Abortion issue will not die soon

Year after year, America’s cultural conservatives say the same thing after the March for Life in Washington, D.C.

All together now: “Where’s the coverage in the mainstream press? If this was a march in favor of abortion rights, there would be glowing stories on A1 from coast to coast.”

Or words to that effect.

Here’s an online sample of that sentiment, drawn from CreativeMinorityReport.com:

Hilarious Media Bias on March for Life

Shhhh. 300,000+ people chanted, yelled and sung their way into Washington D.C. but somehow snuck past the mainstream media without their notice. Congratulations to the ordinary ministers of the media!

Now, I could’ve missed it but after searching it seems to me that The New York Times completely ignored the throngs of people walking with signs towards the Capitol. I’m sure they would’ve been noticed if their signs mentioned Gitmo. MSNBC, according to their website, had no stories on the march. CBS News had nothing.

Actually, the Times had a small item in a weblog — which doesn’t help a whole lot.

Personally, I thought the coverage was rather ordinary this year (which isn’t saying much). The Washington Post story was short and plain and, as always, it is interesting to contrast it (especially the language used to describe the attendance) with the story in the Washington Times.

Simply stated, most editors argue that the march isn’t a major story, no matter how many people show up, because it takes place year after year after year. Thousands of young Catholics arrive on school buses. Evangelicals arrive on church buses. The usual suspects preach to the same choir (again, I am speaking in the voice of the generic mainstream editor). If pro-lifers want to be on A1, then they need to do something different. No, holding a “Virtual March For Life” with thousands of online avatars is not sexy enough for A1, hit movie or no hit movie.

However, the Post did run an interesting Metro column by Robert McCartney that deserves attention. It focused on the fact that views on abortion do appear to be in flux — 37 years after Roe — and that this reality was reflected in the march.

Here’s the top of that column:

I went to the March for Life rally Friday on the Mall expecting to write about its irrelevance. Isn’t it quaint, I thought, that these abortion protesters show up each year on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, even though the decision still stands after 37 years. What’s more, with a Democrat in the White House likely to appoint justices who support abortion rights, surely the Supreme Court isn’t going to overturn Roe in the foreseeable future.

How wrong I was. The antiabortion movement feels it’s gaining strength, even if it’s not yet ready to predict ultimate triumph, and Roe supporters (including me) are justifiably nervous.

As always, we in Washington enjoy an up-close view of the health of various causes because of the city’s role as the nation’s most important setting for political demonstrations. In this case, I was especially struck by the large number of young people among the tens of thousands at the march. It suggests that the battle over abortion will endure for a long time to come.

Keep reading.

However, there was one passage in the column that irked me a bit:

Also contributing to the confidence among abortion opponents are some recent political and judicial events. In the House version of the health-care reform bill before Congress, conservatives succeeded in inserting a remarkably strong antiabortion provision. And in November, antiabortion Republican candidates won governor’s races in Virginia and New Jersey.

Wait a minute: Didn’t a large pack of Democrats cast the key votes to defend the principles of the long-standing Hyde Amendment? This was one tense legislative showdown in which the Republicans were, for the most part, irrelevant. Right? Is it accurate to describe all of those Democrats as “conservatives,” when some of them are, on a host of issues, actually political progressives?

Once again, McCartney’s choice of words hides the fact that there is, in fact, a pro-life left and that many members of Democrats For Life cannot be jammed under the usual “conservative” umbrella. Maybe Rep. Bart Stupak & Co. are “moderates”?

After all, as the New York Times reported recently:

… Democratic control of the House carries a paradox: because the party expanded by winning what had been Republican districts, it has more members who oppose federal financing for abortions and restrictions on guns. Mr. Stupak’s measure on abortion passed the House with the support of 64 Democrats.

“Before, when we talked about pro-life Democrats, you’d get a snicker and a laugh,” he said. “We were just always overlooked. We’re not overlooked anymore.”

That’s an understatement. Nevertheless, does the whole world of politics boil down to abortion and gun laws?

Meanwhile, I do hope that readers who are interested in MSM coverage of this year’s march will note the McCartney column.

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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.

  • Greg Popcak

    Folks around here might not like the suggestion (or they may, since news is news) but last year on my radio program I suggested in an interview with the organizers that if they’re tired of being ignored, instead of marching to the Capitol bldg (where the reps are always conveniently “out”) they should march throught the lobby of WaPo (or the DC bureaus for the major news mags). Nothing violent of course. Just a friendly stop in to use the bathrooms, ride up and down in the elevators, eat all the food in the vending machines, etc. Then all 300,000 people could line up outside the ombudsman’s office asking if this was newsworthy. Make that an annual event and see who notices.

    As the venerable if un-PC proverb says, “if Mohammed won’t go to the mountain…”

    G

  • Darren

    Oh, I LIKE that idea, Greg!

    I too was disappointed with the coverage, especially since I was there myself. I actually laughed out loud when I saw the line about “most attendees being over 60 years old.” I think I can count on one hand the number of over-60s who were on my street corner, but I couldn’t move due to the crush of high school and college students.

  • michael

    Since when does the frequency of an event determine its news value?

    Elections occur every four years, and the campaigning goes on nearly every day in between. They are nearly eternal in duration and are frequently as exciting as watching paint dry. But that doesn’t stop the media from subjecting us nightly to the mindnumbing musings of clueless people, collected from under stones and toadstools in every corner of the country, who still have no idea whom they are voting for on the eve of the election after two years of constant campaigning and endless coverage. That’s news?

    Thanksgiving takes place year after year too. But that doesn’t deter NPR from its annual ritual of shoving Susan Stamberg’s cranberry relish recipe down our throats.

  • James

    Funny how the pro-lifers complain about their rally being ignored by the mainstream media.

    When half a million people showed up in Washington – and millions more around the world – showed up to protest the invasion of Iraq in 2002, did the mainstream media take notice? Nope.

    When every single world church organization and denomination, with only the exception of the Southern Baptist Convention, condemned the Iraq War, did the mainstream media discuss organized Christianity’s nearly univocal opposition to that war? Nope.

    But now that it’s anti-abortion protesters, all of a sudden 300,000 people should be Page A1 worthy? Where were you eight years ago, when virtually the entirety of world Christianity stood up and said “no!” to George W. Bush’s immoral, irresponsible war of choice, when hundreds of thousands stood on the Mall to say no to war?

    Oh, right… it’s only worth covering if it’s your side. Got it.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    JAMES:

    I remember lots of coverage of that Iraq march.

    Please document your accusations. Do you have a URL or two?

    Also, please name the churches that took part — other than the “Seven Sisters” of the mainline world.

    The Catholic Church, of course, would have had participants on both sides of the issues (with the pope expressing concern, hinting at clear opposition).

    But the nation’s largest religious bodies are:

    Catholics

    Southern Baptists

    Independent evangelical churches

    Assemblies of God

    United Methodists (a seven sister group, I know; did an AGENCY back the march, or the actual national conference?)

    But I totally agree with you that religious opposition to the war and participation in the march should have been covered. Then again, I wrote my Master’s thesis on religious themes and participation in the Vietnam War Moratorium, so you’d expect that from me.

  • Martha

    So, how many years has it been going on? And isn’t that in itself newsworthy?

    I suppose the lack of “drunken riotous conservative zealots attack abortion clinics, go on rampage of arson and murder” may mean that it’s not newsy enough, but even a bit of a paragraph on the front page is too much to expect?

  • Martha

    James, I’d have been one of those opposed to the war in Iraq on several grounds, but being over here in Ireland, that wasn’t much use to the American media.

  • michael

    James,

    Did it ever occur to you that at least some of the people lamenting the poor coverage of the March for Life might be the very same people who opposed the Iraq war?

    I know it doesn’t fit your handy little template, but it’s true.

  • Chip

    Wait a minute: Didn’t a large pack of Democrats cast the key votes to defend the principles of the long-standing Hyde Amendment? This was one tense legislative showdown in which the Republicans were, for the most part, irrelevant. Right? Is it accurate to describe all of those Democrats as “conservatives,” when some of them are, on a host of issues, actually political progressives?

    First, it was a pack of Democrats plus almost all of the Republicans who cast the votes to extend the abortion prohibition in the House health care bill far beyond the Hyde Amendment. You are right to note that the debate about holding the health care bill hostage to restricting abortion futher than the Hyde Amendment did take place within the Democratic party.

    And on the issue of abortion, it is perfectly fair to describe their position as conservative. In the context of the health reform bill, I think a moderate position would maintain the status quo in regards to Hyde.

    When I first read the sentence you quoted, I assumed McCarty meant “conservative” on the issue at hand (abortion) not necessarily conservative as a general political outlook. The ambiguity is a problem.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Chip:

    There is NO attempt in that sentence to focus the noun on one issue. Zippo.

  • Chip

    There is NO attempt in that sentence to focus the noun on one issue. Zippo.

    Nor is there anything in that sentence to focus the noun on a general political outlook. The sentence appears in the context of an entire column that focused completely on the issue of abortion, which drove my initial assumption. I agree with you that it is problamatic because your intepretation of what he meant is also reasonable. “The ambiguity is a problem.”

  • Peter

    This was one tense legislative showdown in which the Republicans were, for the most part, irrelevant. Right?

    The Stupak amendment wouldn’t have passed without the cooperation of every Republican in the House. That’s not irrelevant. Whether Stupak and other pro-life Democrats were the tail or the head of the dog all depends on who is doing the analysis.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    PETER:

    Sorry, but when your party holds an overwhelming majority and you stand up against your own president on his signature piece of legislation, you’re the lede.

  • Joe K

    Getting back to a journalism angle…

    Is this example of the MSM not seeing the religious angle, intentional ignoring it, or other?

    The March for Life was ignored by most the MSM, and the few exceptions just touch on political. Not to say that politics wasn’t important since the marchers’ aim is to repeal Roe, after all. But, religion is the key driver motivating many of these folks to travel to DC every year from all over the country. Roman Catholics were predominant, but Orthodox also well represented, as well as Baptists, Evangelicals, Litherans, Episcopalians and many other denominations (sorry, don’t have sources, here)

    It was funny to read on the weblink, creativeminorityreport, about one blogger trying to find MSM TV coverage of the march but instead saw the dog rescue by the fireman as the big story.

  • Julia

    Every time there is a world conference on economic matters there are crazy folks who show up and cause havoc. They always get coverage even though they have been doing this for years.

    Problem is the Life Marchers don’t make for interesting film at 11. If they dressed weird, did mime performances, threw paint and accosted cops they would be on TV.

  • TeaPot562

    Bias of the MSM was evident as far back as the mid-1970s — about 180 of us (counting men, women, kids on tricycles and strollers) picketed a local hospital near L.A. for over an hour on a Saturday morning.
    The same day, FIVE pickets showed up to picket the local Naval Weapons Station, on the grounds that they had nuclear weapons. (Since they are near a major shipyard, they have often stored nukes for ships being overhauled since about 1950. This was hardly news.
    Guess which photo showed on the front page of the L.A. Times on Sunday morning? Right, the nuclear pickets.
    TeaPot562

  • AmaniS

    Is MSM ignoring this march?
    How many marches were covered last year?
    How many were in attendance?

    To prove bias(and I am not saying there isn’t) you have to show an example.
    How many other groups march yearly?
    Is this the longest running one?

  • http://kevinjjones.blogspot.com/2010/01/poor-media-coverage-is-pro-life-leaders.html Kevin J Jones

    My extended skeptical take can be found by clicking my name. These complaints about happen every year. That’s a sign one is in a rut.

    I think that if pro-life leaders paid to promote their cause can’t get publicity, they’re not doing their jobs right. They aren’t networking with the editors and producers.

    If they can’t win over an indifferent or hostile media room, they can’t win over the rest of the establishment.

    The March is supposed to “raise awareness.” When Rick Sanchez expressed confusion about who was running the March, pro-lifers laughed at him.

    In fact, it was an embarrassment that the March has failed so badly at its purpose that a newscaster doesn’t even know about it.


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