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Correcting a media account in a manner that promotes respect for all human life

by | Mar 17, 2020

By Laura Echevarria, NRL director of communications and press secretary 

There is an old expression: “It is easier to draw flies with sugar than with vinegar.” That adage reminds us that treating others with kindness often creates a better outcome than when we express criticism—even when justly deserved—through anger or rudeness. Here’s one recent example.

Not surprisingly, recent media coverage of key National Right to Life-backed legislation, such as the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act was primarily one-sided in many media outlets. But one outlet—CNN– did something nothing short of shocking.

When I read the article, I was stunned. The reporter, when describing the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act, wrote, “The second bill to be considered Tuesday is the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, sponsored by Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, that would require abortion providers to work to ‘preserve the life and health’ of a fetus that was born following an attempted abortion as they would for a newborn baby…” [emphasis mine.]

The reporter was lambasted in social media for calling a baby born alive after an abortion “a fetus” instead of a baby, newborn, or even neonate, any one of which would have been accurate. Such an egregious error called for a response.

In this day and age, it would have been easy to take to social media and criticize her publicly. But to what end? Wouldn’t the chances of her understanding why her words were wrong be much improved if I contacted her privately? My conclusion was yes.

So, in my role as communications director, I wrote her an email. 

My job is not to get angry at the press. My job is to treat reporters with respect and courtesy, the same respect and courtesy that I would hope to be given as a professional and the same respect I would want our issue to be given. 

In the email, I told the reporter that I was alarmed to read that a baby born alive was referred to as a fetus and then I explain why,

A fetus born alive is a living newborn baby–regardless of how he or she came into the world. As such, the law recognizes that a child born alive following an abortion is a legal person fully deserving of the protection of our laws. What the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act does is impose penalties for those who neglect the care of a living baby and treat him or her like medical waste.

It is disturbing to find a newborn baby referred to as a fetus–as if the legality of his or her life is in question because of how that particular baby was born. What should be disturbing is that a living human baby is allowed to die after he or she is already born.  

My point was to show her the error of her wording and do it respectfully. 

Is it silly to call a baby born alive a “fetus?” Yes. 

But does it serve the cause of unborn babies to publicly chastise her? No. 

As an aside—but an important one—too many are losing touch with some of our most valuable social norms: courtesy and respect. Too often, we see (and hear!) angry exchanges between those with opposing viewpoints and things like common courtesy and respect for others are lost. 

It is important, more so now than ever, that we as pro-lifers stand out because we do believe in respect. We stand for respect for every human life because each person is made in God’s image. Whatever the provocation, our respect for human life is greater. And that includes the media which covers our issue.

I didn’t hear back from the reporter that day. But I noticed two days later that CNN had updated its story and used more neutral language when describing the bill. There were some who took to social media criticizing CNN for not pointing out the change and why it was needed.

I took a different approach. I emailed the reporter, again. This time, I wrote:

I noticed today that the language in Tuesday’s article, “Senate to vote on two abortion restriction bills” was revised to make the description of the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act more neutral. 

Thank you for making the adjustment and using language that  conveys the intent of the bill.

It was a simple email but I wanted her to know that I noticed, that I appreciated the change, and that I respected her enough to thank her in a professional manner. 

Imagine my surprise when the reporter replied to my email around 6:30 that night, thanking me and wanting to know if she could speak to our president, Carol Tobias, by phone for an interview. I responded with a friendly email offering to set something up.

We are changing hearts and minds with truth, courtesy, kindness, and respect. It’s how we reach reporters—and the general public —every day. 

Categories: Media Bias
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