CNN, Fox News, and the Planned Parenthood Shooting

The suspect for the Planned Parenthood shooting, Robert Lewis Dear, recently appeared in court for the first time, prompting CNN and Fox News to both publish articles. These articles use largely the same sort of language: CNN describes Dear as “[t]he man accused of killing three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic” while Fox calls him “[t]he man accused in the shooting rampage at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic.” Nor do these articles differ much in their descriptions of Dear’s court appearance; both describe Dear’s clothing, what the judge said to him, and Dear’s responses with fairly neutral language. The interesting bit comes after, when each article decides to speculate on Dear’s motives.

First, both articles note a law enforcement official’s claim that Dear mentioned something about baby parts. It’s interesting to look at how each article structures the sentences relating to this: CNN presents the mention of baby parts as a fact, adding “a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation said” at the very last second. Fox, however, presents it almost as hearsay;  “A law enforcement official said Dear told authorities, ‘no more baby parts.'” Simply by placing “A law enforcement official said,” at the beginning of the sentence rather than the end, Fox calls into question the validity of this claim, while by doing the opposite, CNN presents this claim as a fact.

Fox further casts doubt on the validity of this claim in the next paragraph, where it states that although Planned Parenthood claims Dear was motivated by opposition to abortion, “Dear has been described by acquaintances as a reclusive loner who did not seem to have strong political or social opinions.” It further describes Dear’s statements as “murk[y]” and notes that due to the debate over Planned Parenthood, any decision authorities make about motive “is sure to be controversial.”

CNN, on the other hand, doesn’t even begin to suggest the idea that Dear may have been motivated by anything but anti-abortion sentiments; they interview authorities instead of Dear’s acquaintances. The quotes that they pull are particularly revealing, using such strong language as “a ‘crime against women receiving health care services'” and “was clear that she believes the shooter ‘was motivated by opposition to safe and legal abortion.'” They also note that John Suthers, the mayor of Colorado Springs, “said [a motive for the shooting] can be inferred by the location of the attack,” further suggesting Dear’s motive was opposition to abortion. This is in sharp contrast to Fox’s insistence that although Dear may (strong emphasis on the may) have mentioned something about baby parts, his motives are incredibly murky and we can’t decide anything about them quite yet.

Mossburg, Cheri, et. al. 2015. “Planned Parenthood shooting suspect appears in court.” CNN. November 30. Accessed December 2, 2015.

Associated Press (?). 2015. Suspect in Colorado Planned Parenthood shooting makes 1st court appearance.” Fox News. November 30. Accessed December 2, 2015.

CNN, Fox News, and the Planned Parenthood Shooting

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