A pregnant Michelle Williams spent her acceptance speech at the Golden Globes on Sunday making an argument for abortion. (For a thorough dismantling of the speech, read The Federalist’s Joy Pullmann: “No, Michelle Williams, Women Don’t Need To Kill Their Kids To Get Ahead.”) As an experiment, I googled “Michelle Williams powerful,” and filtered the search for the past 24 hours to see how many media outlets cheered her on in the same sympathetic language. The results were absurd.
From CNN to People to Yahoo to Vanity Fair, at least twelve major outlets used some variation of the word “powerful” in their headlines about the speech. Take a look at the list, it’s stunning to see the banners one after another. The visual is a remarkably embarrassing representation of media groupthink. Note most of the publications below (with one or two exceptions) don’t openly claim an ideological bias.
But there’s more. There were the headlines that called Williams’s speech “passionate,” (Time, ET, Refinery29) “moving,” and “emotional.” Harper’s Bazaar deemed it “rousing.” The Associated Press headline, which was reprinted by several other top outlets, claimed Williams “[spoke] for women’s rights.” NBC News said she “champion[ed] a women’s right to choose.” (As did People.)
On ABC’s “The View” Monday morning, host Abby Huntsman praised Williams’ speech, dubbing it “lovely” and “moving.” And of course Sunny Hostin chimed in with, “It was a powerful moment.”
— The View (@TheView) January 6, 2020
The bias is as obvious as the groupthink. Remember, this is only a list of headlines. When I dug into the articles, they largely echoed their headlines’ bias. Further, plenty of bad coverage isn’t even included in this list because it came not in the headlines, but the content.
This is an indictment of the coastal media’s hive mind that should humiliate serious journalists on behalf of their industry. Readers deserve much better coverage than the spate of rote, you-go-girl dreck dozens of outlets magically produced in unison.
There are, of course, only so many words to describe certain circumstances. In this case, “powerful” is only one of them if you come from a particular perspective. Technically, of course, a pro-life person could find the speech “powerful” for different reasons, rendering the descriptor neutral—but then again, that’s exactly why the media uses it. I don’t think anyone serious is naive enough to give them the benefit of the doubt.
What’s particularly important to note is that both news outlets and tabloids landed on the same sympathetic messaging. Those are genres of journalism with two different readerships, so the effect is to reach an enormously broad audience with the very same biased narrative.
This is a memorable and instructive case study in the formation of media narratives. Bias is not just CNN. It’s not even just the news media. It’s the entire machine. And, to borrow a word, it’s powerful.