Concerning that Milbank column and the WPost news report

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First of all, to those who have written or tweeted on this: Yes, your GetReligionistas saw the Dana Milbank column in The Washington Post, the one in which he goes all Pat Robertson on the March For Life faithful. You know, like this:

James Dobson’s Focus on the Family asked Christians to pray for rain to fall on Barack Obama in 2008 when he accepted the presidential nomination. Various religious conservatives have said that hurricanes, earthquakes and other meteorological phenomena were divine punishment of wayward humans.

So what are we to make of Wednesday’s March for Life on the Mall in Washington? The temperature was 12 degrees at the start of the annual antiabortion event, the wind chill below zero, and participants were trudging about in snow and ice from the previous day’s storm. …

(If) there are weather gods, they may have been making a pointed comment about a movement that has become frozen in time.

The problem, of course, is that Milbank is a full-time liberal columnist and he is on the Post payroll to voice his opinions, not to cover the news. GetReligion rarely focuses on opinion pieces. If guess one could also argue that there is another problem linked to this reality, which is that the roster of full-time columnists on the payrolls (as opposed occasional columnists from think tanks and/or syndicated columnists) in the news-and-editorial departments of the Post contains zero cultural conservatives. Have I missed someone?

The other problem is that the non-satirical point in this opinion column — that the movement to oppose abortion on demand has become “frozen in time” — doesn’t mesh very well with the actual sidewalk-level reporting in the Post about this year’s events. As the main report noted, near the top:

The world’s largest anti­abortion event, held on the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, grows younger each year. The Mall between Seventh Street and the Washington Monument was full for a few hours with youth groups from across the eastern half of the country.

Abortion has been legal in the United States for these young people’s entire lives, and the movement’s leaders say the latest generation of activists is creating a more upbeat culture. Graphic images of fetuses and angry sermons shouted through bullhorns were rare Wednesday. Instead, the Mall was filled with people holding placards with such slogans as “We are the pro-life generation” and large images of a smiling Pope Francis. Speakers pumped out dance music.

Although most marchers are Catholic, particularly members of high school and college groups from parochial schools and Catholic universities, organizers closed the event with a well-known non-Catholic — evangelical leader James Dobson, who appeared with his adopted son.

The Post team did, as mentioned in an earlier post, miss crucial content related to the tone and content of the march when it failed to cover the pre-event homily by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, a major voice in the middle of the Catholic leadership spectrum at the start of the Pope Francis era. The advance text of that “state of the union” address to the pro-life movement can be found right here.

But the transition at the front of the march was covered in other ways, including crucial material in that calm and newsy event story on page A2. For example:

For decades, the march was run largely by one woman out of her home office in Virginia. But since Nellie Gray died in 2012, the march’s staff and its budget have doubled. It has waded into social media — the common language of most participants — and created the hashtag #whywemarch in the past month. …

(This) year’s theme shows that activists are trying to reach out to a new generation who appears more open to the argument of abortion opponents if it is seen as less partisan and more empathetic to pregnant women. Statistics show public opinion on abortion access has not significantly changed.

And also:

Kathryn Brown, 20, was among hundreds of students from Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., who made a two-day bus ride to Washington. Her group led the march from the Mall to the Supreme Court, holding the front banner and wearing red and black stocking caps. Brown was at a Mass on Wednesday morning before her fourth March for Life.

“The amazing thing is, they aren’t there because they’re mad at the government; they’re there out of love, sacrificing themselves in the cold out of love,” she said.

Brown said she stands outside an abortion clinic with 10 or 20 others twice a month to speak with women going to the clinic. Brown has been active in the movement since high school and thinks she and her peers are different from earlier generations in their style — they don’t hold signs of aborted fetuses, for example.

“I think we’ve developed our techniques somewhat. They used to use harsher, more graphic signs. The focus of the pro-life movement has become a more loving, gentle approach,” she said Tuesday night.

In other words, the Post team attempted to listen to some of the voices in a movement that is increasingly younger and much more focused on the lives and needs of women, a theme that ran through almost all of this year’s events. If anything, the main hole in this main news report was a lack of content from voices on the other side, from the cultural and religious left.

Then again, it’s possible that the cold weather also affected the turn out among those who support abortion rights. Those activists have fingers and toes, too.

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.


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