How Media Outlets Frame Angelina Jolie's Surgery Narrative Has A Huge Impact On How It's Viewed By The Public
News broke on Tuesday, March 24 that Angelina Jolie had surgery to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes in order to decrease the likelihood of ovarian cancer. The UN Goodwill Ambassador and Academy Award-winning actress wrote a piece titled “Diary of a Surgery” that was published in The New York Times. In it, Jolie details the medical and personal reasons that went into making the decision to have the procedure. However, how various media outlets have reported on this news is as fascinating and important as the piece itself. From tabloids to international newspapers to industry insiders to entertainment magazines, the media coverage highlights how women and women’s health issues are framed to the public.
“Diary of a Surgery” offers a picture of a woman facing a high risk of cancer, and the steps she takes to give herself the highest chance to stay cancer-free later in life. Jolie's is something that, hopefully, other women who are facing similar risks can relate to. Some media outlets choose to focus on the personal effects that this procedure has had on Jolie's life, while others hone in on its importance to women's health at large. However, there is also some troubling use of language that can take the power away from Jolie's words.
Let's look at some of the biggest names in these four major journalistic categories and examine how Jolie's narrative is being framed in the media.
The celebrity news juggernaut was quite sensitive and straightforward in its reporting. The most weighted language used was referring to her New York Times piece as "emotional" and "dramatic." TMZ did say that her double mastectomy was "proactive" and that, "she stoically writes about the fact that she has to live with the possibility of cancer." All in all the piece is even-keeled.
Page Six started out reporting the news, and nothing but the news. The first half of the article focuses staunchly on the surgery and on Jolie's op-ed, while the second half transitions into the emotional toll that it has had on her. It was an accurate way to approach the story, even forgoing the use of any anonymous sources. The only source quoted in the article is Jolie herself, and it's stronger because of that.
The Hollywood Reporter
The Hollywood Reporter 's headline reads, "Angelina Jolie Reveals She Had Ovaries Removed, Cannot Biologically Have More Children." What is troubling about this is that the headline does not mention that it was done as cancer prevention, and that it places the importance of child-bearing.
Women's ability and choice to have children carries a lot of stigmas, and we are in a nation where women's reproductive rights are being politicized and even taken away. If Jolie's importance is based on her being a "mother of six," it's not helping the way in which women are valued based on their ability or choice to reproduce. The rest of the article presents a fair look at Jolie's tale, but the headline is problematic.
The Variety article, from the headline to the text itself, focuses entirely on Jolie's surgery and the very good reasons for it. Titled "Angelina Jolie Removes Ovaries Following Cancer Scare," the article expands upon the headline in the first paragraph before quoting liberally from Jolie's op-ed piece. One line does make note of the support that she received from husband Pitt, but it does not make him the focus and nor does the line itself pull focus from Jolie's own story. Even when they mention that Jolie can no longer have children, they phrase the revelation in Jolie's own words.
Us Weekly highlights how "Diary of a Surgery" can encourage other women to investigate options when it comes to their health and how Jolie's honesty can perhaps open up the conversation around menopause and women's health issues.
The magazine focuses on the emotional aspects of Jolie's story by leading with, "It was the phone call every woman hopes she never gets." Then the piece goes straight into Jolie's personal and family medical history, explaining that it's the reasoning behind her procedures. However, the article states, "It was no small decision on her part because removing her ovaries would push her into forced menopause" even though Jolie herself makes it a point in her piece to say that menopause will cause many changes in her body but, "It is nothing to be feared." In that way, PEOPLE'S coverage is a little conflicting and could be clarified further.
The large British news outlet opened their piece with, "Jolie, who is married to Hollywood actor Brad Pitt, elected to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed after a check-up two weeks ago." If the first thing we see about Jolie is that she's married to Brad Pitt, then the effect of her story can subconsciously be lessened. She's not just a famous actor's wife. She is an international human rights activist and an award-winning actor and a director. This is her story.
However, the BBC did include the input of their health editor Michelle Roberts who weighed in on medical facts of the story. The article also quoted British charity Ovarian Cancer Action, which helped bring the focus to the importance of Jolie's piece: "If women know they have BRCA gene mutations, they can choose to take action before cancer develops, much like Angelina has. Her bravery to announce this news publicly could save lives."
The Telegraph took a unique approach to reporting — in that they reprinted rather than reporting at all. That's right, in "Angelina Jolie: now my kids won't have to say 'my mom died of ovarian cancer,'" readers can find her entire op-ed piece written without changes. They even used Jolie's own words to make up their headline. The only thing that The Telegraph adds to the piece is the introduction: "In a moving article for the New York Times, republished in full here, the film star writes about the difficult decision to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed following a cancer scare."
And that is the best way to preserve Jolie's narrative in the way she wanted it to be framed — by not framing it at all. It was a bold move on the part of The Telegraph, but it's one that works, especially since it's for international audiences. That way, Jolie's message reaches overseas the exact way she wanted it to be told.
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