A must-get gig at Mother Jones

regretIn preparation for the 34th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, The New York Times Sunday Magazine had a lengthy feature on how post-abortion syndrome doesn’t exist. I’m sure you are as shocked as I am that the paper would come down quickly and easily on this side of the debate.

Emily Bazelon of Slate penned the piece. She has written for Mother Jones, too! Just like Jack Hitt, who wrote a previous (problematic) abortion story for the magazine. One of Bazelon’s stories for that magazine was — wait for it — against a feminist pro-life group. Seriously, if anyone wants to write for The New York Times Sunday Magazine, bolster your leftist credentials. Mother Jones seems to be the surest fire stop on your path.

Also, Emily Bazelon is Betty Friedan‘s cousin. I love it. A sample of the evenhanded perspective of the author:

Abortion-recovery counselors like [Rhonda] Arias could focus on why women don’t have the material or social support they need to continue pregnancies they might not want to end. They could call for improving the circumstances of women’s lives in order to reduce the number of abortions. Instead they are working to change laws to restrict and ban abortion.

See, pro-lifers don’t really care about women.

Anyway, the piece is long but not terribly illuminating. What pro-lifers are going to read such lines and feel their perspective is being given the benefit of the doubt? What pro-choicers will read the same without feeling a sense of self-satisfaction? What has been gained by that little swipe that is, in my experience, completely inaccurate in any case?

Bazelon tracks precisely one woman — Rhonda Arias — who says abortion was bad for her — and only very lightly, in the context of how the same woman now is an evangelical minister who counsels and ministers to other post-abortive women in prison. She gives lots of details about the woman — her past abortions, her preaching style, her emotional religiosity, her messed up childhood, etc. — and yet because the perspective of the author is so clear, it makes it hard to trust that her descriptions are in good faith. Rather, I kept wondering why this was the woman Bazelon chose as her lead/only anecdote. Bazelon also mentions the religious affiliations, mostly Roman Catholic, of many of those working to counsel women after their abortions.

What annoys me more than anything in abortion coverage is how the stories are always so political. This story is entirely political — about the politics of the abortion movement and (without realizing it, it seems) about the politics of the science surrounding whether post-abortion syndrome exists. And the reporter takes precisely the angle you would expect from The New York Times Sunday Magazine. I’ll note that it’s not the same angle I’d expect from the daily Times.

Like most people (statistically speaking) I have many friends who have had abortions. And while the vast majority of these friends remain pro-choice, they would be the first to tell you that the procedure’s effects are profound and long-reaching. Not so long ago, I was privy to a conversation with four pro-choice women who had their first or only abortions over a decade ago. They all spoke of effects that remained with them: Abortion-related nightmares, frequent thoughts of how old their child would be, etc. None of these women are pro-life. But because of the politics surrounding abortion, their situation — shared by millions of American women — receives no balanced coverage. Such after-effects are picked up on as proof of abortion’s evils by pro-lifers and ignored for the same reason by pro-choicers.

Bazelon does mention this in her piece, for which she should be commended:

While it seems that some anti-abortion advocates exaggerate the mental-health risks of abortion, some abortion advocates play down the emotional aftereffects. Materials distributed at abortion clinics and on abortion-rights Web sites stress that most women feel relief after an abortion, and that the minority who don’t tend to have pre-existing problems. Both claims are supported by research. But the idea that “abortion is a distraction from underlying dynamics,” as Nancy Russo put it to me, can discourage the airing of sadness and grief. “The last thing pro-choice people, myself included, want to do is to give people who want to make abortions harder to get or illegal one iota of help,” says Ava Torre-Bueno, a social worker who was the head of counseling for 10 years at Planned Parenthood in San Diego. “But then what you hear in the movement is ‘Let’s not make noise about this’ and ‘Most women are fine, I’m sure you will be too.’ And that is unfair.”

In general, Bazelon’s treatment of how pro-choicers deal — or don’t deal — with post-abortion problems is infinitely better than her emotionally distant and lengthier treatment of the same on the pro-life side. She’s able to look at some of the pitfalls of ignoring emotional problems resulting from abortion with a gentleness and sympathy that is illuminating. While that’s a wonderful benefit for readers in learning one side of the story, the problems are only emphasized for readers wanting to learn more about the other side. I think it may be yet another argument for ensuring that Mother Jones isn’t on the resume of all your abortion reporters.

Ultimately, though, the problem is with this story’s emphasis on politics. A story like this has to include actual women. How many tens of millions of women have undergone abortions in the last 34 years since abortion was legalized? How many of them could share the true effects — subtle or profound — of their abortions years after the fact?

This is why I still think so fondly of Stephanie Simon’s twin stories about women who undergo abortions and women who complete crisis pregnancies. Very little politics at all — just stories about the decisions women face and the choices they make.

How much more interesting would this story have been if Bazelon — a talented and smart writer for sure — had talked to women who had abortions and told their stories?

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  • http://afterabortion.blogspot.com Emily

    In her article, Bazelon writes that science proves that there is no such thing as post-abortion syndrome. She then comes up with an alternate theory about what the deal is with all these women who mistakenly believe that their emotional well-being has declined due to an abortion.

    What they have, Bazelon argues, is a form of emotional contagion…kind of like with those girls in the Salem witch trials.

    If our next president is a Democrat, perhaps he or she can ask the Surgeon General to conduct a study to determine if women like me mistakenly believe that we regret our abortions because of some particularly virulent form of emotional contagion.

    At any rate, Bazelon’s theory of emotional contagion is a perfectly good explanation for why she keeps a glacial emotional distance from Arias and the women in the prison. She appears to be afraid that she will catch their emotional cooties if she lets down that ice wall.

  • http://www.geocities.com/hohjohn John L. Hoh, Jr.

    I read the artice in the “dead-tree” version and shred it with my eBuddies. Some thoghts.

    A bias is certainly evident as the writer consistently uses the term “anti-bortionists” rather than “pro-life.” I wonder if she would approve of my use of the term “anti-life” for her position? Or even “pro-death?”

    She mentions that science and/or statistics have proven there is no increase in post-abortion emotional disorders among women who have had an abortion. She does not cite any survey, study, or paper. The reader is expected to take this “fact” on faith. I would like to know more about these studies and how thorough they are. Personally, it wouldn’t surprise me that this might be true. Think about it, someone has to make a conscious decision to terminate a pregnancy. This isn’t an “impulse decision.” Most women, I surmise, wold find it hard to go through with it. One’s inner voice needs to be quieted in a profound way. I suspect a “nature/nurture” debate will be involved.

    Having served time in the public ministry I can say this disorder does exist. I don’t like that both sides use this for political purposes. There are real, hurting women involved–often needing the assurance of the Gospel that even for committing an abortion God still loves them and has forgiven all their sins–even abortion. Pro-lifers aften leave the impression that abortion is an unforgivable sin.

    Finally, the one person who is the focus of the piece is an activist who has had an abortion herself. Is this subject chosen as a subliminal bleat of “hypocrisy?” Look at those goody-goody “anti-abortionists”–their main activist had an abortion herself!

  • http://www.splendoroftruth.com/curtjester Jeff Miller

    She is also the granddaughter of pro-abortion judge David L. Bazelon.

    The USA story though is mistaken. Betty Friedan is her second cousin since she was a cousin of her grandmother.

    Her Slate articles especially concerning Alito and Roberts are also quite pro-abortion.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Well, Slate is an openly liberal publication, so that is no surprise.

    The issue is the Times and its ongoing battle with its own demons on this journalistic issue.

    BTW, most American newspapers now use “anti-abortion” and “pro-abortion rights” as the labels, as opposed to “pro-choice” and “pro-life.”

    I agree with that decision and have advocated those terms since the mid-1980s.

    The key is when a newspaper uses “pro-choice” and then “anti-abortion” or even “anti-choice.”

  • evagrius

    Why not ask why other developed countries have lower abortion rates?
    Not all have restrictive laws etc;
    No.
    But they do seem to have some social/ political/ medical policies that encourage wanted pregnancies rather than unwanted pregnancies.
    Why not ask why teen-age pregnancies are higher in U.S states where there’s a strong bias against legal abortions and contraception? Why not ask why those countries have lower teenage pregnancies?

    None of these questions are asked by either side in this interminable debate.

    It’s the lack of real, deep questioning that makes this debate a useless exercise with both sides feeling virtuous and superior.

    In actuality, both sides are pitiful caricatures.

    But since people in the U.S. can’t be bothered to look at how other nations deal with similar problems, ( why should they- the U.S. is always right and #1 ), the debate will go on and on and on and on.

  • http://t-hype.blogspot.com t-hype

    What story is the photo taken from?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    t-hype,

    I’m unsure. I got it from Google Images and it’s a screen grab from C-SPan coverage.

    I assume it’s some demonstration in DC, but that’s just an assumption.

  • http://clientandserver.com dw

    The idea that post-abortion women suffer from sort of emotional problems… that sounds awfully anti-feminist to me.

    But how do you counter a story like this? If you say, “You’re being one-sided,” then you must be among the mouth-breathers who want to lock women up and send abortion doctors to Gitmo. And this is the NYT, so the slant is almost expected.

  • Donna

    ++Like most people (statistically speaking) I have many friends who have had abortions. And while the vast majority of these friends remain pro-choice, they would be the first to tell you that the procedure’s effects are profound and long-reaching. ++

    Or not. That’s the problem when you come down so definitively on either side of this issue. You’ve talked to women who speak of the long-term effects. I’ve no doubt they’ve experienced them. Then you can talk to me. I never experienced a problem post-abortion at all.

    So which is it? Everyone does? No one does? Or how about something in the middle…some people do/don’t.

    That’s a whole lot more representative.

  • Maureen

    If you have any major surgery or illness, you are going to suffer emotional problems afterwards, for a shorter or longer period. If something important happens to you which radically changes your life and isn’t entirely a happy occasion, you will probably have emotional problems afterward. If something traumatic happens, nobody is surprised if you have post-traumatic syndrome. If you deny having such problems, people will worry about you and watch you for such things coming out later; nobody will be surprised if they surface even years later.

    But apparently, an abortion is supposed to have no more short-term or long-term impact than brushing your teeth.

    Denying something that’s an obvious truth — abortion is a pretty serious procedure — can hardly be good for women’s emotional and psychological health, no matter what side of the moral/political issue you’re on.

  • http://kevinjjones.blogspot.com Kevin Jones

    Another possible story in the PAS story: why are religious pro-lifers, who have their own theological explanations for deep, deep, regret and sadness following an abortion, latching on to the secular language of psychological affliction and therapy?

  • Jerry

    Also, Emily Bazelon is literally Betty Friedan’s cousin. I love it. A sample of the evenhanded perspective of the author:

    Abortion-recovery counselors like [Rhonda] Arias could focus on why women don’t have the material or social support they need to continue pregnancies they might not want to end. They could call for improving the circumstances of women’s lives in order to reduce the number of abortions. Instead they are working to change laws to restrict and ban abortion.

    See, pro-lifers don’t really care about women.

    That quote you provided does not lead to your conclusion as I see it. The politics of abortion are such that, until recently the media coverage has focused on the legality of abortion, both sides claiming that they are on women’s side.

    Many of those against abortion do care about women, but that was not her point as I read it. I read it as a challenge to move from “abortion is evil so it must be illegal” to “abortion is evil so we should do all we can to prevent unwanted pregnancies and then help pregnant women. It’s a means not an ends challenge. That gets into the area of contraception, of course.

    I do also agree that too often, as in this case, science gets subverted by ideology. The effect of abortion on women should be a question for science to answer. And the scientific results should be part of what women hear about when they’re deciding what to do.

  • Donna

    Maureen,

    Since I’m pretty sure you were replying to me…

    I had my abortion when I was 19. I’m now 43. I honestly don’t regret it and really never think about it. Didn’t six months afterwards. Didn’t 6 years afterwards. Didn’t 16 years afterwards.

    I’m not saying everyone is like that. What I’m saying is it’s a mistake to paint everyone with a broad brush because not everyone suffers emotionally as a result. Some people do and some people don’t. I’m one of those who didn’t, and I’m not going to pretend I did just to validate someone’s argument.

  • Todd

    Donna,

    I’m curious. Do you have other children? If so, do they know that you had an abortion? And if so, what (if anything) do they feel about it?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    PLEASE keep this discussion focused on media treatment of religious news stories.

    Keep the discussion on the story linked to in this post, please.

  • Donna

    Todd,

    No. I don’t have any children. I never wanted any, and that probably goes a long way to explaining my attitudes toward my abortion.

    Sort of a personal anecdote here. I know my grandmother had an abortion after she had my mother (shortly after, in fact). She had another child soon after that abortion and the child was mentally retarded. Even though the abortion wasn’t responsible for my aunt’s retardation, my grandmother apparently felt very guilty about it.

    At least that’s the story I’ve heard from my mother (who apparently never held my grandmother responsible for her sister’s handicap).

    So I suspect much of the emotional responses seen and discussed are probably from women who either want children or have them. Those of us who don’t want them may simply react differently. I have absolutely nothing to back that up except for my personal experience and my friends who had abortions when they were younger and never had any issues with them.

    D.

  • Donna

    Mollie,

    My apologies. I was typing before you posted.

    D.

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  • wrigley peterborough

    In addition to being related to the hideous Betty Friedan, Bazelon is also in receipt of George Soros’s money, which I think is more damning than being related to Friedan.

  • Dan

    Religious Left, do you deny that the NYT story was biased?

    The NYT takes us, and women in particular, for fools. We’re actually supposed to believe this stuff, I guess. The sorry thing about it is that some are foolish enough to believe that it is not traumatic to have your own child put to death.

  • http://www.a-newsong.org Ann Younger

    I read your article and then tried to read all of Bazelon’s. I personally know Rhonda Arias and did my training for recovery and grief counseling under her. She is an inspiring woman and I don’t know of many Christians that live each day in such obedience to our Lord as she does. She allows God to determine her daily priorities. As I stated in a recent article I wrote for Oil of Joy, the training and support I receive from this ministry is God’s foundation for my own recovery ministry. We (Christians in ministry) should expect criticism of the worst kind. This issue of abortion is God’s battle to fight and He will stop abortion and then every knee will bow to Him and His wonderous Glory will be revealed. I am post-abortive and I suffered greatly because of the choice to destroy life inside me. God is a God of Hope, Healing, Restoration and more. I no longer walk in shame. May God richly bless you, Ann Younger.

  • http://PrivateBiographer.com Gordon

    Wow what a refreshing website to stumble upon (via NRO/Corner link)! Polite discourse, intelligence, differing views on an explosive topic. Maybe I’ve been looking at too many lefty mosh-pits lately. Or maybe GR is just well-moderated?

    I hope the NYT ombudsman/guy takes a few points from this discussion for next Sunday’s column but I won’t hold my breath.

  • Jerry

    In actuality, both sides are pitiful caricatures.

    There are other voices out there between the two extremes that are shouting at each other.

    Posted by your best friends on the other side (religious left online) :-) is a story I found very interesting:

    In the House, Reps. Tim Ryan (Ohio), a Democrat who opposes abortion, and Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), a member of the Democratic leadership who supports abortion rights, are backing measures to make contraception easier to obtain, while providing aid to women who proceed with unintended pregnancies. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) helped smooth the path for the Ryan-DeLauro bill, and Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), the fourth-ranking House Democrat, is a cosponsor. “This is something that Democrats are really into,” Emanuel said.

    At least four similar bills are circulating. Antiabortion Democrats who are reluctant to promote contraception use are backing a more limited effort to help pregnant women and single mothers.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/20/AR2007012001425.html

    Personally I found that story the more heartening I’ve read on the abortion issue in the past decade. I hope we can take a time out in yelling at each other and adopt some measures that will make an impact on women’s lives no matter how the debate ebbs and flows in the coming years.

  • Jerry

    Sigh. I think your spam filter caught me again. I’ll figure out what it does not like eventually.

    A middle ground between the sides seems to be coming together now as reported by the Washington Post http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/20/AR2007012001425.html a few days ago and mentioned by your dear friends at Religious Left Online. Specifically they are targeting:

    make contraception easier to obtain, while providing aid to women who proceed with unintended pregnancies.

    I’m very interested in watching media coverage of this idea: that both sides can find at least some common ground. It will be interesting to see who is really interested in the welfare of women to the extent that they are willing to work with the ‘enemy’ to adopt measures that help women. I’m wondering how many who don’t like contraception will accept this as a lesser evil versus those who insist on everything or nothing.

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  • http://feminine-genius.typepad.com gsk

    Ah, dear Jerry, in this I think you miss the point. Contraception was around before legalised abortion — it was what led to it, because access to contraception (and societal approval of it) means that it unhitches intimacy from the notion of babies and fidelity.

    The Catholic Church understood that if you allow contraception, you will fuel promiscuity, which degrades people primarily, but it necessitates abortion because it is not completely effective in preventing conception.

    It’s all “of a piece,” so that’s why Catholics cannot compromise.

  • Jerry

    GSK’s posting brings up a critical point about detailed historical knowledge and how often it’s reflected in reporting. For example

    Contraception was around before legalised abortion — it was what led to it,

    In fact, no less an authority than a Catholic source http://www.catholic.net/rcc/Periodicals/Faith/11-12-98/Morality6.html stated:

    The people of the pagan Roman Empire into which they were born universally practiced:
    • Abortion
    • Contraception
    • Infanticide

    And a report stated:

    Contraception use has declined strikingly over the last decade, particularly among poor women, making them more likely to get pregnant unintentionally and to have abortions, according to a report released yesterday by the Guttmacher Institute.

    I’d bet that where both abortion and contraception is not available, there is a higher rate of infanticide, but I’ve not been able to find any statistics on this issue. If there is an article that someone can find that reviews the history of infanticide, contraception and abortion not just in the past few years but over recorded history that includes statisitics with a correlation to at least a 5% confidence interval, I’d love to see it.

  • Kathleen

    It’s off on a tangent, but may strike someone anyway. I was adopted, my siblings were adopted and my children are adopted. The Times piece offended me because it focused not only on one woman, but also on her literally captive audience. Life really is beautiful, whether tended by a birth mother or not. All mothers, all humans know that, and the second saddest thing in the world is the sight of a woman who didn’t feel loved enough to risk life.

  • http://www.a-newsong.org Ann Younger

    I don’t read articles very often or even put much faith in the television media. Do any of you really believe that you got ALL the facts from the NYT article? I know it was lengthy but…Really? When has a reporter ever given the truth without manipulating it to one side or the other? Most reporters are reporters because they are gifted with using words. And then…Get Religion? Get God in your life, read and study what He says about life, contraception, marriage, abortion. Someone should do a story on what the NYT left OUT of their article.

  • cheryl

    This story from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette (printed a couple of years ago) details a new “counseling approach” at a local abortion clinic. Women who go there are encouraged to post notes to their aborted children on the clinic walls:

    http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/04020/263254.stm

    It is very illuminating. The disconnect between words and actions is quite stunning, to say the least.

  • http://jennifer-roback-morse.blogspot.com/2007/01/is-there-post-abortion-trauma-syndrome.html Jennifer Roback Morse

    I posted on my blog: http://jennifer-roback-morse.blogspot.com/2007/01/is-there-post-abortion-trauma-syndrome.html, a comment on this article too. I posted a summary of a study that was released last summer showing a definite correlation between abortion and later mental health problems, including depression and suicidal fantasies.
    I wonder why the NYT reporter didn’t find that particular study?

  • Jeff Sharlet

    I’m the last person to defend Emily Bazelon — she killed a review I wrote of a Jonathan Edwards bio, assigned by another Slate editor, because she thought Edwards has no relevance to contemporary political debates. So my grudge is personal and intellectual.

    That said, Mollie, you misrepresent her article. She writes that the science as it stands does not generally show the problems anti-abortion advocates say it does. (To the person above who says anyone who doesn’t use “pro-life” is biased: please, language before politics.) That’s a factual assertion, and should be dealt with as such — either it’s incorrect, or it’s correct.

    As for the rest of this “discussion” — oy, some of you folks sure know how to make a pro-choice guy who’s sympathetic to pro-lifers reconsider that position. This thread is a detour into Hofstadter country.

  • Jeff Sharlet

    Oh, yeah — one more thing. What’s your beef w/ Mother Jones? Accusing a liberal magazine of being liberal seems like a strange turn for a media critic.

    You’re on stronger ground when you criticize her narrative for being exclusively political. That’s interesting.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Jeff,

    I have NO beef with Mother Jones. As far as what it sets out to do, I think it does it quite well. I’ll note that their coverage of, say, megachurches in evangelical America is a bit more histrionic than I’d like — but it’s not a bad magazine at all.

    I just think that it’s very liberal, and that the NYTSM should try to balance out its abortion coverage by not hiring too many people from there before they hire someone from, say, National Review.

    But that’s my point, not that Mother Jones is bad.

    Anyway, I don’t think I misrepresent her article. I didn’t really get into it but I didn’t really appreciate how an article about how post-abortion syndrome doesn’t exist didn’t really get into the science at all. As some other people have noted, we’re expected to just trust this reporter — without any substance in the article — that it doesn’t exist and that’s what “science” thinks. These things aren’t just impartial science, either — there’s a lot of political shenanigans going on — and that wasn’t really mentioned.

    Now, having said that, I feel I should reveal my (obvious?) bias about this which is that based on what I know and the studies I’ve read, I think that abortion affects each woman differently and that these aftereffects run the gamut from no problems to profound problems. I don’t appreciate the phrase post-abortion syndrome and I don’t appreciate the denial of after effects.

    As I mentioned, I think Bazelon did a fantastic job with part of the story — but she had no compassion or sympathy for the other side and it showed.

    As far as discussions here go, I don’t think this discussion was bad at all, though. I think commenters did a pretty good job of staying on topic and being polite (though there are always exceptions). I could point to some threads that degenerate rather quickly.

  • Jeff Sharlet

    Couple interesting issues. First, SHOULD the NYTM be “balanced”? I don’t believe that “balance” exists. Or is particularly desirable. Neutralism, after all, is a political (and theological) position, and one that’s not terribly interesting to explore. Give me an argument over balance any day, especially if I’m reading a 6,000 word story. A neutral 6,000 word piece isn’t a story; it’s an endless encyclopedia entry.

    I believe magazines should have a voice. Most of them do, even the blandest of em. U.S. News tends conservative. The other two tend mainstream. Atlantic is secular centrer-right, New Yorker classical (which is to say, not very) liberal, and Harper’s is… almost Agrarian, I’d say.

    NYTM ought to develop MORE of a perspective. Just as the Book Review, under Sam Tannenhaus, has. It’s more conservative. Not my politics. But a better publication.

    And in that regard, and noting errors of some of its reporters (Hitt) and the giant blindspots of others (Bazelon), Mother Jones publishes and develops better reporters than the conservative magazines. In part, it’s a matter of money — they can pay 1.50 a word and give a reporter a real expense account. Nat Review and Weekly Standard rarely if ever do that. MoJo let’s a writer develop a story over months and tell it at some length; Nat Review and Weekly Standard rarely do.

    In part, this is the reality of a narrative-driven magazine with a political argument to make vs. an essay-driven magazine with an argument to make. But it also reveals I think some aspects of liberal vs. conservative culture. Liberals and leftists see themselves in the tradition of the muckrakers. That is, they want to dig up dirt. They also believe in sociology — that is, they want to reach conclusions based on specific situations.

    Conservatives generally believe in eternal truths and the power of classical rhetoric (Ann Coulter excepted). Conservatives have also traditionally been distrustful of the concept of “journalism,” as some of the commenters here reveal. As well they should be — journalism arose as and remains essentially an organ of a consensus-minded establishment. It’s not well-suited to individual liberty.

    Politial magazines tend to destroy writers as writers, or, at the least, waste their talents on cheap shots. Witness Matt LaBash, one of my favorite journalistic stylists, frittering away a big talent on snarky formula stories for the Weekly Standard. I’ll be “balanced” about this — The Nation has done more to dull down the writing of generations of leftists than any rightwing political conspiracy could ever hope to achieve.

  • MW Hemingway

    I want to address what you’re saying here Jeff, but first let me get some disclosure out of the way. I’m Mollie’s husband. But I speak here in my capacity as a professional journalist and my comments should have no bearing on her intent and opinions. Not that I have any particularly special insight to begin with, or that anyone would think my shrinking violet of a spouse needs defending.

    Secondly, I don’t consider myself a “conservative” journalist, though I think it would be fair to say I’m not a liberal one. I have in the past, and currently work for a non-ideological news organization.

    But I have published in conservative magazines, and that does make people view you in a different light regardless of how non-ideological most of my writings for those magazines have been.

    I think you make some interesting points, Jeff. But much of what you say runs counter to my experience and knowledge. In the past year, I have written two cover stories and and a very long political feature for The Weekly Standard, and I can tell you that long lead-times (4 months+), travel and expenses have not been a problem for me. To the extent that they don’t allow stories to develop vis a vis MoJo I think that’s likely a function of the fact that TWS is a weekly and NR is published every two weeks. Mother Jones is published every *two months.* Publishing a lot less certainly frees up expenses for writers and virtually eliminates the demand for a quick turn around needed for topical stories. (I’ll note The Nation, which you say lacks quality writing, is a weekly.)

    But that still doesn’t address Mollie’s basic premise. I think it’s somewhat reductive to say that Conservative magazine’s don’t produce reporters as good as liberal magazines. Particularly in light of the fact that one of the recent NYTM stories by a MoJo writer was inept (I realize Hitt is a friend, but it was not his finest hour). I do agree with you about about conservative journalists being distrustful of the journalistic establishment and that they need to get over themselves about it.

    However, I would add that having worked at a major newspaper and being a graduate of a highly regarded collegiate journalism program, that any distrust conservatives feel has been earned many times over. The fact is that the world of journalism is still overtly hostile to journalists who are personally conservative. If you’re attuned to this, it’s pretty hard to ignore.

    You’re right that there is a definite talent gap between conservative and liberal writers. But that exists largely because I think the hostility the professional journalism world extends toward conservative journalists weeds many aspiring journalists out of the system. It’s bad in both academia and the newsroom. There just aren’t any conservatives graduating from Columbia with M.F.A.’s in Creative Nonfiction. If they were hardy enough to make it through an undergraduate journalism program, they know where they aren’t welcome. So conservatives often don’t get the top-shelf journalism jobs and the accompanying experience — at least straight out of school.

    As for freelance assignments, if I’m liberal and have written for Mother Jones, that won’t stop editors from places like the NYTM from hiring me. If I have a The Weekly Standard on my resume, you’re often considered too much of an ideologue for mainstream journalism regardless of what you’ve written, unless of course they want you as an explicitly ideological columnist to preserve the illusion of balance. They just don’t hand long feature reporting assignments to writers who have written for conservative outlets. When confronted about this they will say it is because the person in question is too ideological. If they’re really honest, they’ll admit that they fear the backlash from the other editors. It is a complete double standard, as writers who are simpatico with Mother Jones often are no more qualified and certainly no less ideological than conservative leaning writers available to them.

    Still, I will say in all honesty Jeff that I appreciate your committment to journalism and I think you’re a heck of a writer. Regardless of how the deck is stacked, I think conservative journalists do play the victim card too often. So I propose we come together and solve this problem right here and now. Please immediately recommend me to your editors at Rolling Stone. I’ll take whatever they throw at me so long as it involves one of the magazine’s infamous expense accounts. In all modesty, I can say it’s inarguable my Weekly Standard clips prove me a far, far better writer than RS’s lead political reporter Matt Taibbi — another Mother Jones vet. Then again, I’ve met circus animals that were better writers than him.

    Okay, well you should probably recommend Matt Labash to your editors at Rolling Stone (despite the praise, I still think you are very unfair to him). But I’m more in need of charity than he is — Mollie deserves a bigger apartment where she has an actual desk rather than blogging from the couch every night.

  • JLWest

    Being pro-life has never been about being against choice in my thinking. I am pro-life where my personal concerns stand but in the same respect I am not going to tell another woman what she should or should not do as far reproductive choice goes. There are still reasons for safe termination such as rape/incest, gross inoperable fetal anomaly, and finally the life of the mother. This is not advocating late term selective abortion because honestly I do not think there is a woman that heartless that after 71/2 of carrying a child , that will wake up one morning look at herself and say gee I don’t want to be pregnant anymore nor do I want this child I carry to be born alive. I work in emergency medicine and know that 95% of women in a life threatening situation beg us to save the baby. The choices are if the baby is viable and the mother is dying or not expected to survive and the pregnancy is far enough along we do a C-section. If the baby is dead then the mother is induced . Neither of these are abortions. The other factors are far too complicated to explain here. I have taught my sons this as far their role in choice goes that marriage is the choice you make if you can make that kind of a commitment to your partner, abortion is always the last and most extreme choice and not to be taken lightly . It is not a just do it and the burden of responsibility is over there are things to be considered before and after the fact such as the emotional implications of the choice.The life long questioning of seeing a child about the same age as yours would have been and always wondering what he/she would have been like.Even mothers like me who have had miscarriages wonder these things so don’t consider all pro-choice , pro-child, pro-family advocates heartless baby killers.

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  • Jeff Sharlet

    Mark — Don’t know if you’ll see this, but thanks for your thoughtful response. First, let me say I remember your Abramoff story and loved it. Second, I’m glad Weekly Standard is giving you all the money and time you need. How about recommending me to the magazine? I’m a sharper critic of liberalism than half the contributors.

    Ah, well, that’ll never happen. But at least, at the Standard, I know it won’t happen for the right reason: The magazine DOES have an ideology, and although I’m not a liberal, I don’t share the Standard’s ideology, either. So me writing for them would make as much sense as James Inhofe writing for Audobon.

    The problem I see is not with The Standard or MoJo, but with magazines that claim neutrality. Do these magazines skew liberal? Probably. But let’s remember who that cuts out — not just conservatives, but leftists. Hitt, for instance, much as I love his stuff (not actually a friend; I’ve met him only once), is a liberal. Witness his recent MoJo piece in defense of Hillary, probably much loathed by most MoJo readers. Another MoJo writer whom I mentioned in Mollie’s MoJo Chronicles, JoAnn Wypijewski, is a genuine leftist. And while she’s published in NYT Mag, it’s a fight, and there are a lot of publications that wouldn’t touch her, despite the fact that she’s probably one of the top 10 stylists in journalism.

    I’ll give you another example: I had a story killed at the NYT Mag pretty much for being too left. It found a home at Harper’s, mainly because Harper’s isn’t a liberal magazine.

    That said, I still do think that liberals in general develop the best journeyman writers (and remember, I’m not one of them). That’s because liberalism is still the establishment, and thus has more resources than anyone else, and because liberalism considers communication and competence — the hallmarks of technocrats — the highest political virtues.

    But often the best writers come from elsewhere on the political spectrum. Not from the small left establishment (Progressive, In These Times), and not from the small conservative establishment (NR, a parody of its former self, and, with a few exceptions — you, LaBash — the Weekly Standard).

    As for J-school — I never attended it, but I’ve been teaching it for four semesters. I’ve encountered maybe three leftists, a dozen conservatives, and a whole lot of middle grounders. I know some GR types would consider that good, but I think it’s terrible — journalists ought to think enough about the world to have some politics.

  • MW Hemingway

    Jeff, thanks for responding and thanks for the kind words in my direction. Don’t worry, I obviously saw your comment — as it happens someone I know keeps close tabs on the site.

    However, I think the argument still edges in my favor. I mean The New Republic is practically a Washington Post farm club. The Weekly Standard seems to be the end of the line for most conservative journeymen writers. And Jeff, you’re absolutely right — you would be a sharper critic of liberalism than a lot of bylines that have graced Weekly Standard pages. But that assumes that the goal of the goal of the magazine is necessarily to criticize liberalism; sure that’s definitely a function of what they do but there’s plenty of room for unvarnished reportage and features — which is largely what I’ve written for the magazine.

    The problem is that I think that conservatives don’t open the pages more to more non-ideologically simpatico writers such as yourself, is because they feel an obligation to provide an outlet for conservatives who are shut out of the mainstream — a situation that admittedly doesn’t always create the kind of meritocracy that conservatives are so fond of. On the other hand, the fact that Matt Labash isn’t writing for the New Yorker isn’t exactly evidence of “each according to his abilities” in the mainstream establishment either.

    But I should shut-up now, and again I cede that you make some very good points. I think it is a numbers game. You’re very right in that the conservative media establishment needs to stop griping about why their best journalists aren’t being recognized, and simply worry about producing more good journalists. That won’t rectify the present and past injustices — a situation that we can hereby christen “the Labash dilemma” — but it is the only sensible way forward.

    Frankly I’m just glad to be having this conversation, and am very happy that a journalist such as yourself realizes that the issue of ideological balance (however we quibble about defining it) is a vital one. We may not agree on everything here, but I bet we both agree that more editors and writers need to be having this discussion.


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