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Misleading questions and 'gotcha' journalism

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Dec 18, 2008

Several CWN readers have written to protest an inconsistency in our Analysis piece on 'Emergency Contraception and the Betrayal of Catholic Principles in Boston.' That article criticized both NARAL and the Boston Globe for basing a story on the work of a "researcher" who posed as a rape-crisis counselor. "In other words the researcher deliberately misled the survey subjects," the CWN story ran. "Both NARAL and the Globe skip over the ethical questions raised by such a 'research' project."

Alert readers pointed out that in the past CWN has given favorable coverage to pro-life activists like the remarkable Lila Rose of UCLA, who exposed misdeeds at Planned Parenthood by posing as a young woman facing a problem pregnancy. If pro-lifers engage in such subterfuge, the readers reason, abortion advocates should not be criticized for doing the same thing.

Point taken. CWN should not have criticized NARAL for engaging in this sort of "gotcha" journalism. (There are plenty of other grounds on which NARAL can be criticized.)

With the Globe, however, it's a different story. A Globe reporter who deliberately misled his interview subjects would probably be fired, and rightly so; that sort of advocacy journalism has no place in the newsroom of a major metropolitan daily. The Globe claims to be impartial, and would recoil at the suggestion that its reporters were setting out to trap their interview subjects, to make a partisan point. Yet when NARAL did that, the Globe gleefully carried the result, with no real attempt to distance the newspaper from the advocacy group. You can be very, very sure that the Globe has not been giving front-page treatment to Lila Rose.

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