The media gushing over Texas filibusterer Sen. Wendy Davis continues in such a way as to make Chris Farley, above, seem restrained. Davis is the woman who has halted, at least for the time being, a bill that would require Texas abortion clinics to have the same standards other ambulatory surgery centers are required to have. It would also prohibit, with some exceptions, the killing of children who had reached five or more months’ gestation. And the bill would also require abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, in case of an emergency.
There are so very many fascinating things to look at, particularly in the context of the tremendous and notorious difficulty the mainstream media has had covering various problems at abortion clinics, including convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell’s abortion “house of horrors,” Texas’ own alleged killer of babies born alive, Douglas Karpen, and clinics around the country.
Let’s go over various media coverage of this religion ghost-haunted, hot-button story. One important thing to keep in mind is that this is not a forum for discussing abortion or doctrinal views on abortion or particular legislation about abortion. You are welcome to have your strongly held opinions on those matters and you are welcome to have those discussions — just not here. We keep discussions focused on media coverage.The goal is to see if the mainstream press can present the views of people on both sides of this debate in an accurate and balanced manner. It’s called journalism.
If you are interested in media coverage, in basic journalism, please join in the discussion.
OK, so first off, the Associated Press’s initial story (or headline), which actually was wrong, framed the debate word-for-word as did the pro-choice activists opposing the bill do.
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Republicans pass new restrictions expected to close almost every abortion clinic in Texas.
This one-sentence off the wire was updated, of course, but the framing remained the same, if the hyperbole was somewhat softened, throughout mainstream media accounts. Almost invariably we got the pro-choice spin on this story as if it were the news. By “requiring tighter medical standards,” as USA Today put it, the bill would have “effectively close[d] most abortion clinics in Texas.”
But wait. Each of these clinics would be free to meet the same standards that all the other ambulatory surgery clinics in the state meet, so such reporting showed not just bias but particularly childish bias. This pro-choice perspective should be included within the story, of course, but it shouldn’t be adopted as the framing for the entire story, the only perspective offered, lest press releases from Planned Parenthood be indistinguishable from stories presented as news.
Moving on to how the media have treated Davis — I found it interesting that a search of the Los Angeles Times shows that the newspaper has already published 11 staff-written stories about her. By comparison, the Times only got around to three staff-written stories about Kermit Gosnell. One of those Davis stories was literally on the front page yesterday. Kermit Gosnell never made the front page of the Los Angeles Times and it took years after his indictment in the murders of seven children and one woman for the paper to even mention him at all, buried deep within the paper.
When North Dakota pro-life senator Margaret Sitte wrote, sponsored and passed various pro-life bills, did the Los Angeles Times cover her? Not even once. Some women who work on bills related to abortion are vastly more important than other women who work on bills related to abortion. As I joked on Twitter, “It’s almost like there’s a pattern with how the media cover abortion. It’s subtle, but if you look hard, you can almost detect something.” (Have your own fun with the Los Angeles Times search function here.)
Or take the Washington Post. You remember that it wasn’t until some high-profile and sustained media criticism shamed them into it that they finally got around to writing about Kermit Gosnell, after years of complaints. Compare that to this story the Post tweeted out to its 1,741,558 follwers:
The best Amazon reviews of the shoes that Wendy Davis wore during her filibuster http://wapo.st/150sKvt
I did not make that up. That is a real tweet and a real story that the Post deemed worthy for its Twitter feed. Folks on Twitter were outraged that the same paper that hid the fact of Gosnell’s trophy-keeping of baby feet would be devoting so much praise to an abortion activist’s footwear.
Imagine for a moment that a Republican state senator in a liberal Northeastern state filibustered gay marriage legislation or some gun control measure like background checks. If he went on CNN the following day, do you think he would be grilled about his position? Without a doubt.
Precisely no one doubts this. So let’s see how Anderson Cooper of CNN grilled Wendy Davis about her positions on the substance of the bill she filibustered:
1. How are you even awake today?
2. What was it like standing for that long?
3. It was a remarkable. Did you have any idea that it would grow like this?
4. What did you accomplish by doing this if Perry can bring it up in another session?
5. Was the time stamp on the vote changed intentionally to try to get it passed?
6. Will you filibuster again?
Keep in mind that Davis filibustered a bill that enjoys the support of 62 percent of Texans surveyed about it — a 32-point margin over bill opponents.
Keep in mind that a whopping 71 percent of Americans say that abortion should be generally illegal after 12 weeks and 86 percent of Americans say it should be illegal after 28 weeks. Keep in mind that this bill would still not make abortion laws as restrictive as they are in, say, France or other countries in Europe. Is that context or reality in any way reflected in these stories?
Why is it that reporters are good at grilling pro-life politicians but literally can’t think of a single substantive question on the very bill Davis stopped (for the time being)?
Or why is it that the media are at a complete loss to discuss, in stories about bills that would protect unborn children of a certain age, what an abortion on a child of that age looks like or how it is accomplished … but are totally on top of stories such as “Meet the Woman Turning Wendy Davis Support into Walking Nail Art?” Why do we never get stories that include the effect of abortion on the unborn child?
It’s one thing for MSNBC’s Chris Hayes to interview Davis without even mentioning the word abortion once, but should other media outlets be following that station’s lead? Hayes didn’t gush any more than the folks at CBS, for instance.
So what’s the bottom line? Click here for the classic David Shaw series on media bias in mainstream news coverage of abortion. Shaw was a liberal, on abortion issues, but one of the nation’s top writers — ever — on media issues. The series was published, of course, in The Los Angeles Times.