Slanting the Cervical Cancer Vaccine Story

"Groups wary of drug industry motives" versus "religious and cultural conservatives." What, no liberals?

There wassome standard Times labeling bias in Saturday's A1 story by Stephanie Saul and Andrew Pollack on the rush to inoculate young girls against a sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer.

"Groups wary of drug industry motives find themselves on the same side of the anti-vaccination debate with unexpected political allies: religious and cultural conservatives who oppose mandatory use of the vaccine because they say it would encourage sexual activity by young girls."

Why not just say "Liberals wary of drug industry motives" to balance the line about "religious and cultural conservatives"?

The reporters took the same slant later, with "opponents of mandatory inoculation" and "conservative Christian groups." Again, for the sake of balance it would have been easy to add one word to the sentence so that it read "Liberal opponents...."

"Opponents of mandatory inoculation include anti-vaccine activists, who argue that the vaccine has not been tested in enough young girls and who have listed various side effects reported among users, which have included dizziness, nausea and fever. Others include conservative Christian groups who oppose mandatory H.P.V. vaccination on moral grounds, and those who are generally distrustful of the pharmaceutical industry."

The Times made a big deal about a postby a local political blog:

"And in Illinois, a bill introduced by a legislator who had the virus the vaccine is intended to prevent prompted a conservative group's blog to speculate that she had been promiscuous.

"'I'm offended by their ignorance, but if I have to take a hit to educate people, I'm willing to do it,' said the bill's sponsor, Debbie Halvorson, the Democratic majority leader in the Illinois Senate."

The Times couldn't get enough of the posting on the "conservative group's blog."

"'It's a very messy thing to be promoting right now,' said Fran Eaton, editor of the conservative blog in Illinois where one writer attacked Senator Halvorson's morality. 'If you're a conservative, you're going to be worried about parental rights. If you're a liberal, you're worried that the pharmaceutical companies are taking over the United States.'"

(Did the blog post really "attack Halvorsen's morality"? Judge for yourself here. The Times is certainly more sensitive to "attacks" on liberals by conservative blogs than it is of liberal bloggers attacking conservatives.)

Later, the Times slanted its description of a social conservative group.

"'I looked at all of this and said, someone is playing politics,' said Cathie Adams, president of the Texas Eagle Forum, a branch of Phyllis Schlafly's national Eagle Forum, a conservative group that calls itself 'pro-family.'"

The Times underlined its suspicion of the conservative Eagle Forum by using both quotation marks aruond "pro-faily" and the denigrating phrase "calls itself."