CNN’s “The Debate” asks, Should teens make circumcision decision?

Given a choice between the occasional teen obsessing over getting circumcised and a majority of parents obsessing over doing the circumcising for said teens before they are of an age to raise a ruckus, the former seems far preferable. This was my thought on seeing the headline, Should teens make circumcision decision?

Of course, the headline was not what the CNN article was about at all. Rather the article does a job on The Debate. The question headline is a sort of bottomlining of the two sides. No matter on which side of the issue you fall, the question will affirm your beliefs. For intactivists, it suggests giving the power of choice to those for whom none has existed. For the circumcisionists lobby, it will sound like a scary proposition because all decisions teens make for themselves are scary and to be avoided — or at least made for them by adults. Such questions in headlines signal a reassuring refutation or a groupthink move towards reexamination of old beliefs. It’s essentially hopefully neutral.

In our article under consideration, all the obligatory archetypes are here: The young man who gets circumcised with no regrets, having wished for it since he was old enough to realize most of his peers were circumcised as babies. The slightly neurotic sounding guy who is resentful his parents circumcised him as a baby, and who of course is restoring his foreskin, while citing with near certitude (written so as to destroy his credibility) his belief that he’s suffered reduced sensation. The medical researcher who wasn’t going to cut his kid … until he did his very own scientific research (at that bastian of psycho-sexual experimentation, Johns Hopkins University, no less), and then did. The niche circumcision doctor, who makes a living making ugly circumcisions into pretty ones. The Canadian doctor who is against it on ethical grounds. They are all in there!

This on-the-one-hand-and-then-on-the-other-hand journalism epitomizes in a socio-medical way Jay Rosen‘s “View from Nowhere” except that the bias is clearly in clearly still tips in favor of making the reasonable side (our intactivists side) seem eccentric in one way or another. Rosen has spoken eloquently about this view, summarizing it thusly.

In pro journalism, American style, the View from Nowhere is a bid for trust that advertises the viewlessness of the news producer. Frequently it places the journalist between polarized extremes, and calls that neither-nor position “impartial.” Second, it’s a means of defense against a style of criticism that is fully anticipated: charges of bias originating in partisan politics and the two-party system. Third: it’s an attempt to secure a kind of universal legitimacy that is implicitly denied to those who stake out positions or betray a point of view. American journalists have almost a lust for the View from Nowhere because they think it has more authority than any other possible stance.

What authority there is in the position of viewlessness is unearned– like the snooty guy who, when challenged, says, “Madam, I have a PhD.” In journalism, real authority starts with reporting. Knowing your stuff, mastering your beat, being right on the facts, digging under the surface of things, calling around to find out what happened, verifying what you heard. “I’m there, you’re not, let me tell you about it.” Illuminating a murky situation because you understand it better than almost anyone. Doing the work! Having a track record, a reputation for reliability is part of it, too. But that comes from doing the work.

Circumcison journalism is like political journalism because it is political journalism. The raging controversy makes it so. So, like the political journalism Rosen is talking about, circumcision journalism, American style, suffers from the View from Nowhere.

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11 Responses to CNN’s “The Debate” asks, Should teens make circumcision decision?

  1. Great analysis!
    To add to your list of stereotypes, this article was written by a Jewish woman: Elizabeth Cohen.
    I was thinking the title of the article should actually be:
    Should a man have the right to choose whether or not a proportionally huge, protective, sexually pleasing swath of his own penis gets amputated?

  2. Joe says:

    So I haven’t read the opinion piece this article was based on but, do you think the intent might have been to show the absurdity of infant circumcision? Many would balk at circumcising a teen especially without consent but those same may not balk at circumcising an infant. So I am wondering if such an opinion piece might be getting at, well if you wouldn’t a teen then why an infant?

  3. David Wilton says:

    If the author wanted to show the absurdity of infant circumcision by juxtaposing the repulsive nature of teen circumcision, why didn’t she say so. She’s so predictably all over the usual place that she can only be following the journalistic party line of balance without regard to ethics or truth or even uncovering facts neither side has considered. Read the article and tell us what you think.

  4. Joe says:

    Do you mean the newspaper article David or the OpEd in the Med Journal it was based on? Because I was speaking about the latter.

  5. David Wilton says:

    This was based on an Op Ed? Didn’t see the link or see a mention of this article being based on another.

  6. Joe says:

    Yes, this whole business started from an OpEd in a Canadian Medical Journal. I can’t recall which one. If I have time tomorrow, I’ll go down to the National Library of Medicine and get the article. There are some more details in one of the stories that covered this posted in the Facebook group.

  7. Joseph Lewis says:

    The article is misleading, beginning with the title.
    Why would teens have to make any more of a decision than parents, if there isn’t even a medical condition that indicates it?
    In countries where female circumcision is prevalent, not being circumcised makes you an outcast, often making it a religious or social requirement before you can get married. So is female circumcision OK to perform in girls to make them “fit in” in those countries? I posed this question on the original article. I can only guess the sexism that ensued. Conformity, it seems, is only an acceptable reason to circumcise BOYS, never girls.
    The article is a thinly veiled pro-circ piece. The take-home message I got; infant circumcision is better. It saves you money, pain, embarrassment, and STDs to men and women as an adult.
    But what else could I have expected, especially, as somebody already pointed out, someone who appears to be Jewish?

  8. Tony says:

    When I read the title of the article, I feared the article would be nothing more than “Should you circumcise your infant, or wait until he chooses it as a teen?”. After reading, I think that was the basic intent and assumption. Either way, the author can’t figure out that someone might not want to be circumcised. The only choice is who should decide what we all allegedly understand “should” happen for every male.
    I agree with you. The author never questions the idea that those opposed to circumcision are automatically eccentric and fringe. There’s no imagination for deviating from custom, which is entirely predictable in media stories.

  9. Joseph Lewis says:

    “…the author can’t figure out that someone might not want to be circumcised…”
    Or NEED to be…

  10. Joe says:

    Ok,the paper is in your inbox.

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