The Problem With Framing The Debates

October 15, 2012 - 4:30 PM

CBS News veteran reporter Roger Mudd said it well decades ago. He told a college audience: We in the media can’t tell you what to think, but we can tell you what to think about. It’s called setting the agenda, or, in the case of recent political contests, framing the debate.

Now, I don’t think ABC News foreign correspondent, Martha Raddatz got tips on how to stick it to pro-life candidates when she danced at her wedding twenty years ago. Barack Obama was a guest on that occasion. But Joe Biden wasn’t.

No, it’s just the “climate of opinion” in the news circles where she moves, breathes and has her being.

Look at how she framed her questions in the Vice Presidential Debate she allegedly moderated last Thursday. Make sure all viewers get the impression that it is Catholics who have a special problem with abortion. Score one point for the liberal world view. The late Dr. Bernard Nathanson described how he and NARAL co-founder Lawrence Lader made the strategic decision to target the Catholic Bishops for their opposition to liberalized abortion. That way, Nathanson explained, you could separate the sheep from the shepherds, and give liberal Catholics an easy out.

Raddatz’s questioning came straight out of the Lader-NARAL playbook.

Raddatz: This debate is, indeed, historic. We have two Catholic candidates, first time, on a stage such as this. And I would like to ask you both to tell me what role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion. Please talk about how you came to that decision. Talk about how your religion played a part in that. And, please, this is such an emotional issue for so many people in this country … please talk personally about this, if you could.

Note: Her question just assumes this must be an emotional issue. Thus, it is not coolly dispassionate, rational. While we can hope that she was referring to the emotionally-freighted responses of people on both sides of the issue, it is indisputable that reason and fact must overcome whatever intensity of feeling is brought to the debate. And when they are, it becomes ever more difficult for abortion proponents to talk anything but emotionally.

Just once, I’d like to hear a debate “moderator” ask this question in a cool and rational tone, without getting all emotional:

Moderator: Mr. Biden, you’ve been a lawmaker for forty years. American lawmakers a hundred and fifty years ago wrote laws protecting unborn human life. In all fifty states, those laws were located in the states’ homicide codes. What new scientific data has convinced you that those elected representatives were mistaken and that abortion is not homicide?

Then, of course, there’s this classic under-the-belt punch beneath the moderator’s table:

Raddatz: If the Romney-Ryan ticket is elected, should those who believe that abortion should remain legal be worried?

Imagine the uproar if Raddatz had asked Biden this:

Moderator: If the Obama-Biden ticket is re-elected, should those who believe in the right to life be worried they will be required to pay for abortion?

Or this:

Moderator: If the Obama-Biden ticket is re-elected, how many unborn children do you think will die? Six million? Or more?

I can express my own opposition to homicide of the unborn without reference to my religion (it’s Lutheran, by the way). I can even use a pro-abortion source to make my case. Here’s what California Medicine journal had to say about abortion in 1970:

“...it has been necessary to separate the idea of abortion from the idea of killing, which continues to be socially abhorrent. The result has been a curious avoidance of the scientific fact, which everyone really knows, that human life begins at conception and is continuous whether intra- or extra-uterine until death. The very considerable semantic gymnastics which are required to rationalize abortion as anything but taking a human life would be ludicrous if they were not often put forth under socially impeccable auspices.”

That famous editorial from California Medicine endorsed the slaughter of innocents. It spoke of the “semantic gymanastics” engaged in by advocates of abortion, even as it embraced the idea that we know what we are doing, and are going to do it anyway.

Time’s liberal columnist Joe Klein let the unborn cat out of the bag when he conceded that ultra-sounds have made it “impossible to deny that that thing in the womb is a human being.”

Impossible to deny? Martha Raddatz’s questioning shows that the liberal elites in this country deny it every day. They’ve been denying it for forty years. If they gave Olympic Gold Medals for Semantic Gymnastics, Martha Raddatz would indeed be on the winner’s platform.

Post Script: I was in the room when pro-lifer Dr. Bernard Nathanson confessed his many sins, including supervising the deaths of 60,000 unborn children. He then recited the Apostles’ Creed and entered into communion in the Catholic Church. I admit, then I did get emotional. Is that OK?

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