Where principles are masked as propaganda

The nomination of noted evangelical C. Everett Koop to be U.S. Surgeon General has revealed what I like to call “the myth of neutrality” in this nation’s news reporting. Rather than being neutral, many influential publishers and broadcasters adhere to a strongly liberal consensus.

To support this contention, we must begin with the film series. Whatever Happened to the Human Race?, which featured Koop and theologian Francis Schaeffer as narrators (CT. Aug. 17, 1979, and Jan. 23, 1981). Before the televised version was aired in Washington, word got around that the program would have major exposure in the D.C. area. There was an immediate, shrill reaction from proabortionists. They tried in every way possible to stop the telecast of the film, which takes the opposing abortion position. Letters were sent to the proabortionists’ mailing lists, urging people to bombard Channel 7 with calls and letters demanding that the program not be shown, and the film was castigated as “propaganda.” Even the ethics of Channel 7 were questioned because of the station’s willingness to show the program. One letter also said the main objection to the show was that the prochoice (i.e., for abortion) side did not have programming to match Whatever Happened to the Human Race? This, in fact, seemed to be the chief objection.

In spite of the attempt to block the program, it was aired. The headline on Judy Mann’s review in the Washington Post summed up her point of view: “No Matter How Moving, Show Still Propaganda.” The review—basically a parroting of letters from the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights and other proabortion organizations, and restatement of their objections—began. “Score a resounding ten points on the emotional Richter scale for the anti-abortion forces that have produced a film called. Whatever Happened to the Human Race?” Mann took Channel 7 to task for showing a film that “is propaganda masquerading as public affairs programming.”

The second chapter in this story began a few weeks later with Koop’s appointment by the Reagan administration to the position of deputy assistant secretary for health and human services, with a view to his becoming U.S. Surgeon General (CT, Jan. 2 and Mar. 13, 1981).

The Post described Koop as “a leading anti-abortionist” in an article headlined, “Abortion Foes Gain Key Federal Post.” He was dismissed with this description: “A fundamentalist Christian with a Lincolnesque beard, Koop has been a board member of at least two anti-abortion groups—the National Right to Life Committee and the Americans United for Life—and is the narrator of a controversial anti-abortion film. Whatever Happened to the Human Race?” Other newspapers picked up the Post story. To them Koop’s chief accomplishment seems to have been his activity on behalf of the unborn. The Post and others seemingly were unable to bring themselves to mention his outstanding medical and administrative credentials accumulated over a lifetime as a pioneer in children’s surgery and as an internationally recognized figure in the pediatric field.

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Eventually. Time magazine ran an article entitled, “Thunderings from the Right,” and referred to Koop as a doctor who had “made his name in the ’70s separating Siamese twins.” The writer referred to the fact that Koop had appeared in an antiabortion “presentation,” Whatever Happened to the Human Race?, and let it go at that.

The story ultimately came to the attention of television network news. NBC prepared a special report for its weekend news edition on Sunday. March 15. The program featured Koop as a recent Reagan appointee and only referred to him as someone who had “appeared in a prolife propaganda film.” NBC mentioned neither the name of the film, nor anything about it, nor any of Koop’s credentials. It simply borrowed from the Post article the idea that he was somehow involved in “propaganda.”

The French government recently awarded Koop their Legion d’Honeur for his contribution to pediatric surgery. He has had the longest tenure as a surgeon-in-chief in any major U.S. hospital. He has pioneered and administered countless Third World medical relief efforts, and he has been the honored guest of nations. Yet this country’s news media seem interested in him only insofar as they can ignore his credentials and belittle and snipe at him for being a physician strongly against abortion. A Boston Globe editorial went so far as to ignore his medical credentials altogether and to refer to Koop only as a “clinician … with tunnel vision.”

It is intriguing how small the world is when it comes to who decides what attitude shall taken by a major purveyor of the news. Once that attitude is set by, let’s say, people at the Washington Post and their proabortion friends, there is little chance that the tone taken by the other major news companies will be any different. This happens for at least two reasons: (1) human laziness, which finds it easier to pick up a story slant than to investigate its merits on a fresh, and individual basis, and (2) the rather liberal consensus that the major news organizations (New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, Time, and the TV networks) often seem to hold in common.

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There appears to be little diversity of opinion or approach when it comes to a news story that manifests a different social or philosophical point of view. Basically, there is only one opinion expressed. This is not control of the press as formal as, for instance, that of the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, we at least have a philosophically controlled press, not dominated by a KGB looking over its shoulder, but by a liberal consensus. The Soviet press dispatches those whom it dislikes with such epitaphs as “antisocial” or “counter-revolutionary.” The U.S. TV and press journalists often use the same shallow, glib technique with their own negative code words, such as “fundamentalist,” “prolife,” “conservative,” and “right wing,” and such positive code words as “pragmatic,” “moderate,” and “pluralistic.”

Never in the news stories mentioned were Koop’s credentials examined from the point of view of whether or not he could do a good job for the country. Whatever Happened to the Human Race? was never reviewed objectively. Those who saw the NBC report remain uninformed as to what the “propaganda film” was saying—or even about who, what, and where Koop was. Were these newspapers and TV networks less interested in good journalism than in using their power to move people in the “pluralistic” direction they favor?

Like Aesop’s Fables, there is a moral to the tale. It is that the “tolerant liberal press” in this country, when reporting on opposing views—at least on the question of abortion—moves slightly to the right of Attila the Hun insofar as any real objectivity goes.

In the first Post article by Mann, several rhetorical questions were asked, such as, “Where does he get his money?” “Who are these people, anyway?” I suspected at the time that the writer did not really want to know the answers. (Who’s Who in America has most of the relevant information she seemed unable to find.) I did, however, write a long personal letter, giving detailed answers to the questions. The full text of Whatever Happened to the Human Race? in book form was enclosed, and I invited further inquiries. I never received a reply.

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