by Marcia Segelstein
As a former producer for CBS News, perhaps I’m especially sensitive to the often subtle bias (to say nothing of the obvious kind) that pervades the media. It’s a bias found in questions asked and unasked, in conclusions drawn and not drawn, and in stories covered and not covered.
In Sunday’s New York Times, for example, Philip Galanes interviewed Pat Loud, matriarch of the California family followed around by PBS cameras in the early 1970’s. “An American Family,” which aired in 1973, was famous (or infamous) for many things, among them the fact that Pat Loud divorced her husband and left her family while Americans watched with fascination from their living rooms. In the Times interview, Loud says that she came to New York in 1974 and became a literary agent. Galanes asks what she thinks her life would be today if they hadn’t done the TV show. “I’ve often tried to figure that out. I would have been up in that house, and my kids would have all gone, and I would have the empty-nest syndrome. So I beat them to it. I got out of there before they did.” Carole Radziwill, a current reality TV star being interviewed along with Loud, responds with this: “In a way, the show probably allowed you to live your more authentic life.” “Absolutely,” Loud responds. Really? She isn’t asked if she has any regrets about divorcing her husband and leaving her kids, especially given what we now know about the negative effects of divorce on children. Instead she gets a pat on the back for her “authenticity.” It’s also interesting to note that Loud and her ex-husband reunited several years later (without remarrying) while taking care of one of their sons who was dying of AIDS.
Meanwhile, the Times Magazine section had a piece called “Unintentional Motherhood” about a study conducted on women who were unable to have abortions for various reasons, mostly because they left it too late. The piece starts with the story of “S,” not one of the women studied, but one who fits the profile. “The pregnancy had crept up on S. She was a strong believer in birth control – in high school she was selected to help teach sex education. But having been celibate for months and strapped for cash, she stopped taking the pill. Then an ex-boyfriend came around.” Unable to have an abortion and unwilling to consider adoption, she had the baby and moved in with her extended family. “S. now says that Baby S. is the best thing that ever happened to her.” She told the reporter, “She is more than my best friend, more than the love of my life…She is just my whole world.” It turns out that S’s experience is consistent with the study, conducted by Diana Greene Foster, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, San Francisco. According to Foster “about 5 percent of the women, after they have had the baby, still wish they hadn’t. And the rest of them adjust.” The piece continues, emphasizing the point: “[W]omen rarely regret having a child, even one they thought they didn’t want.” There’s real news here, but it’s never even stated. If only 5% of the women studied still wish they’d had an abortion, that means that 95% don’t. Now there’s a headline.