Quiet, quiet March for Life coverage

IRegretMyAbortionAll in all, it appears to have been an exceptionally quiet year on the March for Life coverage front. I, for one, was a bit disappointed that things stayed so low-key, in part because you know that the U.S. Supreme Court hearings have cranked up the work — on both sides — behind the scenes.

How low-key? This is one year in which it is pretty hard to tell the Washington Times coverage from the Washington Post coverage, at least at the levels of the main stories. In the Post, things got a bit more lively in Dana Milbank’s column, which — fair enough — sounded sirens to mainstream Washington that those frightening anti-abortion folks are currently feeling their political oats. Quick, break out those checkbooks and mail something to NARAL Pro-Choice America.

The snarky line of the day was also, perhaps, the most insightful factual observation about the strange state of abortion politics. Pay close attention to the second paragraph of reporter Michael Janofsky’s story in the New York Times.

As they have every year since the Supreme Court first ruled in Roe v. Wade, abortion opponents flooded the capital on Monday with an energetic rally featuring speeches, prayers and signs that urged an end to abortions across the country.

In most respects, the rally was similar to the 32 that preceded it, as tens of thousands of people packed several blocks of the Mall before marching toward the Capitol and the Supreme Court. For the sixth straight year, President Bush was out of town for the rally, though he offered words of encouragement through an amplified telephone line.

Zing. This is precisely the kind of observation about the Republican president that you were likely to hear during the march, should you be marching alongside pro-lifers who are on the political left.

Which brings me to my main observation. This year’s MSM coverage of the march was quite bland. In some ways, this is good. No one singled out tiny groups of hot-tempered radicals on the right and portrayed them as the norm. At the same time, I can’t find anyone who sought out some of the quirkier (and, yes, much smaller) groups that often support marches of this kind. Like who? Would you believe Libertarians for Life? And then there is the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians, a group that is concerned that a DNA hook for homosexual tendencies might have terrifying results. One can also find pro-life groups in the world of oldline, usually liberal, Protestantism — such as the National Organization of Episcopalians for Life.

The goal, of course, is to cover the mainstream and, in the pro-life movement, that means covering young people and women from evangelical, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox sanctuaries, with a vocal presence of Orthodox Jews, as well. Perhaps the most important group at the moment is called “Silent No More,” in large part because the women with the somber, black “I Regret My Abortion” signs (photo from an earlier event, new photos here) are the archetypal opposites of the people who used to dominate television-news reports about these events. You know, that would be the angry men with red faces, bullhorns and bloody posters.

The women at these marches represent the mainstream. However, I was surprised — and disappointed, I admit — that this year’s mini-wave of coverage did not include more commentary from the left (the pro-life left and the pro-abortion-rights left). Yes, I wanted to hear more from the protesters and from the small, symbolic, groups in the march. I guess that, once again, my bias in favor of balance is showing.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://megquinn.blogspot.com Meg Q

    Well, Terry, if the media covered this large, annual march as thoroughly as they cover other big marches (much less annual ones), then they’d have more room for the “balanced” coverage you seek. Personally, the “balance” I seek is a bit more coverage, period. I mean, how much coverage does that big pro-abortion march every summer get? Of course, that has celebrities/famous people coming out in nice weather in a cause that members of the media tend to support. Whereas this is a (very very big) bunch of average Joes coming out in the middle of January to express their neanderthal social views.

    So, “balanced coverage” would be nice. But so would more than 5 column inches in the majority of U.S. newspapers (not including photo of crazy anti-abortion protestor).

  • http://northernwing.blogspot.com The Sniper

    There is never adequate or accurate coverage of this event. I’m hoping to get some pictures and to write a bit on it in my own blog, but we bloggers are basically the only hope that people will see the real event.

  • Nathan

    Who is the Rev. James Nesbit that Milbank cites in the column? His “prayer” seems so odd. Yet it was apparently the invocation to the march? Nesbit doesn’t seem to have a web-presence. Anyone know anything about this? Did Milbank get this detail right?

  • http://realchoice.blogspot.com Christina

    The coverage was pitiful. I was also disgusted that though I saw not a single prochoice counter-protester, the prochoice got equal coverage in stories about the pro-life march!

  • Harris

    Off hand, it would seem that two factors weigh in on the low-key coverage.

    First, the involvement of women, as you noted in your last graf. Politics is often a matter of testosterone (e.g. Fred Barnes new book on the President).

    Second, the blandness may also be evidence of implied or emerging consensus — we are moving into a post-Roe future. I suspect this comes from, or was evidenced by the Alito hearings. All the war prep aside, it was pretty clear that the abortion issue no longer had the same traction with the public or for that matter with the Dems themselves and their lefty allies.

    Other evidence of this cultural shift can be seen in William Saletans’ Op-Ed in the Sunday Times (and the letters in response), and in the earlier coverage of Pregnancy Resource Centers/post abortion help groups in the NYT a few weeks ago.

    The old lefty perspective and rhetoric is ebbing, not only here but in a number of other areas. Of course, that means we will miss some of our old sparring partners. And to the extent these groups were responding to the call to do justice, we will also miss out as a society on the possibility to do justice, at least until new prophets arise.

  • tmatt


    We must be looking at different newspapers. Can you share a URL or two?

    Besides — this is a very controversial issue and the left side of the story deserved coverage. I would have given it a sidebar to the main story.

  • Michael D. Harmon

    I have a friend who lives in the DC area and belongs to Democrats for Life. He was marching (I kid him that if turnout doubles, he’ll have to make TWO signs) and that group does have a Website and some congressional members, but they were totally absent from any story I read (four or five different MSM versions). I agree, Terry — wouldn’t that have been an interesting interview.

  • http://blidiot.blogspot.com/ William Sulik

    Here’s a good photoblogger regarding the SF Walk for Life.