Did Satan cast a spell on Associated Press copy desk?

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Over the past decade, more and more hoops fanatics have decided that ESPN is ruining college basketball and even the development of young players in the NBA.

What does this have to do with that horrid Associated Press story (original text still online at The Washington Post) about the Susan B. Anthony List fundraising dinner? Hang on. I promise I will get to that shortly.

That anti-ESPN theory states that young hoops gods are now so interested in getting their slam dunks and fancy passes into the ESPN Top 10 plays of the day that they are failing to develop their skills in other crucial elements of the game. They want that bright moment on video and, in the long run, it’s hurting their cause.

Now, that’s what I think was going on with those pro-abortion-rights supporters last year in Austin, the ones who started chanting “Hail, Satan!” in an attempt to drown out the people who were singing “Amazing Grace” at their rally in favor of equal rights for unborn females (and males too, for that matter).

Obviously, the “Hail, Satan!” folks were not holding a religious ritual. They were trying to get into the top plays of the day on Comedy Central or MSNBC or something. Right? They were trying to be cool, edgy and ironic — while shouting down people singing “Amazing Grace.” It was an abrasive one-liner, an attempt at an in-your-face rhetorical slam dunk.

Anyone can see what was going on, right? I mean, you can see what was going on it you are interested in the facts of the matter, if you care about journalism and if you were willing to run one Google search and look at the videos on YouTube, etc., etc. Can I get an “amen”?

This leads us to the original lede on that now-infamous AP report:

WASHINGTON – Calling their opponents Satan worshippers and savages, anti-abortion lawmakers on Wednesday insisted that Republican contenders keep an intense focus on social issues in the upcoming midterm elections and the 2016 presidential race.

Like many abortion opponents, the Susan B. Anthony List is in search of a White House contender who won’t shy from social issues after back-to-back presidential nominees in 2008 and 2012 who focused their campaigns on the economy and came up short. Several potential 2016 candidates were making their pitches in blunt terms, urging the group members to stick to their principles and fight those who would stand in their way.

Now, GetReligionista emeritus M.Z. Hemingway has already ripped this travesty to shreds over at The Federalist and linked it to the disturbing AP trend of serving up advocacy journalism when covering issues linked to abortion.

That’s a must read, so go read it. Here’s her final point:

This is not a new problem (The Los Angeles Times published an absolutely devastating expose of the abortion coverage problem in 1990!). It does seem to be getting worse, though. The Associated Press is a good journalism brand that is being tarnished by shoddy coverage of the pro-life movement even as coverage of pro-choice activists and their arguments could not be more favorable. Let’s hope some higher-ups recognize the need to fix this problem. If there aren’t reporters who can cover both the pro-choice and pro-life movements fairly, perhaps the AP can hire some reporters who can balance out reporters David Crary and Philip Elliott, who seem to be struggling in their efforts to fairly cover pro-life activists and the larger movement. Without better journalism at the national level, it may be difficult to encourage the same in the local bureaus.

If you want to see the full contents of that classic Los Angeles Times series by the late David Shaw (who was not a conservative on abortion, by the way) click right here and bookmark it, if you keep files on serious, mainstream discussions of media bias.

Meanwhile, back at the AP copy desk, the following correction has been posted:

WASHINGTON (AP) – In some versions of a story March 12 about possible Republican presidential contenders talking about abortion, The Associated Press reported erroneously that they called abortion rights activists Satan worshippers. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said abortion rights activists had chanted “Hail, Satan,” referencing a rally last year in Austin, Texas.

And here is the lede of the “corrected” — scare quotes are intentional — report:

WASHINGTON (AP) – Invoking fiery references to Satan, “savagery” and a “culture of death” to criticize their opponents, anti-abortion lawmakers on Wednesday insisted that Republican contenders keep an intense focus on social issues in the upcoming midterm elections and the 2016 presidential race.

Like many abortion opponents, the Susan B. Anthony List is in search of a White House contender who won’t shy from social issues after back-to-back presidential nominees in 2008 and 2012 who focused their campaigns on the economy and came up short. Several potential 2016 candidates were making their pitches in blunt terms, urging the group members to stick to their principles and fight those who would stand in their way.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said those who support abortion rights favor a “culture of death” and engage in “savagery.”

So who is using “fiery references to Satan”? Cruz simply noted the fact that pro-abortion-rights supporters chanted that phrase. Was he being “fiery”? Is the claim that the counter demonstrators were being “fiery”?

Here’s another question. From the point of view of folks who oppose abortion on demand what happens in an abortion procedure can be called “savagery.” But is making that observation the same thing as calling people who support abortion rights “savages” or to say that these activists “engage” in savagery? Again, I’m not sure that these quotes are being used in truly accurate manner.

In addition to pointing readers toward Hemingway’s piece, I would also like to endorse the observations made in an analysis piece by Melinda Henneberger of The Washington Post.

… (M)ultiple complaints about news media bias seemed pretty accurately reflected in the initial Associated Press report on the dinner, which began this way: “Calling their opponents Satan worshipers and savages, antiabortion lawmakers on Wednesday insisted that Republican contenders keep an intense focus on social issues in the upcoming midterm elections and the 2016 presidential race.’’

Only, no one did call their opponents Satan-worshipers or savages; Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) described an abortion rights protest last year in Austin at which demonstrators shouted “Hail, Satan,’’ to drown out antiabortion protesters singing “Amazing Grace.”

Cruz described them as “arm-in-arm, chanting, ‘Hail, Satan,’ embracing the right to take the life of a late-term child.’’ Which certainly isn’t how those demonstrators would see it, but also isn’t the same as calling them Satan-worshipers.

The Associated Press reference to “savages” came from a comment by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) that he refuses to call abortion rights supporters “pro-choice” because in his view “that’s a euphemism for the savagery they advocate.”

Isn’t the political rhetoric about this divide rancorous enough without exaggerating?

OK, I’ll say it. Amen.

Look, it’s bad enough that we have activists in the public square trying to get their hot soundbites and in-your-face performance art into the Top 10 Plays of the Day lists at whatever media outlets float their boats. Do we really need journalists yanking that stuff out of context and serving it up as “news”?

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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.

  • FW Ken

    I’ve viewed, several times, the video from the Texas capitol the night of the abortion vote, and only heard one protester – a young woman apparently in a manic state – yelling “hail, satan”. It’s possible I missed the other people, but wouldn’t a more responsible reporter want to verify the accuracy of Cruz’ claim, rather than misrepresent Cruz’ words? I might be wrong about multi-Satan hailers, but its all on video and verifiable.

    • bullschuck

      I think you have a fair point. The video embedded might not be the best. I don’t think the issue is at question though. There have been plenty of reports from both sides on that going back to last July. Perhaps this video might suffice? http://youtu.be/joFzuM9eiJY.
      Not as mean, but I think it’s after chanting it for a while. I only had to look up “texas capitol abortion hail satan” in YouTube to find it.

      • FW Ken

        Thank you. I was reading mollie’s piece in The Federalist and she supplied some good links as well.

  • fredx2

    The piece appears to be an aggressive attempt to demonize.

    First, they appear to have blatantly lied. Or at least, twisted reality into unrecognizable shapes.

    Would you even call this journalism? Not really. If you examine the technique, this is political agitation. This is what highly partisan people do during a political campaign. They take something relatively innocuous that was said, and twist it and expand it and embellish it until it becomes something objectionable and shocking.
    It is the worst art of the propagandist.
    Question: In what sense is this technique different from that used by the most successful propagandists of history?

    Look at that rewritten (!) paragraph:

    “Invoking fiery references to Satan, “savagery” and a “culture of death” to criticize their opponents, anti-abortion lawmakers on Wednesday insisted that Republican contenders keep an intense focus on social issues in the upcoming midterm elections and the 2016 presidential race.”

    A real, journalistic paragraph would begin this way:

    “Anti-abortion lawmakers on Wednesday insisted that Republican contenders keep an intense focus on social issues in the upcoming midterm elections and the 2016 presidential race.”

    That is the thought they are trying to get across.

    Note what the additional wording does: “Invoking fiery references to Satan, “savagery” and a “culture of death” to criticize their opponents…”

    It serves only to make them sound as if they were slightly out of their minds. It makes them sound like they are a near-violent rabble who is foaming at the mouth. Is that what took place?

    No.

    Then the ones who are slightly out of their minds are the journalists who described things this way.

  • John Pack Lambert

    I think this has all been a true travesty of journalism on pro-life issues. Of course, I have never trusted the main stream media to cover abortion issues accurately, since I learned their main way to cover it was to mock pro-lifers as clinic bombers, and that was my first exposure to main-stream media coverage of abortion ever. They try very hard to portray pro-lifers as evil fanatics who should be ignored.


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