have abortions:
"[Abortion is] a reality, and more often than not, it's a really difficult choice to make. The same was true for Olivia," Washington said. "But by not having those moments represented in media, we add to the idea that there's something shameful to be talked about. It's always important that our storytelling reflects the real experiences of human beings, because it allows us to not feel as alone."
Fictional TV shows depict a wide range of human experiences, but until recently the stories told about abortion have rarely showed the common experience of a procedure that nearly one in three women will have by age 45.
The portrait of abortion in our fictional TV shows and movies has been typically distorted from reality in several ways, including over-associating abortion with maternal death, and rarely showing women of color accessing abortion care. Women on TV who obtain abortions rarely look like Kerry Washington's character, a black woman and a professional who is not a teenager and was not made pregnant as a result of rape. Gretchen Sisson and Katrina Kimport, academic researchers who study pop-culture depictions of abortion, have previously offered similar assessments to Washington's commentary, explaining that when fictional TV series fail to depict abortion, it "could contribute to feelings of internalized stigma or isolation among real women who obtain abortions." Sisson discussed the Scandal episode in an email to Media Matters:
Scandal represents the first time that a Black woman as a lead character has obtained an abortion on network television. While Black women account for about 30 percent of all abortions in the U.S., they only account for 5 percent of the abortion plot lines that are shown on television. This leaves just a handful of stories -- usually centered around peripheral characters -- representing an experience shared by millions of Black women in the U.S. Before Scandal, this meant that there were only two examples of a Black woman getting an abortion on TV (with an additional depiction of a biracial Black woman).
Additionally, Scandal has been the first show to depict a modern abortion procedure in a medical setting, without cutting away immediately before the abortion begins. It did this twice in 2015: an episode in May, where Olivia helped a Naval officer obtain an abortion, and again in November, with Olivia's own abortion.
According to Sisson, the only previous depictions of black women having abortions were on the broadcast show The Good Wife -- where it was a peripheral character -- as well on The L Word and The Fosters.
The portrayal of a black woman having a non-tragic abortion shouldn't be a nearly singular event in television history. Media that distort "the real experiences of human beings" -- as Washington aptly put it -- contribute to stigmatizing those experiences and those human beings. It's time for media -- all media -- to stop contributing to the stigmatization of health care services that are necessary for women.
After ducking the controversy over National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent calling President Obama a "subhuman mongrel," NRA leaders at last week's Conservative Political Action Conference tried to shield the organization from the fallout over those comments.
While some NRA supporters criticized Nugent, three NRA board members sought to downplay his actions and his connection to their organization, suggesting he isn't viewed mainly as an NRA representative or brushing the controversy off as unimportant.
Nugent issued the slur during a January interview, but the comments received new interest last month when Nugent campaigned with Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott. Following days of negative coverage for both Abbott and Nugent, including condemnations from GOP leaders, Nugent offered a half-hearted apology, though "not necessarily to the president," for his "subhuman mongrel" comment. He then attacked Obama as a lying, law-breaking racist who engages in Nazi tactics.
Former NRA president and current board member David Keene said the "subhuman mongrel" comments do not reflect on the gun-rights organization because "Ted is seen as Ted more than as an NRA board member."
Grover Norquist, another NRA board member, said the comments were "not a good idea," but added they are not bad enough to hurt the NRA's image because Nugent is viewed differently than other NRA leaders.
"He's a rock star and people know he's talking as him and he is talking outrageously," Norquist said following a CPAC "meet and greet" he hosted for fans. "If an establishment Republican said that, you'd go, 'whoa Nellie.' Rock stars and hip hop artists are cut some slack in American society."
Despite their attempts to suggest Nugent's comments don't reflect directly on the NRA, as a musician and conservative commentator, Nugent is to many the public face of the organization. He has had a longstanding relationship with the group, serving on its board of directors since 1995. In the group's 2013 board elections Nugent was second only to Fox News contributor Oliver North for most votes in favor of reelection.
After the 2012 meeting, Nugent drew the attention of the Secret Service for saying he would be "dead or in jail" if Obama was reelected as president. An NRA memo indicated that he was paid $50,000 by the group for a "spoken presentation" in 2011. Nugent has also recorded the song "I Am The NRA," which includes the lyrics: "If you hate tyrants and dictators and are ready to give freedom a whirl/Celebrate the NRA and the shot heard round the world."
Oliver North denied knowing about the "subhuman mongrel" comments during an interview at CPAC. He accused Media Matters of trying to instigate criticism from him. Questioned at CPAC's radio row, North said, "I'm not necessarily sure how to take your word for what he said since I didn't hear it I am not going to comment about it."
The mainstream media have yet to report on the story of a blogger whose website was shut down after he began spotlighting inflammatory rhetoric common to several talk radio hosts on KSFO, an ABC Radio-owned station in San Francisco.
The Liberty Film Festival, "a forum for conservative thought on film," recently awarded ABC Vice President Judith Tukich, a right-wing evangelical who has described her mission as "evangeliz[ing] the world ... through the media," the festival's "Freedom of Expression Award" for her role in assisting the production and promotion of The Path to 9/11.
A Media Matters for America review of the conclusion of ABC's two-part miniseries, The Path to 9/11, contained scenes that were factually inaccurate, and that showed President Bush taking aggressive action there is no indication he ever took.
Numerous newspapers ran positive reviews of the ABC miniseries The Path to 9/11 -- calling it "factual," "meticulous," and "completely true" -- failing to inform readers that it has been sharply criticized as inaccurate and even defamatory.
Columnist John Fund claimed that Sandy Berger and Madeleine Albright "persuaded ABC to alter the scenes involving them" in the miniseries The Path to 9/11. But while the scenes were apparently edited from earlier versions, both still presented depictions contradicted by both Clinton officials and the 9-11 Commission report.
In its miniseries The Path to 9-11, ABC retained a controversial scene that depicts Clinton administration officials declining to authorize the CIA to capture Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, despite the fact that the scene is contradicted by the 9-11 Commission report, on which the network originally claimed the film was based.
ABC has issued a number of different, even conflicting statements as it has promoted -- and subsequently defended -- the miniseries The Path to 9/11.
ABC Entertainment released a statement regarding its "docudrama" The Path to 9/11 stating that "[n]o one has seen the final version of the film ... so criticisms of film specifics are premature and irresponsible." But ABC reportedly screened the film at the National Press Club and provided preview copies to conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh and a number of right-wing bloggers.