Is NBC News going schizoid? The way the network reported the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on abortion buffer zones sounded like it was done by different people, maybe even on different stories.
As you probably know by now, the nine justices — in a remarkable unanimous decision — struck down Massachusetts’ law requiring protesters to stay at least 35 feet from abortion clinics. Now, the prolifers can apparently protest right up to the clinic entrances.
Pro-abortion folks said the protesters harassed and even scared women who sought to enter the clinics. But the high court said the buffer zones were an overly broad approach and that the rights of free speech and public discussion were more important.
NBC’s 2:53-minute video report and 473-word text report were produced by Pete Williams, the network’s Supreme Court specialist. But the two are starkly different, both in tone and in the facts and opinions they hightlight.
The video report is calm and reasoned; anchor Brian Williams straightforwardly introduces it without the dry disdain he often uses. He says the decision “struck down one of the toughest in the country intended to limit protests at abortion clinics.”
He quickly turns over the fact-telling to Pete Williams, who observes: “This Court is deeply divided on the issue of abortion, but it was unanimous today in declaring that Massachusetts went too far in trying to prevent violence at clinic entrances.”
The video shows file footage of picketers shouting at women that “They’re lying to you, and they’re going to kill your baby!” Then it switches to the more peaceful protesters nowadays, and Williams reports that they say the buffer zones “violated their free-speech right to calmly suggest alternatives to abortion.”
He gives a soundbite to one of them: soft-spoken, grandmotherly Eleanor McCullen, who complains that clinic patients “need somebody to care for them, and I truly care,” but that the no-protest zone keeps her from talking to them. The challengers’ lawyer, Mark Rienzi, says the decision means that Massachusetts can’t “round everybody off and haul them off to jail just for speaking close to an abortion clinic.”