Grappling with “life issues”

Yesterday was the annual March for Life. This is a large annual event where people come in from all over the country — and world — to march to the Supreme Court on the anniversary of the date it handed down Roe V. Wade. This has been going on for almost 40 years and it’s been covered poorly for many of those years. This year was brutally cold and wet and yet the crowds were still there, marching as they always do. They may have been wondering why the Supreme Court hadn’t handed down the decision in June instead of January, but they were there.

But guess what! This year, this march — larger than all of the Occupy Wall Street groups combined — actually received a mention in the New York Times! Twice! Things are looking up!

Oh wait, actually they’re not. One of the references was in a blog post about how Sen. Rand Paul was detained by TSA during his security screening on the way to Washington. In the last paragraph:

A posting on the senator’s own Twitter account shortly before the incident announced that he was headed to Washington to speak at the March for Life, an antiabortion rally.

By the way, reading that line makes me wonder if the media really need to come up with a better way to describe a movement that is about more than just abortion. Speaking of, this Washington Post treatment of Catholic teaching on the sanctity of human life is intriguing, to say the least:

The Catholic Church has increasingly focused on educating and mobilizing its youth around its antiabortion ideology…

With another presidential election looming, many antiabortion advocates at the event said educating youths in their ideology is more important than ever…

Group chaperone Karina Franco, 37, said this was the first real education in antiabortion ideology for most of the youths…

Exsqueeze me? I don’t know Karina Franco but I suspect the words “antiabortion ideology” hadn’t even entered her mind, much less exited her mouth. But apparently it’s the new media term for describing the same Catholic doctrine that is linked to beliefs on a wide range of subjects, not just abortion. It would be like saying the church has an “ideology” on salvation.

Anyway, the other mention of the March for Life in the Times comes from the editorial page editor mocking Rand Paul’s beliefs on both TSA security and the abortion of unborn children. If the only way the March for Life gets mentioned in your paper is because a libertarian Senator missed his flight thanks to TSA’s security procedures, you’re doing it wrong.

Speaking of doing it wrong, I endured the unbelievably boring NBC debate of the Republican candidates. If you’ve missed a few or most, I hope last night’s was one of them. Unless you like lots of questions about what the candidates themselves think of the horse race of running for office. (Newt Gingrich did discuss his unique views on divine judgment and one Fidel Castro.) One of the few substantive parts of the debate was a question about something that happened seven years ago. Here’s how the Huffington Post wrote it up:

Exhuming Terri Schiavo

Adam Smith, citing a 2005 case that gripped the state of Florida, and, eventually the nation and the federal government, reminds Rick Santorum about his support for the family of Terri Schiavo. Santorum said that the support he offered was sincere, but made sure to indicate that he “did not call for congressional intervention.” Rather, he said, “I called for judicial intervention on behalf of the parents,” who were from Pennsylvania, and thus, his constituents. Santorum said that his intention was simply to ensure that the judicial process worked as fairly as it could.

Asked if “do not resuscitate” orders were “immoral,” Santorum said, “No, I don’t think so.”

This is a very abbreviated and not entirely accurate summary but the question was “Do not resuscitate directives, do you think they’re immoral?” and the response from Santorum was “No, I don’t believe they’re immoral. I mean, I think that’s a decision that people should be able to make, and I have supported legislation in the past for them to make it.”

It was interesting that neither the journalist nor Santorum mentioned that the legislation Santorum sponsored regarding Schiavo received votes from every Democrat, including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. However, the “do not resuscitate” question was supposed to be the follow-up to the Terri Schiavo question. And why? I have absolutely no idea. The question about Terri Schiavo’s life was about whether her husband should be permitted to starve and dehydrate her, not whether she should be resuscitated. In fact, her husband had obtained a do-not-resuscitate order on her life 12 years prior. It is staggering to me that a reporter who had prepared such a dated question wouldn’t have some grasp of the most basic facts of the case. Particularly considering he’s at a local newspaper there (the Tampa Bay Times). Even before I experienced dehydration in 2010, I knew this (once you’ve experienced dehydration, if you survive it, you will not forget it — unbelievably painful).

Speaking of debates and “life issues,” I also wonder if anyone caught this question from CNN’s John King during the last South Carolina debate:

(APPLAUSE) KING: I think we have nodding heads. I assume we have agreement on that. But let’s move on to another issue that came up in the campaign right here in South Carolina this week, and that’s the life issue.

Mr. Speaker, your campaign sent out a mailing to South Carolina Republicans across this state essentially questioning Governor Romney’s commitment on this issue, saying that he has changed his position on the abortion issue.

“The life issue.” That has to be the first time a moderator has used this vocabulary in a debate.

Photo via Catholic University of America gallery.

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  • Mark Baddeley

    In light of the discussion about whether or not women priests are news, as they keep occurring, I now have at least one example of an event that keeps happening and yet is news.

    This is, and it should get coverage each year in the mainstream media given its size, its demographics, and the degree of support it has more broadly in the U.S.

    So it is possible for something to be a recurring event and be news. Not all recurring events are, but some are.

  • Dave

    Speaking of debate moderators raising important issues in an irrelevant manner, a few debates back a moderator asked Romney how he felt about state prohibition of contraception. Romney replied in a politically intelligent manner, asking the moderator what he was talking about. The candidate to whom the question should have been addressed was Santorum; he might have provided an interesting answer.

  • michael henry

    I want to say this as respectfully as possible, but as honestly as I can. I’m not a journalist, I’m a consumer of news. I read GR daily. It seems to me that the fine folks who write the posts for GR really have too high a view of media and particularly old school main stream media. It never surprises me that in the stories you cover there is obvious bias, sloppy fact checking, and even grammatical errors. If the NYT told me today was Tuesday the 24th, I would check the calendar. They report, but I don’t expect them to be honest, unbiased, or even right. Every media source is one angle, and only one.

  • Mark Baddeley

    Re: michael henry,

    I would argue that a critic’s job is to compare the product against the ideals that that discipline organises itself around, taking into account the limitations that the person had to work with.

    If GetReligion was saying, “Trust everything you read because it’s accurate and doesn’t have an agenda” then your criticism would be on target. But they’re saying what you are – “Here’s how this is inaccurate and/or improperly biased”. And, whenever they find one that enables basically unqualified praise, “Go read this! It’s everything journalism can be!”

    What would we replace that with for a critique?

    “This has blemishes, but they’re about normal for religion reporting so there’s nothing to see here.”

    “This is bad even when marked ‘on the curve’.”

    “This one’s just odd, it reflects values so high (like accuracy and fair handedness)that journalism doesn’t even aspire to them.”

  • Bern

    It’s the third week of January so it must be time for the annual GR bashing of the MSM “coverage” of the annual “March for Life”.

    I’m sorry to have to burst Mollie’s bubble but while indeed Catholic teachings on life issues cover a heck of a lot more than abortion, the fact is the organizers and main proponents of the March are primarily anti-abortion: yes, the NRL site lists other issues (again, not an exhaustive list of Catholic teachings on life) but first and foremost is Federal Funding of Abortions. http://www.nrlc.org/index.html

    And what else could the March be on the date of Roe v. Wade, since all parties agree that this was the specific issue the SCOTUS addressed. And while I simply don’t have the time today to do any searching I am willing to bet that few if any speakers mentioned much of anything else.

    I would like some citation from some authority that the gathering in DC this year was “bigger than all the Occupy Wall Street groups combined”. Plus, the weather has been worse, much worse.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Most of the comments I have seen and heard on TV have, in one way or another, ridiculed Newt Gingrich for his skewering media bias during the debates (and getting standing ovations for it). But in all the talk talk afterwards not one even discussed the possibility of liberal media bias being a serious problem that at least needs looking into.
    Again and again the media questioners never query about one of the hottest issues angering very many Catholics–the almost regular anti-Catholic, anti-Christian bias of this administration. Whether it is siding with government intrusion into who a church can hire (and be shot down even by 2 Obama Supreme Court appointees) or on a number of issues promoting government power to crush the consciences of pro-life people in the medical field, or the driving of Catholic Charities from the adoption ministry–no questions coming from the media about it all.
    Just more questions about issues the media liberal spin factory deems important or relevant.
    So, of course, any massive pro-life demonstration doesn’t get anywhere the media coverage miniscule numbers of favored “occupiers” get to make their point.

  • Jeff

    @ Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    “[No] one even discussed the possibility of liberal media bias being a serious problem that at least needs looking into.”

    The watchmen and watchwomen don’t like being watched.

    The gaze is one-way — their way.

  • Jeff

    “I would like some citation from some authority that the gathering in DC this year was “bigger than all the Occupy Wall Street groups combined.”

    And I would like some citation from some authority that the Occupy Wall Street protests taken together were as large as The March for Life in any given year.

    You can’t take it on faith that Occupy Wall Street — whose size and importance the media may well have chosen to exaggerate — really was as the media claimed that it was, and then turn around and demand evidence that The March for Life — whose size and importance the media may well have wanted to downplay — really was as it seems to have been.

  • Passing By

    I now have at least one example of an event that keeps happening and yet is news.

    You beat me to it. Except, of course, the purported ordination of women to the Catholic priesthood is a repetitive event that’s reported over and over and over, while the March for Life is a repetitive event that is not reported over and over and over. So there you go.

    As always, I was interested in the reporting of numbers marching, which was more or less non-existent. Here’s a nice blog piece rounding up coverage, such as it was, but not much in the way of numbers. Rocco, as always, has a nice piece on a major Catholic event (yes, there is more than just the march itself ).
    Interesting west coast action, with 50,000. Hey! A real number!

    One last link with some number from around the country.

    And yes, Bern these events are definitely ”anti-abortion”, but that is different from saying that the pro-life movement is exclusively about abortion, Wapo propaganda not-withstanding.

  • Passing By

    Sorry for the messed up links, although some are working. My internet is out and I ‘m working on my tablet.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Bern, I could have — perhaps should have — written much more about the embarrassment that is the annual failure in coverage of the annual March for Life. Or as one put it:

    So they have become truth-phobics, our mainstream media. They can’t tell you the truth about anything, anymore — they can only do whatever it takes to sustain the narratives they’ve constructed.

    You want the truth? You think you deserve it? The press can’t handle the truth; they can’t bring it to you.

    That’s why 250 people camping out in a park gets thousands of stories, while half-a-million marching on Washington does not get reported at all, or if it does, the pictures are cropped; the attendees are caricatured, mis-named and under-represented while their opponents are over-represented.

  • http://www.michael-carper.com Michael Carper

    I agree completely, though I would caution organizers and commentators from becoming to fixated on our lack of media coverage, to the detriment of actual efforts to attract media coverage. I wrote about the March for Life and the media on my blog.

  • Mark Baddeley

    Re: Jeff #8

    Great point, and I didn’t see it until you pointed it out. Thanks.

  • Nancy D.

    At the very least, it tells you something about who controls the media and what their intentions are.


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