Tough questions: ‘You gonna put those shoes on again?’

Embedded above is a clip from CNN where media critic Howard Kurtz says what is bleedingly obvious to everyone — the media have cheered on Wendy Davis’ and her abortion filibuster in biased fashion. He asks the rhetorical question of how the same media would cover the same filibuster if, instead, it were against abortion.

This last week has been pretty bad, as far as journalism coverage of this religion ghost-haunted story goes. It’s almost as if the media, which did such a good job of pretending that the reality inside Kermit Gosnell’s abortion clinic had no policy implications, are confused as to why state legislatures are acting as if it did.

I was shocked to read what one critic compared to a fundraising letter for Wendy Davis in the New York Times. That vast majority of Americans who — in poll after poll — oppose late-term abortions are just ruthlessly ignored. Instead, the language of the piece is more like a watered-down NARAL press release:

Her feat of stamina and conviction gained thousands of Twitter followers in a matter of hours. Pictures of the sneakers she wore beneath her dress zoomed across computer and television screens. The press corps demanded to know her shoe brand. (Mizuno, it turned out.) Hundreds of men, women and children waited for hours at the Capitol to sit in an upstairs gallery and watch her in action, standing in lines that snaked around the rotunda. Even President Obama noticed, posting a Twitter message on Tuesday that read, “Something special is happening in Austin tonight.”

It goes on like that to the end, (“the perfect symbol in a fight over what a woman can do”) ignoring actual polling on this particular bill or the topic of late-term abortion in general. (“One of the clearest messages from Gallup trends is that Americans oppose late-term abortion.”) It’s embarrassing.

First off, this paragraph ignores that the social media campaign was — as any media professional could figure out in a hearbeat — highly orchestrated. (Washington Post: “Wendy Davis ‘tweetstorm’ was planned in advance”) Not that it’s not worth mentioning, but it’s just fascinating how easily rolled by savvy public relations our media is willing to be, depending on the cause. And it needs to be acknowledged that abortion rights media campaigns are so highly successful in ways that almost no other public relations campaigns are because the media are fully compliant and overwhelmingly supportive of said campaigns. This is a scandal. (See, e.g., my substantive analysis of the media handling of Susan G. Komen last year.)

At least the Times piece is more subtle than this Guardian take on the matter:

Wendy Davis channels anger of millions as new Texas makes itself heard

The dramatic events of Tuesday night brought to the surface tensions that had been building for years — in an increasingly diverse Texas where white Republican men still call the shots

It will surprise no one that the networks also ran stories about Wendy Davis’ shoes, even if they forgot to ask why she thinks it should be legal to kill viable unborn babies. Let’s take a look at how Jeff Zeleny, ABC News Senior Washington Correspondent, gushed about the situation:

We got a first-hand look at the now-famous shoes of @WendyDavisTexas. Our interview is Sunday on #ThisWeek

The “This Week” twitter account joined in. These media presentations of a woman who filibustered for late-term abortion are so fluffy that it’s almost as if the media are trying to avoid the reality of what the filibuster was about and what Americans, much less Texans, think about killing unborn children in the second and third trimesters. Texans back banning abortions on unborn children of five months or more by a whopping 32-point margin (62 percent to to 30 percent), according to a Texas Tribune poll. Has that reality been reflected in any way in the media coverage? Ha!

Zeleny took some heat for how cavalier he was about an issue that needs less cheerleading and more substantive inquiry. So he later promised:

How did Wendy Davis keep talking during Texas-size filibuster? A catheter. We talk that and substance on #ThisWeek. http://abcn.ws/126Fnjl

Except that there was literaly no substance, if by substance you mean that Davis was asked even a single question about late-term abortion or public health standards for abortion clinics. John McCormack wrote out the six questions Zeleny asked:

1. Why did you decide to wear your running shoes?
2. You were receiving support from a lot of people, including movie stars and the president.
3. Gov. Perry has made this very personal against you. Is that offensive?
4. Do you believe SB5 will become law?
5. Will you have to filibuster again?
6. You gonna put these shoes on again?

I … have no words. I didn’t go to journalism school, but I know enough to know that those aren’t anywhere near the questions one might ask if seeking substance or anything resembling it. Sample question offered by McCormack in place of one those? “Why should it be legal to abort healthy, viable babies?”

When the subject of the interview spoke of the need to avoid government intrusion, Zeleny didn’t follow-up by pointing out that the same concerns in Pennsylvania led to the regime under which Kermit Gosnell killed and maimed people. It’s almost as if the media have lost any desire for facts, substance or balance when the topic is abortion.

Sigh. Later on at ABC News, conservative pundit Peggy Noonan was on a pundit roundtable. She gave voice to those people who don’t share the media’s views on abortion:

But it seems to me — and I think it seems to many Americans — that what she is speaking for and standing for is something we would recognize as infanticide, late-term abortion, the taking of a little child’s life. That is really, really serious.

Well, great. So they included that perspective. But why not ask a related question of the woman they’re gushing over. Why not ask her some questions about the moral distinction between what Kermit Gosnell was convicted of and late-term abortion? Why not ask her why abortion doctors should not have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, in case of problems? Why not ask her why abortion clinics should not have the same standards of care as other ambulatory surgery centers? These aren’t gotcha questions and they’re not even tough. Certainly someone who filibustered the bill has thought through the answers but I’ll be darned if I can find a single journalist who thought to ask these questions of the media’s favorite politician this week.

I had hoped that shining the light on the media’s failures to cover Kermit Gosnell and the late-term abortion industry would lead to greater reflection and efforts to improve.

Sadly, this story seems to be shaping up in the same way as previous abortion stories. Where’s the journalism? There are few, if any, attempts by mainstream reporters to offer accurate, balanced coverage of articulate voices on both sides of this issue.

Until the media stop being in the tank, we will link 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 back in 1990. It needs to be read by reporters as much today as ever.

  • Martha O’Keeffe

    Mollie, why were you shocked? I have seen nothing in the coverage to indicate that this was about clinic standards and second-trimester abortions or viability. What I have seen pushed as the message was “White male Republicans tried to ban abortion in Texas but this woman, with the support of the public, stopped them.” I have seen people blogging and tumblring and tweeting that this was a failed attempt to control women’s private parts (and I’m bowdlerising that last). I’ve seen all kinds of cheerleading for this as a blow against misogyny, against the patriarchy, against entrenched power trying to stifle the voice of the people.
    I’ve seen all kinds of vitriol and venom against anyone who attempted to raise the whole question of abortion.
    I haven’t seen anything that treats this as a politician making hay out of a prime chance to get her name and face out there before the next election.
    In short, I’ve seen what I expected to see.

    • Sari

      Martha,

      This was not Davis’ first filibuster. In 2011, she successfully used the tactic to delay a vote whose passage would have made substantial cuts in education funding. Bettering education has always been her primary interest. And I doubt she’ll be reelected. The recent Supreme Court ruling will result in the most egregious gerrymandering.

      All the above should have been included in articles written about her.

      • John Pack Lambert

        Malarchy, her primary interest is empowering the shoddy business owners who run abortion clinics and funnel some of their products gained from the blood of innocent women dying into her relection campaign. Davis might as well have the blood of Mongar on her hands, because her actions mean more immigrant women will die.

        • Tiara Askew

          are you one to want more regulations and regulatory over-sight, or do you think government should be out of the business owner’s way? Gosnell is a great example of taking the teeth out of regulatory over-sight – if that’s what you like, you’ll be seeing more of that kind of thing in other healthcare provider’s offices… might want to think on that

      • Jerry Lynch

        Gerrymandering bill by Republicans was first suppressed by the Justice Department as being “blatantly racist”: all minority seats were dissolved, as well as a few Democrats, while no white males lost their seat. The recent ruling by the SCOTUS on the Voting Rights Act as put their bill back in action.

    • Darlene S. Esser

      what Ryan implied I didnt know that some people can get paid $4408 in 4 weeks on the computer. have you read this link w­w­w.K­E­P­2.c­o­m

  • John Pack Lambert

    Doesn’t Obama know that it was filibusters that kept the Civil Rights Act from being passed for ages? Or are filibusters only bad when they are used against things you do not like.
    When did people who block the implementation of government oversight of shoddy business practices that endanger lives become heroes?

    • Martha O’Keeffe

      Because it’s been successfully packaged as the filibuster was about “Protect and preserve the rights of women to control their own bodies”, not “Impose standards on these clinics and protect the lives of the unborn at later stages of pregnancy”.

      Everybody is getting in on the act; this is a sample of the kind of thing I’m seeing (and I’m not a follower of feminist/activist/rap artist blogs in general; this is the kind of thing coming up on my tumblr dash in my own little genre fandom-following corner of the web). See how it’s being sold as “women’s bodies! women’s rights! women’s choice!”, with Wendy Davis the warrior fighting to protect women against attempts to strip their reproductive rights away?

    • SecularPatriot

      When did people who block the implementation of government oversight of shoddy business practices that endanger lives become heroes?

      I find it amusing that conservatives believe that just this aspect of the medical practice deserves such dramatic level of government micromanagement.

      • sg

        Those clinics are nasty. They should have to meet the same standards as every other clinic. Why shouldn’t abortion clinics meet minimum health and medical standards? Why have they been exempted for so long?

        • SecularPatriot

          I remember when conservatives lobbied long and hard for the government to engage in strict oversight of outpatient surgical clinics for plastic surgery. I remember the days when the GOP fought to require every liposuction and chin/jaw/nose doc have admitting privileges at a local hospital and provide ambulatory care on the premises.

          Oh wait a minute, that never happened. So despite the fact that liposuction and boob jobs are wayyyyyyy more likely to kill you than a first trimester dilation and extraction, I guess we know where all the pro “lifers” really stand.

          They should have to meet the same standards as every other clinic. Why shouldn’t abortion clinics meet minimum health and medical standards? Why have they been exempted for so long?

          They do. They do meet the same standards as every other clinic. And they have to meet the extra special standards that meddling ignoramuses cook up specifically to put just the family planning clinics out of business.

  • John Pack Lambert

    White Republican men call the shots so much in Texas that they sent a Hispanic to the senate. Making this about race, let alone about gender, is an outrage.

    • FW Ken

      Not counting that the majority of women in the legislature are Republicans, every large city in Texas has or has had women mayors of both parties and non-white mayors, police chiefs and sheriffs. Lesbians and gay men also hold office here. I remember Ted Koppell doing a show from Jasper, Texas after the dragging death of James Byrd. He was desparate to find racism in the deep east Texas town. But Texas politics simply don’t break down into the easy categories and narratives of the east coast media.

      • John Pack Lambert

        That does not prevent the east coast media lying and claiming they do, or ignoring the fact that an African-American heads the Utah Republican party, and it is only because of a liberal darling like Jim Matheson that Utah has not elected an African-American to congress. Matheson is the ultimate entrenched liberal with family connection.

  • FW Ken

    Coverage of this event, like the event itself, has become a classic instance of style over substance. 1.) Wendy Davis is reasonably substantive legislator. I’ve always gotten good constituent service from her office, and her work on education is admirable. I got a laugh out of the pink shoes. 2.) I linked to an Economist editorial the other day which raised substantial questions about possible violations committed by the Lt. Gov. “Style” doesn’t seem to go beyond shrieks about “patriarchy”. 3.) The substance of what shut down the vote was mob rule, but it’s styled as 60s protests (the 60s, of course, were the golden age. Now, the Texas Legislature often descends into high drama (don’t be surprise if we have another invasion of Killer Bees), but the substantive issues at hand are being buried under a pile of …. style.

    • Sari

      Agreed. More like celebrity coverage and less like news journalism.

  • n_coast

    Where did the Times expect her to wear her sneakers?

  • Timothy Weston

    Mr. Gosnell was vile even by the standards of the pro-abortion crowd. It is hypocritical to pass abortion restrictions yet not do anything to prevent conceptions. Texas is an abstinence-only sex ed state (Like some other southern states) yet that approach fails as it has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in America (like those same southern states). (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3194801/)

    Before the Roe v. Wade decision, deaths of the mothers from abortion were quite high because of lack of sanitary abortion facilities. (http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/tgr/06/1/gr060108.html) Regulations as strict as what the Texas legislature was proposing would have brought the state back to near-pre-Roe conditions and would also drive women to go to clinics not unlike that of Mr. Gosnell. The legislation was not pro-life: It was pro-birth.

    If a legislature wants to curtail abortion, they can start by expanding contraceptive availability.

    • sg

      States with large minority populations have high teen pregnancy rates. Texas is only like 40% white, so naturally it has high teen pregnancy rates.

      Gosnell ran a profitable business because he didn’t spend the money to meet basic standards. During the House Committee meeting yesterday Rep. Turner expressed extreme concern for the profitability of abortion clinics and feared that making them comply with the usual healthy and safety standards for medical clinics would reduce their profits so much that the providers would not wish to continue working.

  • Jerry Lynch

    The filibuster is part of the democratic process, not anarchism or 60s protest, and the loud and continued protest that ended the session was about yet another procedural impropriety by Republicans looking to ignore the democratic process and get their way, not mob rule. Senate Republicans continue to set new records every year using the filibuster to stymie American recovery and growth, and they don’t even have to stand for a minute on the floor to explain their opposition or concerns; a real insult to the democratic process.

    I agree that late term abortions as a matter of course are wrong, but most are performed only when something goes wrong and the mother’s life is at dire risk or even certain death is possible. Horror stories like Gosnell are not the norm but a real rarity and about that man and not the law. The picture being painted that abortionists are all unethical and ill-trained opportunists is poisonous rethoric. Ending all late term abortions is a death sentence for some women, which should at least present a quandry for Pro-lifers: does the mother-to-be count as life?

    I am uncertain as to the specific changes the bill mandated for clinics that perform abortions, whether or not they are so severe and not entirely necessary that it is simply an attempt to close them, as a number of other states have done with impossible-to-comply-with mandates.

    It is, from what I understand, not that Wendy stood (literally and in her views) to preserve late-term abortions, as this article suggests, as it was to protest the concerted efforts to end a woman’s right to choose.

    Hearing one of the Republican legislators argue against a rape exception because hospitals have “rape kits” to fix that sort of thing, such incredible ignorance and this was a woman representative, gave a kind of side show feel to the proceedings. “Rape kits” are for gathering evidence. It backs the ongoing narrative of the “Stupid Party” that Republicans need to fix.

    • sg

      If a woman is truly very ill or the fetus is diagnosed with some severe problem, she won’t be aborting in an abortion clinic because those abortions are ‘therapeutic’ not elective and are done in hospitals. Only healthy women are candidates for elective abortions in clinics.

      • Sari

        Not true, sg. Happened to me. Carried a non-viable fetus to four months. Several ultrasounds over a period of ten days determined no heartbeat or fetus. The local hospital, Catholic, allowed no D&Cs until after the woman miscarried (expelled the “products of conception”). For my health, my OB (who had privileges at same hospital) performed the D&C in his office rather than risk infection or worse while I waited to go into labor. It was standard practice at the time.

        The issue of who does or doesn’t merit a second (or third) trimester abortion should be nuanced, but that’s not how it’s being presented by the media or by lawmakers.

  • Taylor

    why not ask the tough questions? I think it’s because some in the pro-choice community are scared of what kind of answers they might get. I remember talking to a journalist friend who was at an event with several liberal politicians, and the subject of abortion came up, especially in reference to the impact on minority communities. According to my friend one drunk male politician said something along the lines of “the country has enough black babies already”. Sensing a scoop he turned to a newspaper reporter who had an electronic recorder in his pocket and asked him if he’d got that. The man fiddled with his device and said “oops, I just erased it. Oh well”

    Now, I relate the story with some hesitation, because my friend is prone to exaggerate (to put it mildly), but increasingly I wonder what would happen if a pro-choice Aiken equivalent were to say something completely stupid along such lines. Would it really just be ignored?

  • Annonymous

    For one a ban on abortion after 20 weeks into pregnancy is very reasonable and sufficient because many states such as Louisiana has this into law. Another thing is what Wendy Davis did was derail safety standards to protect women. Abortion clinics should be held to the exact same regulations as all other medical facilities including state health inspections and should have hospital admitting privileges (abortion clinics should not receive special treatment) especially in case if procedures was to go wrong and also to make sure all staff including doctors and nurses are properly certified and trained. The purpose of these bills was to shut down Kermit Gosnell-like clinics. Rick Perry is the true hero, not Wendy Davis. All Wendy Davis did was she attempted to allow people like Kermit Gosnell to fly under the radar in fact I believe Wendy Davis is another Gosnell fan.

  • Tiara Askew

    I am so fed up with false equivalencies – the Gosnell scandal and crimes are about the lack of regulatory over-sight – exactly what the ultra-right wants and exactly what they’ll get in other kinds of offices, not just an abortion provider. What you saw in the Gosnell case is what abortion looks like when it’s illegal. Sure, tough questions should be asked on both sides of the argument, but the bottom line for me in the abortion question and LGBT rights is that your religion should not be legislated and thereby forced on anyone else. Abortion is a medical issue – between a patient and her physician – forced ultrasounds (did you know that there are studies leaning toward ultrasounds being a cause of autism?), lying to patients about specious physical side-effects, or regulating abortion providers out of business without actually assuring safety in any kind of physician office are flat out wrong.

  • marymorrison

    As usual, most of the questions asked are the wrong ones, and most people don’t know much about abortion issues. For one thing, Gosnell had nothing to do with Planned Parenthood, and the State of Pennsylvania was derelict in it’s responsibility to both regulate and inspect that clinic. It had nothing whatsoever to do with Texas. (I am a 40 year registered nurse in the State of Texas.) Very little is understood about what is done in PP clinics, especially in rural areas. They are typically the only source where poor women can get their basic health care. Period. Women who would never consider having an abortion at any point. No breast care, no Pap smears. No care during the perimenopausal period. If a woman miscarries and a fetal heartbeat has ever been heard, no doctor or nurse will be able to administer the drugs that will help complete the miscarriage, because it has been made a criminal offense, so she is at high risk for infection and loss of future fertility. She is also at high risk for sepsis and death, just like the recent famous case in Ireland where the woman died. If this law goes into effect, and it well may, that’s what’s going to happen in Texas. It will happen because we have a Governor and a bill sponsor who are so ignorant that they don’t actually even know what an abortion is. They think that a rape kit is an abortion, and a morning after pill is an abortion. The governor thinks that an abortion is a surgical procedure, and it is no such thing. So that’s what the Senator is fighting, and that’s what has Texas women so riled up — for good reason. I admire Sen. Davis, and I’ll support her. My own Sen. Kirk Watson has worked hard as well, trying his best to derail this awful bill that will surely take away the lives of women. You see, for all the posturing and pompous talk about women’s health and safety, poor women’s lives in Texas are just throw-away lives for the political aspirations of the GOP, and don’t ever think otherwise.

  • Plutosdad

    The only policy implications are that abortion and contraception and education need to be easier to access. Only then will the number of abortions go down, and people like Kermit not be needed.


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