The award for “Worst Bias by Omission” goes to NBC's “Today” for discussing only one side of a “virginity pledge” survey. The nation-wide survey, released today by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, found that teens that make “abstinence pledges” are just as likely as “non-pledgers” to engage in sexual behavior before marriage.
In their coverage of the study, MSNBC and The New York Times offered counter viewpoints given by abstinence education proponents who take issue with the conclusions drawn by the Bloomberg School's Janet E. Rosenbaum “It is remarkable that an author who employs rigorous research methodology would then compromise those standards by making wild, ideologically tainted and inaccurate analysis regarding the content of abstinence education programs," said Valerie Huber of the National Abstinence Education Association, who was quoted in the MSNBC article by Rob Stein.
But “Today” would have none of it. Instead of a healthy debate between two experts, viewers were subjected to an interview featuring sex therapist Dr. Laura Berman.
“Uh, and this is something that uh, you know, it's exciting because the Obama administration is much more supportive of comprehensive sex education that obviously includes abstinence but also doesn't put our heads in the sand about the realities of teenagers and feelings of infallibility and immortality that most teenagers have,” said Berman to host Meredith Vieira. Berman is an outspoken supporter of comprehensive sex education and boasts that her website is the “ultimate source for better sex and intimacy at any age.”
“Today's” one-sided treatment of the study fits a troubling pattern in coverage of the debate about sex education. In September, the media echoed then-candidate Barack Obama's denial that he favored comprehensive sex education for kindergarteners instead of investigating his claim.
James Joyner, author of the popular blog “Outside the Beltway,” also noted a lack of media coverage of the benefits of virginity pledges. “Back in 2005 several other studies showed that people who took the pledges in fact had lower rates of STDs, and engaged in fewer risky behaviors. Something that MSNBC omits.”
Erin Brown is an intern at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the