Please be patient with me as I dig through lots of material that built up in my infamous GetReligion guilt folder. Here is a story from a few weeks ago that raises a very, very, very basic journalism question.
Well, there’s an important question here in this Atlanta Journal-Constitution story if you still care about the American model of the press and hard-news coverage that attempts to accurately cover perspectives on both sides of hot issues.
The headline is very basic: “Women’s clinics on heightened alert.” The lede on the story is very hard news and to the point:
Heightened fears about a series of burglaries and fires targeting abortion and OB-GYN clinics around metro Atlanta have triggered heightened security across the country.
The FBI, which is leading a joint investigation, is looking at the cases as possibly domestic terrorism or civil rights violations, according to ATF spokesman Richard Coes.
“We are concerned about the escalation and activity,” said Vicki Saporta, president of National Abortion Federation, which sent out notifications to all member clinics about the Atlanta incidents twice this week, urging them to take additional precautions. “It’s not a good sign when one arson follows another, after following several burglaries. Something clearly is escalating there and we’re hoping that the strong law enforcement so far can stop it.”
Obviously, one side of this story is represented by professional organizations such as the National Abortion Federation. That’s the lede. That’s an essential voice. Later on, there are voices from the Feminist Womens Health Center in DeKalb County, more investigators, etc., etc.
That’s all valid. But stop and think about this for a moment.
What’s the obvious question that is being asked here? Who is — in effect — being accused of these possible acts of domestic terrorism?
The story says the authorities are asking for public input, for links that can drive the investigation? To whom will they need to talk? To whom do journalists need to talk?
I know that this is hard to believe, but the pro-life movement involves a wide range of people. Often, the people who end up committing these kinds of violent acts are people who have been driven OUT of mainstream pro-life organizations. Why is that? The mainstream groups are, as a rule, committed to forms of protest and activism rooted in nonviolence and/or forms of confrontation build on civil disobedience principles.
Tragically, some of these disaffected people lack the patience for this approach. They want to strike back.
So who would be the authorities on that side of the issue? Where would the newspaper find valid, informed input of this kind? Here’s another clue, drawn from the very end of this story:
Jack Killorin, a retired ATF agent who helped work on the Rudolph case and a former agency spokesperson, said that the heydey for abortion clinic violence was in the 1980s and 90s. While the abortion debate remains strong, crimes against abortion clinic operators have largely tapered off, he said.
According to Killorin, these types of acts historically don’t involve large conspiracies, but one or a small number of disaffected people. The individuals usually don’t have criminal records, since they aren’t motivated by profit, but by ideology. The culprits are typically not affiliated with organized anti-abortion groups. Instead, they often believe those organizations are all talk and no action, Killorin said.
“This could very well be a lone wolf actor glorying in their powerful secrecy,” Killorin said. “And if so, they are very hard to find.”
OK, so the Journal-Constitution team could not find a single person who is involved in genuinely pro-life work who could help explain this reality? If these lone wolves are “disaffected people” this implies that they are people who have dropped out, or who have been forced out, of other groups.
At some point, it would have helped to have talked to people — at least one or two — from mainstream groups that oppose abortion. Who knows, they might have relevant insights. You think?