On Rising Up with Sonali, Media Matters’ Sharon Kann talks about study on cable news abortion coverage
Kann: “Fox News is seizing on the opportunity to flood out other” prime-time coverage on abortion
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During the May 22 edition of Rising Up with Sonali, Media Matters’ Sharon Kann talked to host Sonali Kolhatkar about Media Matters’ annual study examining abortion coverage on prime-time evening cable news.
Media Matters analyzed evening prime-time news programs on Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN from March 1, 2017, through March 1, 2018, and identified segments featuring a substantial discussion of abortion and reproductive rights. The resulting 211 segments were then coded for the number of accurate or inaccurate statements made about four abortion-related topics: the discredited anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP), abortion funding rules, Planned Parenthood’s essential services, and so-called “extreme” abortion procedures. Media Matters found that Fox News dominated the conversation about abortion -- airing 114 of the 211 total segments across all cable news networks (54 percent) -- and that its coverage of the four abortion-related topics was inaccurate 77 percent of the time.
Kann spoke about how “Fox News is seizing on the opportunity to flood out other” prime-time coverage on abortion with rampant misinformation, explaining that such coverage is “stigmatizing”:
SONALI KOLHATKAR (HOST): Now, Fox News is spending a lot of time on abortion. Conversely, do you find that other news outlets, other cable news outlets, even so-called liberal ones, are just not spending enough time on abortion?
SHARON KANN: Yeah. I actually think that was one of the most interesting findings from the study this year, which is that, like you said, it's not just that Fox News is talking about abortion the most, it’s that their sort of volume of coverage is being met by a lack of coverage by other organizations. And so, it’s not just a matter of Fox News is talking about abortion the most and also the least accurately, it’s that other organizations aren’t seizing on opportunities to talk about abortion in frank, fair, and factual ways. And that results in a combination of lots of stigmatizing coverage and lots of inaccurate coverage, but then also instances where, when they do talk about it, it’s only spoken about in terms of it is like a political football issue rather than as a necessary form of health care.
KOLHATKAR: Right, and I’m wondering if that stems from our taking for granted that there is widespread support for access to abortion in the public, and so liberal news outlets feel like they don’t need to talk about it, they don’t need to clarify medical terms or expose how the right talks about it. That it’s just taken for granted that there is this support for abortion, but then with Fox News filling in that gap you see a very vocal minority having an outsized impact on politics and the discourse in general.
KANN: Definitely. I think, like you said, we have polling, and we understand that Americans are more largely in support of abortion access and, in particular, when people understand the circumstances that someone will access abortion care under, they are more likely to support access to that care. On the flip side, we have Fox News and other right-wing members of this echo chamber who are seeking out these conversations, not to invite the voices of people who have had abortions or might have abortions, but instead to sort of forward coverage that isn’t factual. And so I think something that other outlets can be doing a better job of, in that I think Fox News is seizing on the opportunity to flood out other coverage on, is centering people who’ve actually had abortions and making sure that we’re not just talking about abortion as something to be considered in the context of midterm elections or as a matter of a private decision, but we’re also talking about it as centering the people who’ve actually had abortions.
KOLHATKAR: So, there were four common abortion-related topics that you alluded to earlier. What are some of the other issues, you said “partial-birth abortion” was one of them. I remember this becoming an issue even during the  presidential debates some. So, one would hope that the more liberal news outlets would take this on and clarify it that, as you said, this isn’t really a medical recognized term. But Fox News talks about it like it’s a real thing -- that we’re aborting essentially fully-formed babies.
KANN: Right, Fox News does, not just with “partial-birth” abortion, but with lots of allegations of allegedly “extreme” abortion procedures is how we referred to them, and that captures any number of inaccurate representations, but I think it’s also important not to let off the hook other outlets who are maybe not doing enough to debunk these claims. So, I think the example you alluded to with the presidential debate, we saw that during that time even when other networks were discussing the things that had been said in the debate, they weren’t going the extra step to say, “This was said in the debate. Here’s where the term comes from. It was actually invented by anti-abortion activists to shame and vilify people having medically necessary later abortions,” but they instead took it for granted that that was an actually thing. And so, even when people maybe are trying to provide further context to something that was said, making sure to provide necessary debunk and citing the opinions of experts as well.
KOLHATKAR: Let’s talk about Planned Parenthood, and this real lack of information about the government’s role in taxpayer or tax funds for abortion. I think if you talk to Fox News viewers or people who exclusively watch Fox News, they might be under the impression that their tax dollars go towards funding abortions in states around the country. Is that true, and how does Fox News sort of cover that?
KANN: That is not true. The Hyde amendment exists, and it is a federal rule that prohibits the use of taxpayer dollars or any federal funds to support abortion services with a couple of exceptions … . Fox News, however, does not recognize this. You’ll hear Fox News, other right-wing outlets, and even anti-abortion organizations frequently saying that we need to create further protections against so-called taxpayer funded abortion. And something that they’ll often say to support this is that, even if money isn't being given to Planned Parenthood to fund abortions, that because Planned Parenthood and other providers may provide abortion services, that money is fungible, which is inaccurate and doesn’t account for the number of safeguards that people have to show where they are actually spending the money.
Watch the full interview HERE for further information about Media Matters’ study and media coverage of abortion and reproductive rights issues.