Culture challenge of the week: Bias and spin
Beware — during this heated election season, liberal self-styled "public interest" organizations might try to fool you.
Even though they advance larger government, more taxes, pro-abortion policies and the liberal candidates that support them, you can't always tell by their ads. Many of these groups even have neutral or civic-oriented-sounding names. Because they sound neutral, their messages often effectively reach new voters who don't recognize the hidden agendas.
And through it all, our children — the future voters — are watching.
Daily tracking polls (where biased samples determine the polls' outcome, according to NewsBusters.com, a Media Research Center website dedicated to combating liberal media bias) and TV "political analysts" (passed off as unbiased voices in spite of thinly disguised sympathies) wield disproportionate influence over independent voters. It's a scary thought, given the close presidential race.
The Obama administration has even gone so far as to try and intimidate the Gallup poll organization, and has now joined a federal lawsuit against Gallup that was instigated by a former Democratic operative.
But more insidious than the Obama administration's overt political pressure is the subtle influence of neutral-sounding civic groups.
Take the League of Women Voters, for instance. Its name conjures up images of gray-haired grandmas conducting voter registration drives and working the polls on Election Day. Not so.
The league is nothing more than an interest group that aims to drive votes to the Democratic Party. Look at its agenda: It supports gun control, abortion and Obamacare; it favors international arms control, reduced defense spending and greater United Nations control over member countries. It dismisses "religious and moral objections" to government-mandated contraception and abortion coverage and favors abolishing the constitutionally created Electoral College.
Neutral it is not.
Youth groups such as the Girl Scouts of America — which claims to be neutral on abortion — frequently partner with the League of Women Voters and holds it up as an example of nonpartisan, pro-woman, civic engagement. The Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee, for example, promotes the League of Women Voters through its My Voice Counts patch, calling the league a group that's "making democracy work."
Similarly, the Los Angeles League of Women Voters (a member of the Reproductive Justice Coalition of Los Angeles) works closely with the Girl Scouts in Los Angeles to "educate" them on voter engagement.
Both the League of Women Voters and the Girl Scouts of America tell young women to use their voices and contribute to the electoral process. But on whose behalf? Do these young women realize they're being manipulated about what to think and what to say?
How to save your family: Teach your kids to recognize spin
Your children will hear conflicting "news" messages at school, from peers and through the media. While we can't always control what they hear, we at least can teach them to be savvy consumers of these messages.
First, teach your children that the label "nonpartisan" does not mean an organization is unbiased. The savvy news consumer must look behind the labels to see where a group stands on the issues. Many civic groups espouse positions that plant them firmly in one party or another. The League of Women Voters' open support for abortion is a perfect example.
Second, help your children understand that interest groups don't always trumpet their leftist viewpoints in their handbooks or mission statements. Look at the language they use (e.g., "reproductive justice" equates to pro-abortion, "marriage equality" supports same-sex marriage) and the work in which they engage. See who the organization's partners are. Just like people, you will know an organization by its friends.
Finally, help your children see the spin in "soft" news sources such as AOL's Huffington Post, which now hosts pages designed to influence young audiences (see its "Teen voices" which recently promoted homosexuality). Similarly, Facebook and Twitter may slant a story in 140 characters or fewer.
As seasoned voters, we're sensitive to agenda-pushing groups. For young and future voters, it's a whole new world to navigate. It's hardly the news world that we knew, way back when. Now, it's our obligation to teach our children how to recognize agendas and think beyond surface messages.
In sharpening their critical-thinking skills, we can hone our own — and ensure that the organizations and candidates we support really are in tune with what we know is right.
Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.