Who’s worthy of more coverage: Akin or Gosnell?

YouTube Preview ImageWhen Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin made a comment about women being raped last year, the New York Times responded with, according to a search engine count, about 250 stories in under three months. A sample of the 19 (!) headlines from just the first two days*:

“Republicans Press Todd Akin to Quit Race,” “Romney Condemns Akin Remarks on Rape,” “Romney and Ryan Team Up on Trail Amid Criticism on Abortion,” “Akin’s No-Show on ‘Piers Morgan’ Is Boon for Program,” “Romney Statement on Abortion Contradicts Ryan’s Earlier Stance,” etc., etc., etc.

It didn’t slow down. That search engine shows 22 stories about Akin on August 21 alone. An August 22 story was headlined “Ryan Pressed to Explain Position on Rape and Abortion.” And it was written by Trip Gabriel, who is also on the New York Times‘ Gosnell coverage, such as it is. Gabriel even wrote about trying to press the candidate he was covering about the Akin issue in his campaign journal.

It’s interesting to note, then, how this reporter, his colleagues at The Times and journalists at other papers have handled the political implications of the Gosnell story. This Gosnell story is nowhere near as bad as someone saying something untrue about rape. Not that bad. It’s just about a convicted murderer whose abortions fell a bit too far on the post-birth and malpractice side of things than the prebirth side and resulted in an untold number of deaths and scarings and disease spreading.

But The Times has — how does one put it — struggled with stories on the general case and the actual trial in particular. In the first one to cover the trial after an early report, the headline gave away that the story was only being published under extreme pressure, barely mentioned the trial, failed to fully represent the legal arguments mentioned and got extremely confused about the difference between babies and fetuses. (tmatt will have more on this later.) Another piece was better, though it read perhaps a bit too much like a well-crafted press release from an abortion rights activist group.

This last piece suffers from the same problem. If the job is to ask tough questions of people in Gosnell’s line of work (anything like the tough questions asked of people in the same political party as Todd Akin), it failed. If the job was to publish the statements from press releases without even so much as a hint of a tough follow-up, it was great. If it was to write up an anodyne “she-said, she-said” of competing analyses of the trial, also great work.

Don’t get me wrong, while I will fully agree with the New York Times that a politician saying something stupid deserves at least 250 breathless stories in a three-month span and that the country’s most salacious serial murder trial, that of an abortion doctor to boot, should only begrudgingly and weakly be covered after extreme pressure, I wonder if maybe there’s not room for slight improvement here.

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Should pro-choice activists be asked Gosnell questions?

The New York Times Sunday Magazine ran a Mother’s Day interview with, who else, the head of Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood does a few things that people either love or hate, but none so much as aborting more than 300,000 unborn children each year.

The media are firmly on one side of this issue and have done quite a bit to help out Planned Parenthood, a truth laid painfully bare during the Komen Foundation for the Cure situation last year, which I chronicled extensively. That was when the private foundation devoted to fighting breast cancer decided to pull out of funding the country’s largest abortion provider. The media didn’t view this as a story with two sides but went to the mat to force Komen to cave in. It worked. Within days, they were bullied into relenting and agreed to give money to Planned Parenthood.

Some media outlets perpetuated a falsehood about Planned Parenthood — that the organization offers mammograms. It doesn’t. Months (and years) after those mistruths were shared (by Planned Parenthood, President Obama and the media), some media outlets corrected the information. See here, here and here.

That cozy relationship is also shown in this Times magazine piece. These interviews are generally fluffier for friends of the paper than foes, but fluffy in general.

You can see where that might be a problem when dealing with the head of an organization that, again, aborts more than 300,000 unborn children each year. If, you know, you think that’s troubling.

But even so, the interviewer does not in any way shy away from political questions. That could be a good thing.

Do we see tough questions about whether the Cleveland kidnapper should be charged with murdering his unborn children by forcibly aborting them? No.

Do we see any questions, tough or non, about the biggest abortion-related story of the year — the murder trial of abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell? Dear reader, I have to tell you. The answer is no!

Just by way of example, Catholic news director Anna Mitchell is having trouble getting anyone at Planned Parenthood to accept her interview request. She offers these sample questions for journalists who are able to get interviews with Planned Parenthood:

First, I read a report that Gosnell’s lawyer, during cross-examination, downplayed the procedures in his clinic by saying they were common in the abortion industry at-large. Is this true? If Gosnell’s procedures are not standard to the industry, what is standard procedure? The latest string of videos from Lila Rose’s Live Action confirms at least that Gosnell’s is not the only clinic that would be willing to let a baby die after a botched abortion (http://www.liveaction.org/inhuman/videos/) – are there more? Should these doctors be punished if the evidence proved they did not provide life saving care for the child?

Second, the conditions in Gosnell’s clinic were revolting, to say the least. He could quite possibly become a poster child for legislation that would require abortion clinics to have the same standards as hospitals. I know that most – perhaps all – abortion rights groups have opposed these bills in the past, saying it would force too many clinics to shut down. In light of the Gosnell case, will that position change? Wouldn’t hospital-like requirements ensure that every clinic provides a clean, safe environment for women? Wouldn’t it be better for a woman to travel farther away if it meant lessening her risk of STDs, infections or even death? If you remain opposed to these kinds of standards, why?

Instead, you won’t believe the hot-off-the-presses questions that New York Times interviewer Andrew Goldman and his editors signed off on instead of anything on, say, Gosnell:

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Pod people: Proselytization, blasphemy and Gosnell

On this week’s Crossroads podcast with host Todd Wilken, we talked media coverage of the Pentagon and proselytization, religious freedom and the Benghazi whistleblowers and the trial of Kermit Gosnell. So yeah, we packed a lot in there.

Partly we discussed the Pentagon because of recent GetReligion posts such as “I share, you evangelize, they proselytize” and “Media treatment of Mikey Weinstein under scrutiny.” I also wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal editorial page’s Houses of Worship column on the matter, which you can read here. For this piece, I had a fairly nuanced point. While many of the claims that generated alarm were exaggerated, taken out of context or wrong, that doesn’t mean that things are totally calm on the religious liberty front. While I think that partisans on either side of the issue may take issue with my middle-of-the-road approach, I received excellent feedback both from folks in the military and traditional religious liberty advocates. So that’s always nice. Also, Joe Carter should like it since not only did he complain about the lack of media coverage given Southern Baptists who expressed concern about the Pentagon’s approach but also because I quoted him in the piece. And, again, major props to The Tennessean for covering this story thoroughly and with exactly the kind of balance that is ideal. One thing I loved about that paper’s approach was that it quoted people without buying into their arguments — on either side. Whereas some conservative outlets just ran with the more alarmist claims, some mainstream outlets responded by just uncritically accepting the view of the military. If this week has taught us anything, perhaps it’s that skepticism of the official line is in good order.

Speaking of, we also talked a little bit about the religion angle to the Benghazi situation. Or angles, I should say. Obviously the religious motivations of the attackers should receive coverage. Some papers have handled that brilliantly in recent months, it’s worth saying. Another religion angle I was thinking of was how the initial false reports that placed blame on a YouTube video may have contributed to a perception that Muslims are irrational and easily led. But an angle I really wish we’d see more coverage of is how the false reports about the YouTube video led some prominent politicians and media types to call for limits on religious expression. It even led to statements from high U.S. officials that we’d get the YouTube video and punish him. Which we did (ostensibly not for the Benghazi killings but you’d be forgiven for thinking so).

Finally, we discussed a bit more about the continued downplaying of the Gosnell trial. If you were a reader of some papers or a watcher of some newscasts, you could very easily know nothing about this trial. I’m not surprised but, as a fan of the mainstream media model, I’m disappointed.

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Media continues to ‘Gosnell’ abortion coverage. Why?

YouTube Preview ImageThis blog played a bit of a role in highlighting Gosnelling, the media practice of ignoring or downplaying politically inconvenient abortion news (see, for example, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here). It wasn’t great prior to that incident, but the mainstream media has an even worse credibility problem when it comes to reporting on abortion news. So I’d hoped we’d see some efforts to improve it.

And we are. There has been, for instance, some media coverage of the abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell’s trial, which is currently in the phase of jury deliberations. Today the jury requested to have a transcript of one testimony re-read to them and while that’s happening, reporters from Reuters, Fox News, the Wilmington News-Journal and CBS News are present. It’s not where it should be, but it’s a start.

But what about the larger picture? How is that being covered? While abortion rights advocates and many in the media have suggested that Gosnell is an extreme outlier, pro-life media keep uncovering more and more stories that suggest the mainstream media is failing to highlight. It’s not that there’s no coverage, again, there is. Kirsten Powers wrote in a recent USA Today column about the “drumbeat” of clinic closures and links to media coverage are provided:

Last week, Ohio officials shut down an abortion clinic after inspectors found that a medical assistant administered narcotics to five patients, that narcotics and powerful sedatives weren’t properly accounted for, that pharmacy licenses had expired and that four staff members hadn’t been screened for a communicable disease.

This month, a Delaware TV station reported that two Planned Parenthood nurses resigned in protest over conditions at a clinic there. One nurse, Jayne Mitchell-Werbrich, said, “It was just unsafe. I couldn’t tell you how ridiculously unsafe it was.”

Last month, Maryland officials shut down three abortion clinics, two for failings in their equipment and training to deal with life-threatening complications.

Last year, an Associated Press investigation found that Illinois hadn’t inspected some abortion clinics for 10 to 15 years. After state health officials reinvigorated their clinic inspections in the wake of Gosnell, inspectors closed two clinics, including one fined for “failure to perform CPR on a patient who died after a procedure,” according to AP.

But there’s a difference between a prominent media critic connecting the dots here and a news report that does the same. You’ll note the difference between how the media drumbeat is hit for a cause such as, say, gun control and a cause such as abortion clinic control. The disparity is immediately apparent and difficult to explain on journalistic grounds.

Or I pointed out a few weeks ago how no angle was too small to cover when the media obsessed over the Komen Foundation’s decision to stop funding the country’s largest abortion provider. Compare that with the media downplaying every fresh angle on the Gosnell coverage, this just being today’s latest example.

Today, the conservative publication National Review has published a harrowing and lengthy expose of abortion clinics in Florida. It is a brutal read, but very important journalism. Here’s how National Review promoted it:

Jillian Kay Melchior exposes the so-called doctors, clinics, and the women affected, at these Florida abortion clinics. This is a must-read article that details the callous lack of humane practices and a brutal alleged infanticide. In Abortion’s Underside:

  • Three Florida clinics with a disturbing history of criminal activity continue to operate — and there’s little the law can do to stop them, raising alarming questions of the safety and standards inside abortion clinics in America.
  • The doctors employed at the clinics have shady malpractice histories, and some were not licensed to practice medicine.  
  • Witnesses say a baby was born alive and then murdered, but no one was ever successfully prosecuted for her death.

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Pennsylvania reporter shows how to correct error

Last week, a sad news story out of Pennsylvania made the rounds. Originally, it had a bad headline and lede:

Fetus found in high school bathroom; Lancaster County student jailed on $1M bail

A 19-year-old McCaskey East High School student was charged with concealing the death of a child after she reportedly gave birth to a fetus that was found dead in a school bathroom Tuesday night.

Cherlie LaFleur, of the 300 block of North Marshall Street, was identified by police and school resource Officer David Shell after they reviewed school surveillance footage and conducted extensive interviews at the school where the male infant was apparently born prematurely Tuesday night, according to a Lancaster city police press release.

After giving birth in the bathroom, LaFleur allegedly tried to flush the infant down a toilet and, when that failed, she put it in a trash can, police said.

Such sad news about newborns these days. You’re all wise readers so you immediately see the problem. You don’t give birth to a fetus. “Fetus” is the euphemism we use for unborn children. By definition, that’s the wrong euphemism once the baby is born. I was one of the folks on social media decrying this incorrect use of the word. For example:

@mzhemingway: No one gives birth to a fetus. It’s an ontological impossibility. By definition, euphemism only applies pre-birth!

Before we look at how the PennLive.com reporter handled the negative reaction to his mistake, let’s revisit how a more august paper handled it’s egregious errors on this point. You can read tmatt’s post “Journalism and the first few minutes after childbirth.” And if you look at the two articles he singled out for their factual error, neither USA Today nor the New York Times has gotten around to correcting their erroneous stories.

Compare that embarrassing response with how the PennLive.com reporter responded to being called out:

Good afternoon everyone,

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I share, you evangelize, they proselytize


Many moons ago, before I came to write for GetReligion, I was a devoted GetReligion reader. And I remember reader Will Linden used to comment something along the lines of:

I share, you evangelize, they proselytize.

Such wisdom in that line. I thought of this when I saw the tweet above.

Let’s look at the definitions of both terms.

pros·e·lyt·ize
1. Convert or attempt to convert (someone) from one religion, belief, or opinion to another.
2. Advocate or promote (a belief or course of action): “Davis wanted to proselytize his ideas”.

Synonyms
proselyte – convert

e·van·ge·lize
1. to preach the gospel to.
2. to convert to Christianity.
Synonyms
homilize, preachify, proclaim, proselytize, sermonize

So you can do one and not the other. You can convert but you can’t convert? Sounds confusing. Precisely what do the regulations say?

The Religion News Service piece mentioned above attempts to tamp down some Christian concern that erupted this week. And tamping down is good, in one sense, since there was bad information out there that suggested a policy change by the military. (If you want to get up to speed, you can do no better than this piece from The Tennessean, which lays out the current environment very well.)

Back to the RNS piece. Basically the military already has a regulation against proselytism but some anti-religion activists who are used as consultants by the military have been pushing the military to change how they enforce those regulations against people who “share” their religion.

So while the headlines of “sharing Jesus will totally get you court-martialed” were inaccurate, I’m not entirely sure that headlines definitively stating you won’t get court-martialed for sharing Jesus are on much stronger ground. At least from what I’m reading in the news stories.

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Just what was this American doing in North Korea?

Let’s begin this post by first looking at a Christianity Today blog post from earlier this week. Here’s a portion:

North Korea has announced that it will try an American citizen who was arrested nearly six months ago for “crimes aimed to topple the [Democratic People's Republic of Korea].” If convicted, China-based missionary Kenneth Bae could face the death penalty.

But Bae’s friends say he did not do anything wrong despite reports by North Korean state media that he confessed to the crime. According to the Associated Press, “friends and colleagues described Bae as a devout Christian from Washington state but based in the Chinese border city of Dalian who traveled frequently to North Korea to feed the country’s orphans.”

Bae was detained in November 2012. The State Department has not confirmed that Bae is indeed the man whom North Korea plans to put on trial.

“At least three other Americans detained in recent years also have been devout Christians,” the AP reports. “While North Korea’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion, in practice only sanctioned services are tolerated by the regime.”

I don’t quite understand the lack of global attention on North Korea, one of the most unbelievably brutal regimes in human history. That lack of attention typically extends to the work Christians are doing there, often surreptitiously. But check out how another media outlet handled the news of Bae’s sentencing.

The New York Times has a story headlined “North Korea Imposes Term of 15 Years on American.” It begins:

North Korea said Thursday that its Supreme Court had sentenced an American citizen to 15 years of hard labor for committing hostile acts against its government.

The citizen, Kenneth Bae, 44, a Korean-American from Washington State who ran a tour business out of China, was arrested in the special economic zone of Rason in northeastern North Korea in November after leading a group of businessmen there from Yanji, China. On Saturday, the North said it was indicting him on charges that he tried to overthrow Pyongyang’s government.

On Thursday, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said the Supreme Court had sentenced Mr. Bae during a hearing Tuesday. The court convicted him of “hostile acts,” a charge less grave than the original charge that prosecutors pressed. The crime of trying to overthrow the government could have resulted in the death penalty.

Under North Korean law, Mr. Bae should be transferred to a labor camp within 10 days of the ruling.

It goes on to talk about diplomatic problems. This is as close as we get to learning that there may be a ghost — ever so slightly a hint of something more to the story:

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Why is Paula Broadwell’s faith such a mystery?

Former GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey noticed something weird about today’s stories about Paula Broadwell. They all refer to her faith but they don’t tell us what her faith is.

Above you see the example from CBS News, headlined:

Seeking “redemption” after Petraeus scandal, Paula Broadwell looks to faith

Reuters:

Paula Broadwell looks to faith to rebuild after Petraeus affair

And here’s CNN:

Petraeus’ mistress Broadwell: I’m looking forward with faith

All of the stories are based on an interview she gave to the local CBS affiliate in Charlotte. And it’s Broadwell who is oblique about the “faith-based” environment she’s referring to. She’s interviewed while attending a YWCA prayer breakfast, which could give a clue, but the YWCA is no longer necessarily Christian (as it’s original name, the Young Women’s Christian Association, would lead you to believe).

She mentions God and family and trying to find meaningful work, none of which narrows it down terribly much.

To be completely honest, I don’t even see the need for a story on Broadwell’s faith right now. But if you are going to do it, do it! The basic questions of journalism should be answered in a story on a given topic. Readers should not have to guess or surmise what the faith in question is … in a story about someone’s faith.

More than that, I’d like a bit more digging down on the particulars of a person’s faith. Once you find out which general religion we’re talking about, wouldn’t it be nice to learn a bit more about what, specifically, their religion is helping them with or what has been most challenging?

In light of the journalistic response to Chris Broussard’s comments on sin the other day, I’m wondering if the media have just completely dropped the ball on knowing how to talk about such religious concepts as sin and redemption. It’s clear they’re not handling the topics very maturely or very well. This is just the latest example.

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