Media Analysis: Presentation and Influence
Publications interpret and present information differently, influenced by many factors or filters. These filters include, but are not limited to, political foundations, advertiser support, and corporate interests, all of which are taken into consideration. (Myth of the Liberal Media: The Propaganda Model of News, 1997) A publication has the power to set its agenda and a journalist frames a story through a representative point of view. For this reason, the article’s perspective is something to seriously consider, determining whether its focus serves to present both sides of the issue allowing the reader to make an educated choice on which side they stand, or whether it intentionally sways the reader’s opinion in one particular direction. In any case, discussion is provoked and influenced within the public, private and political sectors.
By analyzing three articles from three separate sources, each addressing the topic of patients’ access to birth control versus pharmacists’ rights to abstain from dispensing, it becomes obvious that the issue is presented with intent to influence an audience. Conflicts surrounding the issue are presented with varying influential degrees ranging from nearly unbiased, to more persuasive, to drastically taking sides. By contrasting approaches of The Washington Post’s educational article “Pharmacists Right’s at Front of New Debate” by Rob Stein against The Nation’s unilateral article “Prochoice Puritans” by Katha Pollitt, the thin veil of unbiased reporting will be lifted from the conservative Christian Science Monitor article, “Culture War Hits Local Pharmacy” by Amanda Paulson.
The Washington Post story “Pharmacists Right’s at Front of New Debate” by Rob Stein offers the most unbiased presentation of the issue in this analysis. One could argue that the title highlights pharmacists’ rights but, in fairness, the article’s final word resonates with patients’ rights in a strong quote from Kathleen Pulz who, affected by her pharmacist’s decision to refrain from distributing emergency contraception, states, “It’s just not right.” (Stein, A1) The piece moves logically from the newness of pharmacists expressing their personal beliefs in a professional setting to the effect that this has on patients experiencing their lack of access to prescriptions. While it discusses heated battles between sides, Stein never infuses the article with his own passion:
The trend has opened a new front in the nation’s battle over reproductive rights, sparking an intense debate over the competing rights of pharmacists to refuse to participate in something they consider repugnant and a woman’s right to get medications her doctor has prescribed. It has also triggered pitched political battles in statehouses across the nation as politicians seek to pass laws either to protect pharmacists from being penalized — or force them to carry out their duties. (Stein, A1)
Examining the number of quotes and paragraphs addressing each side of the argument, Stein equally applies weight to the issues using both quantity of column space as well as quality of content. Facts, ideas and events are purposefully connected using neutral language while the use of quotes from pertinent interest groups, patients and pharmacists directly portray the opinions of the parties concerned. This article, of the three, most closely represents an ideally educational and unbiased account of the issues and provides no clear revelation as to which side of the issue Stein personally supports.
Alternately, The Nation’s “Prochoice Puritans” by Katha Pollitt is designed, with salacious and pointed language, to chastise the moralist views of the pro-life movement, promote the idea of keeping abortion legal, and thus influence support of accessible contraception. There is no question here as to which side of the issue Pillott resides. By first defining the average pro-life supporter, she then explains that since the movement has become so extreme, holding on to the average views, by comparison, will “make you a pro-lifer.” (Pollitt, 9) This sets the stage for the rash of criticism to follow. By attacking the moral high ground of those who promote shame and humiliation to those who have had, or desire to protect legal abortions, she attempts to undermine their criticism with her own fierce variety by shedding light on how misunderstood the issue is, likening it to “‘flag burning’ something that offends all right-thinking people but needs to be legal for reasons of abstract principle (choice).” (Pollitt, 9)
In a bold move, Pillott denounces abortion critics not only in pro-life camps, but in pro-choice camps as well. Specifically, she attacks journalist William Saletan of The New York Times, accusing him of framing his op-ed piece around the idea that, while choice should be preserved, “abortion is bad,” (Pollitt, 9) and it is the responsibility of the pro-choice movement to promote zero abortion and more contraception, their only common ground along side the pro-lifers. Pointing out the short sightedness of this approach she believes that, not only is zero abortion an impossible goal, but that abortion opponents hate birth control. They consider The Pill an abortifacient while barrier methods “promote a ‘contraceptive mentality’: a selfish, licentious attitude that leads straight to abortion hell.” (Pollitt, 9) This is a direct call for choice supporters to dispel the attack and shame campaign of the anti-choice movement rather than joining it and find realistic solutions.
Using logic, Pollitt explains that restriction on contraception means more abortion by renouncing the policies of slashing of family planning funds and “laws enabling pharmacists to deny women EC and the Pill.” (Pollitt, 9) Liberal Democrats, as the largest political source of pro-choice supporters, are also delivered a blow for “95-10,” a plan to reduce abortions by 95% in ten years without any mention of effective birth control. Pollitt effectively sheds light on their flawed logic, in contrast to her own, which hinders the accomplishment of their goal.
In her final attempt to sway opinion, Pollitt references a number of polls from 1998 reflecting that Americans disapproved of legalized abortion for every reason on the list. While these numbers do not support keeping abortion or access to contraception a legal right in America, Pillott persuasively makes the point that abortions are also performed for every reason on that list. Calling the reader to question the respondents? motives in answering, she suggests that they may have simply been trying to voice their disapproval, not make abortion illegal. The reader must, at this point, question the legitimacy of the poll.
In “Culture War Hits Local Pharmacy” by Amanda Paulson of The Christian Science Monitor, conservative presentation can be less obvious in its attempt to sway an audience than an emotionally charged piece like Pollitt’s “Prochoice Puritans,” and yet it still carries a significant influential tone. As with Stein’s approach, Paulson appears to equally represent both sides of the story, but upon closer examination, the language and point of view of the piece reflect undertones of journalistic opinion.
The word choice for the title includes “war” invoking the sense of battle between each side, while the line “Many druggists across the country refuse to give out morning-after pills” (Paulson, p01 s01) also conveys a larger problem than The Washington Post headline reading, “Some refuse to fill birth Control Perscriptions.” (Stein, A1) This war is presented as an infiltrating force, breaking into every arena of daily life. Paulson is saying this is something that can’t be ignored, portraying pharmacists with moral agendas as rebellious disturbances of the peace.
When presenting the pharmacists’ case, Paulson says little to reflect their personal moral conflict. Instead, she addresses their opinions through the viewpoint of their critics. These critics point out the inability of pharmacists to rely on a “conscience-clause” afforded to doctors because the job of “filling a prescription is a very different job from writing one.” (Paulson, p01 s01) Presenting inequality of rights for doctors and pharmacists in this way knocks their profession down a notch and subtly undermines their argument. This is also achieved in a similar manner when presenting the patients’ side of the story. Those patients denied their prescriptions “are simply angry to see their prescriptions become fodder for public debate.” (Paulson, p01 s01) These people read as victims in this war on moral rights, again presenting moralistic pharmacists in an unfavorable light.
Paulson lists a series of judgments from politicians on both sides of the issue, but it is difficult to determine her reasoning for their placement. The first two points collectively reflect five states in favor of patients” rights while the third reveals that thirteen states are considering laws to protect the individual pharmacists” beliefs. The fourth describes additional support for individual rights of Catholic hospital medical staff in Colorado. It appears that by listing the small number of patient supporters first, she may have been trying to give their significance more weight, perhaps an influential move in a seemingly random list.
To illustrate that these “pharmacist battles” are occurring more frequently, Paulson lists three cases within two paragraphs which, intended or not, reads like a criminal rap sheet. Also, when pointing out the view of medical ethicists, her paragraph poignantly begins with “Still, in a conflict, the patient’s rights should win.” (Paulson, p01 s01) This surely has an undermining effect on her eventual presentation of the pharmacists’ point of view. By the time she addresses their concerns in detail, the reader has already derived a sense of disapproval from the text.
In conclusion, because the media has such influential power over public debate, and politics, it is important, as a reader, to determine what a story says whether intended or not. These three articles approach the issues surrounding birth control access with different and sometimes subtle intentions. It is the subtle presentation which requires the most scrutiny as one side of the argument tends to be imperceptibly glossed over or discredited. If reading only one article, as in the case of The Christian Science Monitor, the audience has been presented limited or skewed information and may side with patients’ rights. Regardless of the journalistic approach on any issue, the importance of consulting several varied sources of information is key in achieving the greatest understanding of any argument. This is the responsibility of any citizen who cares enough to be fully informed.
Paulson, Amanda. “Culture War Hits Local Pharmacy.” The Christian Science Monitor 08 April 2005: p01 s01.
Paulson, Amanda. ” Culture War Hits Local Pharmacy.” The Christian Science Monitor 08 April 2005. 10 Mar 2006
Pollitt, Katha. “Prochoice Puritans.” The Nation 282.6 (2006): 09.
Pollitt, Katha. “Prochoice Puritans.” The Nation 282.6 (2006). 10 Mar 2006 .
Myth of the Liberal Media: The Propaganda Model of News. Prod. Sut Jhally. Perfs. Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman. Videocassette. Media Education Foundation, 1997.
Stein, Rob. “Pharmacists’ Rights at Front Of New Debate Because of Beliefs, Some Refuse To Fill Birth Control Prescriptions.” Washington Post 28 March 2005: A1.
Stein, Rob . “Pharmacists’ Rights at Front Of New Debate Because of Beliefs, Some Refuse To Fill Birth Control Prescriptions.” Washington Post 28 2005. 10 Mar 2006 www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A5490-2005Mar27.htm