Bloomberg’s totally unbiased abortion story

The best construction I can put on the article we’re about to look at is that Bloomberg editors and reporters accidentally put an abortion rights op-ed in the news section by accident. And yet there are enough things about the piece that make it seem like it was a failed attempt at a news story to make me think otherwise.

The op-ed article begins:

At least 58 U.S. abortion clinics — almost 1 in 10 — have shut or stopped providing the procedure since 2011 as access vanishes faster than ever amid a Republican-led push to legislate the industry out of existence.

I read that, assumed the media professional who submitted it had accidentally flagged a particularly histrionic op-ed (as sometimes happens), and looked for the name of the Planned Parenthood official or other abortion rights supporter who had penned it. One expects to see such bias in ideological media, but one would hope for more impartiality among people claiming to be news writers. I’ll note way up top that the story does not substantiate the lede. There’s no way it could, to be honest. But, hey, other than that problem …

I’ll also note, up top, that if you want to work for one type of political campaign, practice writing “access” as much as possible. However, that word is a really weak word to use for news writing.

More generally, I find the anti-regulatory bias of this piece just fascinating. I’m trying to imagine a mainstream media report about another industry that had a bunch of health and safety problems. Many dozens of reports of legal, health and safety violations all across the country. Including, say, a major practitioner in that industry being convicted of serial murder of very young children and horrible treatment of customers. Urine. Blood-soaked instruments. Narrow hallways that prevented evacuation of dying customers. That sort of thing. And then imagine that legislatures passed stricter regulations for same. Then imagine that some of the regulated parties were unable to or chose not to meet the basic standards required of other similar outfits.

Do you think the lede would be about how awful the regulators were? Of course not! One might even expect to see a story about how awful it was that the regulated industry was unable to meet basic standards of care or health or safety.

Anyway, the entire story is something of a mess, but let’s just look at the next few sentences:

A wave of regulations that makes it too expensive or logistically impossible for facilities to remain in business drove at least a third of the closings. Demographic changes, declining demand, industry consolidation, doctor retirements and crackdowns on unfit providers were also behind the drop. More clinics in Texas and Ohio are preparing to shut as soon as next month.

Opponents have tried to stop access to abortion through civil disobedience, blockades and legal action. Clinics were bombed and doctors killed.

Again, such a fascinating opposite-day spin on meeting health and safety regulations. Unfortunately there’s not substantiation in terms of data to support the claim that meeting the same standards as other outpatient surgical centers do is somehow impossible. Perhaps that’s why the second line is added. More use of the word “access”! I’m trying to think of some way to respond to “clinics were bombed and doctors killed” but I won’t insult the reader’s intelligence. We all know that this hackish and unprofessional. Particularly for an article about safety and health regulations at abortion clinics that somehow doesn’t mention Kermit Gosnell …. once. Literally not once. No mention of the charges against him. The grand jury report. The convictions for murder.

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A detour through some good reporting on life issues

Because I’ve been so critical of the way abortion is routinely covered in the mainstream media, I wanted to quickly highlight two recent stories that were different. One of the points that activist Lila Rose has made in her criticism is that the media needs to tell positive stories related to the sanctity of human life. One criticism I’ve made in the past is how the media have completely failed to explain the ethical or religious concerns related to assisted reproductive technology.

A reader passed along this story originally out of KCCI but also posted on CNN.com. It’s about a family that adopted embryos that were left over from IVF treatments. The couple in question are religious, although their religious views aren’t explored in the story. He’s a pastor in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which is mentioned in the story. But just telling a simple story that involves the fact, oddly obscured, about how IVF treatments routinely create embryos that are never implanted, and about how people can gestate these young humans, is a big story and one that should be told. Link to the CNN story here. I can’t figure out how to embed it.

A sample:

Reporter: But last year, the dad who doubles as a pastor got a  prayer request that stumped him.

Pastor Luke Timm: Pray for this couple. They’ve adopted an embryo. And I went – ‘what is that?’

Reporter: He found after couples go through in-vitro fertilization, many have leftover embryos they don’t want to just throw away.

Joni Timm: There are lots and lots of embryos out there waiting for a chance at life.

The second story is a simple profile of two lobbyists in the abortion fight.

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When Planned Parenthood isn’t news (fraud edition)

Is fraud a religion story? Not necessarily.

Are the actions of Planned Parenthood religion stories? Not necessarily.

But what about the larger issue of the ongoing problems that the mainstream news media have had covering abortion and other social issues related to religion? Is it worth noting here, for instance, the very odd lack of coverage of Planned Parenthood’s recent settlement over fraud allegations?

You wouldn’t probably know it from media coverage but, as one conservative think tank noted this week:

Alliance Defending Freedom’s recent analysis of state and federal audits of family planning programs suggests that in 12 states, Planned Parenthood affiliates overbilled Medicaid for more than $8 million. One federal audit of New York’s Medicaid family planning program reported that certain providers, “especially Planned Parenthoods,” had engaged in improper practices resulting in overpayment.

Despite mounting accusations of fraud, the organization that performs roughly one out of every four abortions in the U.S. has continued to ride the waves of taxpayer funding to annual surpluses. During its last reporting year alone, Planned Parenthood received over half a billion dollars in taxpayer government funding, all the while performing a record 333,964 abortions. To solidify its place as the top abortion provider in the country, Planned Parenthood announced that all local affiliates would have to begin providing abortion services starting in 2013.

I don’t remember what the original allegations of fraud in Texas were but Planned Parenthood there agreed to pay the state $1.4 million $4.3 million to settle the claim that it had fraudulently overbilled the state’s Medicaid program for products and services that were never actually rendered, not medically necessary, and were not covered by the Medicaid program.

No biggie. This is just a story about the mainstream news media’s very favorite organization in the whole world paying to settle legal claims. I know that usually when other organizations — say Roman Catholic archdioceses — settle lawsuits even below a million dollars, it usually gets reported pretty far and wide. Rightly so. Certainly the country’s largest abortion provider — and a taxpayer funded one at that — should get some media coverage, no?

It’s so confusing how a private breast cancer charity choosing not to give Planned Parenthood a couple hundred thousand dollars generated thousands of stories but that same abortion group paying a $1.4 million $4.3 million fraud settlement doesn’t generate hardly any.

A quick Google search for Planned + Parenthood + fraud shows that the following outlets did pay attention. See if you can detect a pattern:

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Media: Remember your filibuster? That was awesome.

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The media gushing over Texas filibusterer Sen. Wendy Davis continues in such a way as to make Chris Farley, above, seem restrained. Davis is the woman who has halted, at least for the time being, a bill that would require Texas abortion clinics to have the same standards other ambulatory surgery centers are required to have. It would also prohibit, with some exceptions, the killing of children who had reached five or more months’ gestation. And the bill would also require abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, in case of an emergency.

There are so very many fascinating things to look at, particularly in the context of the tremendous and notorious difficulty the mainstream media has had covering various problems at abortion clinics, including convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell’s abortion “house of horrors,” Texas’ own alleged killer of babies born alive, Douglas Karpen, and clinics around the country.

Let’s go over various media coverage of this religion ghost-haunted, hot-button story. One important thing to keep in mind is that this is not a forum for discussing abortion or doctrinal views on abortion or particular legislation about abortion. You are welcome to have your strongly held opinions on those matters and you are welcome to have those discussions — just not here. We keep discussions focused on media coverage.The goal is to see if the mainstream press can present the views of people on both sides of this debate in an accurate and balanced manner. It’s called journalism.

If you are interested in media coverage, in basic journalism, please join in the discussion.

OK, so first off, the Associated Press’s initial story (or headline), which actually was wrong, framed the debate word-for-word as did the pro-choice activists opposing the bill do.

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Republicans pass new restrictions expected to close almost every abortion clinic in Texas.

This one-sentence off the wire was updated, of course, but the framing remained the same, if the hyperbole was somewhat softened, throughout mainstream media accounts. Almost invariably we got the pro-choice spin on this story as if it were the news. By “requiring tighter medical standards,” as USA Today put it, the bill would have “effectively close[d] most abortion clinics in Texas.”

But wait. Each of these clinics would be free to meet the same standards that all the other ambulatory surgery clinics in the state meet, so such reporting showed not just bias but particularly childish bias. This pro-choice perspective should be included within the story, of course, but it shouldn’t be adopted as the framing for the entire story, the only perspective offered, lest press releases from Planned Parenthood be indistinguishable from stories presented as news.

Moving on to how the media have treated Davis — I found it interesting that a search of the Los Angeles Times shows that the newspaper has already published 11 staff-written stories about her. By comparison, the Times only got around to three staff-written stories about Kermit Gosnell. One of those Davis stories was literally on the front page yesterday. Kermit Gosnell never made the front page of the Los Angeles Times and it took years after his indictment in the murders of seven children and one woman for the paper to even mention him at all, buried deep within the paper.

When North Dakota pro-life senator Margaret Sitte wrote, sponsored and passed various pro-life bills, did the Los Angeles Times cover her? Not even once. Some women who work on bills related to abortion are vastly more important than other women who work on bills related to abortion. As I joked on Twitter, “It’s almost like there’s a pattern with how the media cover abortion. It’s subtle, but if you look hard, you can almost detect something.” (Have your own fun with the Los Angeles Times search function here.)

Or take the Washington Post. You remember that it wasn’t until some high-profile and sustained media criticism shamed them into it that they finally got around to writing about Kermit Gosnell, after years of complaints. Compare that to this story the Post tweeted out to its 1,741,558 follwers:

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Clear eyes, full heart, can’t stop advocating for abortion

Last night, reporters were very excited to tweet extensively about an abortion filibuster going on in Texas.

While reporters struggled and struggled and struggled to find any reason at all to cover abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell’s trial, there was no struggle at all to give extensive coverage to Texas Sen. Wendy Davis’ filibustering of a bill that would protect unborn children who had made it to 20 weeks’ gestation, would require abortion clinics to meet the standards of other ambulatory surgery centers and would require doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

A sample from Sarah “local crime” Kliff, health policy reporter at the Washington Post:

This legislation is happening in the context of increased national awareness of serious problems at abortion clinics around the country, including Gosnell’s “house of horrors” and a Texas clinic run by Douglas Karpen that is accused of being even worse than Gosnell’s, if you can imagine that.

None of that context has made it into stories, near as I can tell. I asked for examples of any reporters tying this abortion debate to any of these other stories that the media have suppressed or downplayed and Texas Monthly reporter Erica Grieder (pictured here, with the big smile on the left, with Planned Parenthood honcho Cecile Richards and another Texas Monthly staffer Sonia Smith) responded “Republicans have made that argument & we’ve covered it.” The link goes to a story that says:

The bill’s sponsor, Katy Republican Glenn Hegar, said that it “raises the standard of care” for women seeking abortions and protects the lives of the unborn. Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, who had repeatedly called for Governor Rick Perry to add abortion to the special session’s agenda, had frequently invoked the genuinely horrific case of Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia-based doctor who was recently convicted of murder after killing a baby who was born alive.

Oh how quickly we forget last month’s trial that the media only covered reluctantly at best! Gosnell, of course, was convicted of killing three babies and one woman, although by all accounts he was responsible for the deaths of untold numbers of babies born alive and at least one other mother.

Grieder said she’d correct the story (written by Sonia Smith). She also offered her version of the “Gosnell is just a local crime story” explanation by saying that the Texas legislature doesn’t oversee Gosnell and that covering the legislature is a “super-full-time task.”

I suggested the omission of mentions of Douglas Karpen might be more significant. She argued that the context of the bill had nothing to do with problems reported at abortion clinics since previous incarnations of this bill predated Karpen. Perhaps reporters might consider why this bill went further than previous bills that attempted to accomplish the same thing and if the context of Gosnell or Karpen might play a role there.

But, as Grieder notes, she literally just wrote a book about putting Texas in context. Perhaps people with opinions on abortion in Texas are very different from people with opinions on abortion elsewhere. And since the Texas AP reporters are all on vacation right now, we have to trust the folks who have stayed to report.

Although I must say that Grieder and Smith’s interview of Richards doesn’t give much reason for confidence. All of the hard-hitting questions she was forced to answer:

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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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Breaking the silence on abortion doctors like Gosnell

Sometimes other people do such fine GetReligion-esque media criticism that we just like to point at it and then walk away.

So that’s precisely what I’m going to do with Melinda Henneberger’s piece “Are there more abortion doctors like Kermit Gosnell? And do we want to know?” that ran online at the Washington Post. What I like about her criticism is that she puts the best construction on what her journalistic colleagues are doing while also asking hard questions — she combines nice and tough to great effect.

She begins by noting some of the revelations in the new undercover videos released by pro-life activists this week. (Quick note: you know that the Gosnell media scandal changed media coverage even slightly since these videos received some coverage here and here.) Then she wonders why the National Abortion Federation didn’t report some of what it found when it inspected Kermit Gosnell’s unsanitary clinic (“If what she observed — a padlock on an emergency exit in a part of the clinic where women were left alone overnight, for example — was so far outside the norm, then why didn’t it inspire a single phone call to the state, according to the grand jury report?”).

She criticizes media coverage of abortion clinics:

Other such criminal clinics have only made the news as local stories, while most mainstream abortion coverage details threats to abortion rights rather than to women themselves.

Even when a New York woman died after a third-trimester abortion performed in Maryland in February, the coverage questioned not the care that led to her death, but the breach of privacy she suffered when antiabortion activists publicized the case.

Henneberger notes that there is an egregious double standard:

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Media’s Gosnell reputation isn’t going to fix itself

Days after my quest for answers about why the media downplayed abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell’s abortion trial went viral, we have seen approximately eleventy billion media analysis pieces about the coverage. Many folks have written mea culpas copping to pro-choice bias, ignorance, or other journalistic failures. Some folks have tried claiming that the coverage was really there, usually pointing to either 2011 or the day the trial began (a curious approach, given what we know about the time-space continuum). Others have said that since conservative outlets didn’t cover it (except, you know, they did), that excuses the lack of mainstream coverage. Some folks just reacted defensively, yelled at me and called me names. It really ran the gamut.

What we haven’t seen terribly much of, however, is good coverage of the trial, the abortion industry, regulation of said industry or the larger issues in play. The New York Times hasn’t run anything in days, after one particularly weak story that barely mentioned the trial.

Or take the Los Angeles Times. Let’s take a trip through its search engine. When birth control activist Sandra Fluke was called a bad name, did it think that a story worth covering? Yes, big time:

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What about that Komen/Planned Parenthood dust-up? The East Coast media flipped out about the decision by a private breast cancer foundation to stop funding the country’s biggest abortion provider. Did the Los Angeles Times? Yep:

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What about that Missouri Representative, Todd Akin, who said something very stupid about rape? Uh, yeah:

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So before we look at how the trial of Kermit Gosnell has been covered by the paper, let’s look at how the paper has covered another distant case, one that hasn’t even gone to trial yet. The case dealing with the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Oh boy:

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Which brings us to the Times‘ coverage of Kermit Gosnell.

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