Two deaths this week give the media a chance to cover significant changes in women’s sexuality within the past few decades.
Helen Gurley Brown, former editor of Cosmo and author of Sex and the Single Girl, died Monday. On Tuesday, several leaders sent a flurry of statements on the death of Nellie Gray, the founder of the March for Life, an annual march marking the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade.
The timed deaths give us the opportunity to compare the amount of coverage the mainstream media devote to the two women. But because the March for Life draws from a heavily religious crowd, we’ll focus on Gray.
The March for Life has not received the most quality coverage over the years. Even the Washington Post’s ombudsman stepped in earlier this year to call out the coverage. On one hand, a journalist might argue that since it’s an annual event, does it deserve much coverage? On the other hand, it’s an annual event that spans 38 years. Do we think Occupy Wall Street or the Tea Party will last that long?
I’m not sure what to make of the Associated Press’s basic report, which reads like a boring Wikipedia page with a few most spicy quotes the reporter could find.
She used the phrase ‘‘no exceptions, no compromise’’ to sum up her belief that life begins at conception and that abortion should be illegal.
At this year’s march, she referred to abortion as genocide and the Roe v. Wade decision as ‘‘an evil imposed upon our country.’’
Were these quotes representative of how Gray spoke about abortion, or were these the most inflammatory the reporter could find? I don’t know the answer, but I’m curious whether this represents how she portrayed abortion in her speeches. The piece ends on this note:
Ms. Gray, who was single and had no children, was a longtime parishioner of St. Mary Mother of God Catholic Church in Washington.
Ho hum. I’d like to know more.
Part of the reason the March for Life might not receive much coverage is its public image. Its website, just as one example, offers minimal information. For instance, you can’t find a leadership structure and you have to get the annual report in the mail. Oh, am I being trite? Your website is the first way newcomers (and reporters) will experience your message. So on one hand, it doesn’t surprise me that Gray might not receive much attention.
Still, careful reporters will note how the march has played an important role in an entire movement over several decades. It offers an interesting snapshot of not only the pro-life movement but also of religious participation in a highly political social issue.Consider the case of my close friend who is Catholic but does not attend Mass regularly: she loves the March for Life and will show up at just about any rally related to abortion. Her example may or may not be representative among other pro-lifers who are religious, but it’s interesting where religion and abortion connect or diverge.
The Washington Post has much more interesting background and history in its obituary, something they perhaps prepared ahead of time. Mentions of faith, however, don’t come until towards the end.
Miss Gray told The Post that she first encountered the concept of abortion while reading “The Cardinal,” Henry Morton Robinson’s best-selling 1950 novel about a fast-rising Roman Catholic priest. The narrative describes a procedure known today as a late-term abortion, in which a baby is partially delivered before its skull is crushed to facilitate its removal.
Part of the problem with the coverage of abortion itself is that it doesn’t neatly fall into one beat. It crosses health, politics, gender, ethics and, of course, religion. But few reporters are devoted to covering abortion specifically, so it often gets lost by the wayside. Still, Gray’s death offers opportunities to do stories about the movement in fresh ways.
When I covered the march in 2009 just after President Obama’s inauguration and after Obama repealed the Mexico City policy, stating the U.S. government would not contribute to groups performing or promoting abortion. You can imagine plenty of signs with politically-directed sentiments. I also noticed that the crowd appeared to be mostly Catholic, based on the number of rosary beads and clerical clothing. So I’d be curious if anyone knows how ecumenical the march has been over the years.
With the founder’s death, there are so many interesting angles reporters could dive into just about what the march represents and whether it has successfully changed hearts and minds.
- How have the numbers of the march waxed and waned over the years?
- In Washington where you find marches every day, it seems, how does the March for Life stand out? How religiously connected is the march?
- Are marches still a cultural force? Do activists prefer to do different types of outreach? What were the successes and failures to the approach?
- How organized is the March for Life? Can you pinpoint the leadership structure, and if so, what are the religious affiliations of the leaders?
- How would the march’s success be evaluated if it were just another organization or ministry? Would they just look at numbers? What do they consider a successful march?
- Have people been turned off or on within either side by the march? What parts of the country does it draw from and is there ecumenical involvement?
- How does the rhetoric found in the March for Life differ from the rest of the pro-life movement? Do pro-life strategists prefer more public or private attempts at changing public opinion?
It would be difficult to find a pro-lifer who would directly criticize the march, but there are large questions about strategy. A big part of the question has to do with how your faith impacts or doesn’t impact your activism in the public square. As the country polls less pro-choice and more pro-life, Gray’s death offers reporters a chance to cover angles they’re missing.
Image via Wikimedia Commons.