Misusing Research

How the secular press repeatedly manipulates data to advance the liberal agenda.
by Jim Fair | Source:
Not too many weeks ago I wrote a column here about the rather manipulative use of survey data by the news media. Well, at the risk of causing shock to your nervous system, I must report that it has happened again.

An Associated Press article earlier this week carried the headline in my local newspaper: “Most Catholics accepting of divorce.” That headline caught my attention, divorce being something the Church tends not to promote.

Several paragraphs into the story I came across the line that must have inspired the headline: “…76 percent of adult Catholics also said divorce is acceptable in some cases.”

OK…read 76 percent and the first reaction could be: “Most Catholic accepting of divorce.” The problem is, accepting makes it sounds like Catholics are “okay” with divorce.

This just didn’t ring true to my convert-Catholic ears, so I looked up the survey that was the basis for the story. The survey was conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate and sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in connection with the National Pastoral Initiative for Marriage. (Wow…that is a mouthful. But trust me, this was a significant, professional bit of research.)

To set the record straight, here is what the survey report said about Catholic attitudes toward divorce:
Fewer than three in ten Catholics agree “somewhat” or “strongly” that divorce is usually the best solution when a couple can’t seem to work out their marriage problems (29 percent) or that living with a partner before marriage decreases the risk of divorce (27 percent). Seventy-one percent of Catholics agree at least “somewhat” that couples do not take marriage seriously enough when divorce is easily available. Yet, 76 percent of adult Catholics believe divorce to be acceptable in “some cases.” Seventeen percent say divorce is acceptable in “all cases,” and 7 percent say it is “not acceptable in any case.” With regard to specific circumstances, Catholics are most likely to believe that divorce is acceptable in instances of physical abuse (96 percent), emotional abuse (92 percent), and infidelity (85 percent). They are least likely to believe it acceptable in cases of disagreement about religion (32 percent) or financial troubles (23 percent).


While the report does say that a majority of Catholics would agree with divorce in “some cases,” the AP totally neglects the context. That is, Catholic overwhelming said that they only supported divorce in extreme cases; certainly, they don’t take divorce casually – they are not “accepting.”

The report, you will note, also said that a decided minority of Catholics believe that divorce is the best solution when couples can’t work out their marriage problems. In other words, AP could have written a story about how much Catholics support marriage, even in the face of adversity.

Of course, a story about continued support of marriage wouldn’t have been especially politically correct. It wouldn’t have supported a liberal outlook on life that so many in the media share. But it would have been honest.



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