How to edit an article to ‘back page’ the science: a case study from today’s Cincinnati Enquirer

August 25, 2012 at 3:30 pm

If you read the top quote from an article in today’s Enquirer (picture above), what would your first thought be about what the article is about?

I think the Enquirer does a great job of presenting what would appear to be an unbiased article to a close reader, yet at the same time never really undermining the conservative claim in the title quote, “‘Legitimate rape’ rarely causes pregnancy” to the casual reader.

If you’re interested, here’s how to edit an article to achieve this effect.

1. Use the conservative claim as the headline

Note how the title of the article is the strong conservative belief. Many people who do not read past the headline or who casually glance at the front page of the newspaper will only see:

“‘Legitimate rape’ rarely causes pregnancy”

2. Turn a conservative into a victim of the mean world of science

The quote right below the picture states:

Missouri congressman Todd Akin’s now-infamous claim has been ridiculed in almost all scientific camps, yet the premise still has a vocal core of persistent believers, including a local doctor who helped found National Right to Life.

Poor Todd Akin. He’s being “ridiculed” by the scientific world for his beliefs.

But is the scientific world really ridiculing him? Or are they simply stating that there is no science or rational basis for his beliefs?

Here are the only quotes presented in the article which might be construed as “ridiculing”:

-“It’s preposterous.” – Greg Philips, spokesman for the the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

-“I would classify it as junk science.” – Dean Kilpatrick, a South Carolina psychologist who co-authored a study finding that 5 percent of rape victims of child-bearing age become pregnant.

-“It just isn’t scientifically true.” – O’Dell Owens, Fertility Specialist and president of Cincinnati State Technical and Community College

Reading further in the article, we actually see the research presented which illustrates that statistically, the odds of getting pregnant from rape are similar to those from getting pregnant from consensual sex.

The scientific community is only saying that there is no science to back up Mr. Akin’s claims. Not “ridiculing” anyone.

The Enquirer appears to be trying to stir up controversy by implying that liberal academics are belittling or talking down to people.

However, the facts the Enquirer presents indicate otherwise: scientists are simply saying there is no science behind the claims.

3. Back page the science

In a roughly 1400 word article, the actual science isn’t presented until roughly 900 words into the article in the second column on page A12.

So what does the first 900 words deal with?

It focuses on the “controversy” which is really more of a non-troversy from a scientific standpoint.

This, however, seems to be where the Enquirer finds the entertainment value as evidenced by their “Science vs. politics” picture.

It’s a war between science and religion. And science is losing. Extra, extra, read all about it!

4. Front page the conservative view

John Willke, a retired practitioner and founder of the National Right to Life Committee, gets dibs on the front page with his view that the stress of rape causes the female body to react in a way that inhibits pregnancy.

5. Include the idea that both Democrats and Republicans are to blame

Towards the end of the article, Denise MacKura, president of the Human Family Research Center and past executive director of Ohio Right to Life is quoted:

Both Democrats and Republicans use it as a political football, and that’s why we can’t sit down and have a rational discussion about abortion.

So it’s a Democrat vs. Republican issue? And that’s the reason we can’t have a discussion about abortion?

This is the standard “both sides are doing it” argument which conservatives often present to claim that there are extremists on both sides and politics is the impasse.

In this case, the impasse is actually that you can’t argue with someone who refuses to admit scientific evidence and bases their arguments on religion.

What kind of argument could you possibly make that would convince someone like Dr. Willke, a man who claims to have “scientific” arguments that aren’t actually accepted by the scientific community?

Only one side is actually political and religious. The other is scientific.


I suppose I should be happy that the Enquirer prints the science at all (even on a back page) and at least frames the article as science vs. religion given their past endorsement of conservative and Right to Life candidates.

However, the article is put together in such a way as to bury the science and even support the religious argument to casual readers who may get no further than the front page.

Not only is science back paged, but the implicit claim is that scientists are somehow ridiculing anyone of faith who thinks differently.

This is typical of much of the news media today on topics involving science such as global warming or evolution and, I believe, part of the reason why so many people are misinformed when it comes to the actual science.

The ideas are presented as Democrats think one thing and Republicans think another and there is equal science to support both. At least the Enquirer did not go this far, but the casual reader might not think so.

Cross posted to Daily Kos.