NRL News

Why the “appeal to authority” works—and why it is so often wrong

by | Mar 24, 2015

By Dave Andrusko

falsebalanceBecause the subject matter is completely outside our purview as a single issue organization, I will not get into the topic about which Margaret Sullivan, the New York Times’ Public Editor, issued a mea culpa yesterday. Suffice it to say that Sullivan conceded she had rushed to judgment (my characterization) in criticizing two Times reporters in an August 2014 Public Editor column.

In critiquing Sullivan yesterday, the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto did an exquisite job of backtracking the original story and Sullivan’s first column on the topic.

As he does, Taranto introduces two phrases rattling around in journalism circles–“false balance” and the softer “dubious equivalency.” As we will see, the gist of this is a charge that it is foolish for a reporter to give equivalency when one side has so clearly captured the field. All right thinking people know the subject is closed and thus both sides do not need to be represented in a story. Indeed, it is a disservice to do so!

The application to us is obvious, as we shall see in a moment.

Taranto asks, “But what exactly is the difference between ‘false balance’ and ‘an effort to get both sides’?”

Taranto explains that Sullivan defined that in her first substantive column as Public Editor:

Simply put, false balance is the journalistic practice of giving equal weight to both sides of a story, regardless of an established truth on one side. And many people are fed up with it. They don’t want to hear lies or half-truths given credence on one side, and shot down on the other. They want some real answers.

Taranto then cites three examples of propositions Sullivan regards as “established truth.” It is not these three in particular but the principal that interests us: that the issues are settled. End of case. Let’s move on.

My job is to read and to write. I write a lot but read a lot more. And you simply cannot miss that when pro-abortionists haughtily dismiss pro-life legislation and caricature objective research that points to abortion’s negative aftermath for a certain percentage of women, it is treated as secular gospel.

Why? For several reasons, but first and foremost (beyond pro-abortion bias) because when you look at the medical and academic “authorities,” they align with pro-abortion organizations like iron filings around a magnet. They always, always, always come to the same conclusion as the NARALs and the Planned Parenthoods and the like.

With respect to Sullivan’s three examples, Taranto explains the impact:

To generalize from these examples, we may say that to avoid “false balance” is to accept an appeal to authority that bolsters one side or the other in a matter of public contention. In practice, the examples always seem to bolster one side, never the other.

So why bother to give equal time (or, in most instances, any time) to a source that, for example, argues that it is good for pregnant teens and their families for her parents to know about a life and a death decision she is pondering?

Why even nod in the direction that having an induced abortion might increase the likelihood that a woman will subsequently have breast cancer, although the biological mechanism of the “ABC link” is impeccable?

And to make the transparently obvious case that mucking around in a woman’s reproductive organs will increase the chances that the abortionist will injury the woman–and increase the likelihood that she will not be able to carry subsequent unborn children to full-term—merits only a scoff.

And, of course, everybody knows that it is preposterous to believe that unborn babies can experience horrific pain when they are torn limb from limb, perhaps at any point in gestation, but surely not at 20 weeks.

But you don’t have to be an obstetrician to recognize there is a reason unborn babies are anesthetized when undergoing in utero surgery. And you don’t have to have a medical degree to read the literature found at places such as or

You get the point. Planned Parenthoods and NARAL and their choir of supporters get to sing on the op-ed pages while pro-lifers are rendered mute. When legislation that supports women and children is introduced, funny how all the best lines belong to opponents.

But that is entirely predictable. EVERYBODY KNOWS that abortion is good for women; that families are made stronger when pregnant teenagers can sneak around their parents’ backs; and that unborn babies are essentially inert, incapable of feeling anything until….who knows, probably birth.

“Established truth”? Established baloney.

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Categories: Abortion Media Bias