Media: Remember your filibuster? That was awesome.

Media: Remember your filibuster? That was awesome. June 28, 2013

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:

The best Amazon reviews of the shoes that Wendy Davis wore during her filibuster

I did not make that up. That is a real tweet and a real story that the Post deemed worthy for its Twitter feed. Folks on Twitter were outraged that the same paper that hid the fact of Gosnell’s trophy-keeping of baby feet would be devoting so much praise to an abortion activist’s footwear.

John McCormack writes:

Imagine for a moment that a Republican state senator in a liberal Northeastern state filibustered gay marriage legislation or some gun control measure like background checks. If he went on CNN the following day, do you think he would be grilled about his position? Without a doubt.

Precisely no one doubts this. So let’s see how Anderson Cooper of CNN grilled Wendy Davis about her positions on the substance of the bill she filibustered:

1. How are you even awake today?
2. What was it like standing for that long?
3. It was a remarkable. Did you have any idea that it would grow like this?
4. What did you accomplish by doing this if Perry can bring it up in another session?
5. Was the time stamp on the vote changed intentionally to try to get it passed?
6. Will you filibuster again?

Keep in mind that Davis filibustered a bill that enjoys the support of 62 percent of Texans surveyed about it — a 32-point margin over bill opponents.

Keep in mind that a whopping 71 percent of Americans say that abortion should be generally illegal after 12 weeks and 86 percent of Americans say it should be illegal after 28 weeks. Keep in mind that this bill would still not make abortion laws as restrictive as they are in, say, France or other countries in Europe. Is that context or reality in any way reflected in these stories?

Why is it that reporters are good at grilling pro-life politicians but literally can’t think of a single substantive question on the very bill Davis stopped (for the time being)?

Or why is it that the media are at a complete loss to discuss, in stories about bills that would protect unborn children of a certain age, what an abortion on a child of that age looks like or how it is accomplished … but are totally on top of stories such as “Meet the Woman Turning Wendy Davis Support into Walking Nail Art?” Why do we never get stories that include the effect of abortion on the unborn child?

It’s one thing for MSNBC’s Chris Hayes to interview Davis without even mentioning the word abortion once, but should other media outlets be following that station’s lead? Hayes didn’t gush any more than the folks at CBS, for instance.

So what’s the bottom line? Click here for the classic David Shaw series on media bias in mainstream news coverage of abortion. Shaw was a liberal, on abortion issues, but one of the nation’s top writers — ever — on media issues. The series was published, of course, in The Los Angeles Times.

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment

36 responses to “Media: Remember your filibuster? That was awesome.”

  1. Think of the journalism reax to the momentary Davis phenomenon this way: A pitcher nobody ever heard of playing for a team you don’t like has just pitched a perfect game. In the immediate aftermath, the stories will not focus on the team’s standing, prospects for the rest of the season or anything of regular substance. Fluffy features about any angle, including unusual shoes.

    Whatever one’s position on abortion, what Davis did was phenom territory, to continue my sports analogy. The evening had the sort of drama, reversals and counter-reversals that you’d normally find in a movie script. Yeah, there’s substance to be covered. And that’s been done and will be done. But to wring your hands too much over the initial coverage bubble?

    That what media do, these days. And all the prior days I know about.

    • Jeffrey:

      Please provide a URL to a single example of a story featuring similar cheerleader coverage to a phenom on the moral and cultural right, either Democrats (African Americans, Latinos, Texas Blue Dogs) or Republicans.

      Then take the multi-day coverage OF THE BILL and compare it to the standards articulated in the classic David Shaw series in the LATs on media bias in abortion coverage.

      One URL. Please.

      • Please provide a URL of a comparable cultural phenomenon representing that side of the argument. One URL, please. To my mind you gotta go back to before the Intertubes, to the summer of protests in Wichita in 1991. Which I and many other reporters covered as a cultural phenomenon.

        • Oh, I was not limiting myself to one narrow topic. I mean in all of the news biz.

          I immediately thought of all of that glowing, one-sided, non-critical coverage of Tim Tebow.

          • Um. Mostly *has* been pretty positive. Lots of critiquing of his football technique. But overwhelmingly on the plus side about him personally.

        • Wasn’t the Rand Paul filibuster pretty similar in a lot of ways? Were there a lot of fluffy stories about what an amazing guy he is after that? I know there were some sympathetic stories from Fox News, but I don’t think they were as nice as this whole shoe thing even then.

          • Rand Paul *did* get a lot of positive buzz. As I recall, even the Daily Show gave an admiring mention. One relevant difference between Paul and Davis; Paul was anything but an unknown at that point. So the sorts of stories introducing Davis to people who had never heard of her would not have been appropriate.

    • That’s a great analogy. I guess we could think of the journalism reax to Gosnell as if Aaron Hernandez was arrested for killing someone and the media had to be shamed into covering it a couple of years later, midway through his sensational trial where he was discovered to be a serial killer, drug fiend, racist and labor exploiter.

        • Would the Treyvan Martin case count as an analogous case? It was a huge reaction to a single killing.

    • ***Whatever one’s position on abortion, what Davis did was phenom territory, to continue my sports analogy. ***

      Was this comment intended to be serious? How exactly is a politician being able to stand and talk for 11 hours “phenom territory?”

      And your “Whatever one’s position on abortion” is about as wrong as can be. Most pro-lifers consider someone spending 11 hours talking in order to prevent abortion facilities from being held to higher standards to be perverse, not praise-worthy. Many women are appalled by what they perceive as Davis’ anti-women agenda. Why exactly would they be amazed by her stunt?

      Comments like this make me wonder if the media is incapable of recognizing when their biases are not shared by most of their readers.

      • Joe, I’m guess you aren’t from Texas. A day-long filibuster here is not your namby-pamby DC filibuster. No water. No food. No sitting. No reading the phone book. And your political opponents get to judge whether you’re following the rules. Successful filibusters here are about as rare as perfect games.

        As as for whether one can admire anything about one’s political opponents? Heck, even warrior combatants actually trying to kill each other can find something admirable in the courage, skill, determination of their adversaries. Surely we can do the same for those who we oppose politically?

        I can tell you my reaction in this regard to Davis has exactly nothing to do with the merits of her position. Other than I believe she holds it sincerely. What she did, even for what is likely to be a short time, was the equivalent of a pea stopping a steamroller. Yes, the GOP badly misplayed its hand to give her that opportunity. But it was still an amazing bit of non-contrived political drama.

        Those who are unable or unwilling to recognize that, even in people they deeply disagree with, with all due respect, contribute to the difficulty in our political discourse.

        And as a matter of journalism (which is what we’re here about, yes?) my points still stand. Particularly for TV, an unexpected drama that produces a new celebrity is going to create a buzz that is reflected in coverage. By next week or even tomorrow, that buzz will surely have moved along. And the tone of the coverage will change.

        • Jeffrey,

          Actually, I am from Texas — born and raised — and not a single one of my pro-life friends or relatives from there was impressed by the filibuster. Maybe it’s because we know people who are on their feet working for 12 hours a day that we aren’t all that impressed when a politician manages to do it while talking.

          ***Heck, even warrior combatants actually trying to kill each other can find something admirable in the courage, skill, determination of their adversaries.***

          Absolutely. But again, standing and talking and going without a meal isn’t some admirable act of courage and determination. It doesn’t take a lot of courage to stand and talk knowing that when its over you’ll have sore feet and a large number of campaign donations from Planned Parenthood.

          ***Particularly for TV, an unexpected drama that produces a new celebrity is going to create a buzz that is reflected in coverage. ***

          As tmatt noted, if this had been a filibuster against gay marriage the coverage would be completely different. Do you really think otherwise? Softball coverage like that given to Davis is based on reporters agreeing with the issue being filibustered.

          • Joe, you and your friends are a tough audience. And I’ll speculate they all are generally on your side of this particular argument. By me, as I said. I would have reacted the same had the positions been flipped. That was as unlikely, if temporary, a political victory as I could imagine. Along with a bit of physical endurance beyond me.

            For you to say the coverage would have been different may, with all due respect, be projecting. My guess is the first day or two would have been pretty much identical. Except she would have gotten the softballs on Fox rather than MSNBC.

          • Filibusters are a standard act in a politician’s playbook (or ploybook). The only reason they’re not done more often is that both sides of a question usually find them annoying and pointless.

            In the old days, therefore, they were a sign that a politician stood alone, unsupported by either party but desperate to make a stand. These days, it usually means that one party either really wants to make a show because they have no go, or that the party has found someone young and gullible to do the work, so that the rest of the party’s legislators can go home for dinner.

  2. It’s fascinating how this has been presented. Your summation of what the bill was about is completely different to, for instance, the frothing reaction I saw on tumblr – someone asked after an avalanche of posts in support of Wendy Davis what was happening in Texas – they thought it was about a bill trying to make all abortion illegal.
    And that’s been the reaction in general that I’ve seen – it’s a bunch of old white Christian men trying to control women’s bodies and they tried to stifle this brave woman from speaking by breaking their own rules of assembly until the people stood up and shouted for justice (the “Les Miserables” quotes about “can you hear the people sing?” have been coming thick and fast).

    • Mollie mentioned below that a woman authored the abortion bill, so I thought it found be interesting to google up her name. Looking for it, I read 8-10 articles. There were no quotes from any woman legislator opposing the bill. One article mentioned a woman senator who missed an early vote because her father died. Another mentioned that a House representative “contributed” the 20 week limit. That’s it for women Republicans. The trouble is that women make up 21% of the state lege and Republican women outnumber women. By comparison, the national congress is 18% women (my Congress person is a woman Republican) and Texas just retired a Kay Bailey Hutchinson. A Republican. But Texas Republicans are all anti-woman males. I read it in the newspaper (ok, the online paper).

      Another interesting fact I read in the Fox article was that Democrats chose Davis for the filibuster because she was a young single mother who put herself through college and Harvard Law. Perhaps the irony of that is too obvious for mention in more liberal sources.

  3. Either way folks, the filibuster is now officially moot:

    The filibuster didn’t just kill the abortion bill; it also killed a transportation bill and a bill on juvenile crime.

    Gov. Perry is rightfully upset over this, and so he’s called a new special session for Monday afternoon.

    …a new session that is going to take more $$$ out of the pockets of Texans like myself, as each “special session” has to be funded separately.

    • Then why didn’t they do those bills first and instead tried to force through the most controversial one first based on junk science?

    • The custom of piggy-backing bills on top of unrelated bills should be addressed by the media. The ramifications of *each* bill should also be discussed, pro and con.

      • Apparently, you misunderstood me.

        First, the abortion bill would have come up for a vote.

        Secondly, the transportation bill was due for a vote.

        IIRC, the juvenile crime bill was third.

        By throwing a wrench in the works, the filibuster delayed *all three*.

  4. How about the fact that the bill appears to be entirely based on the “child can feel pain” falsehood? It’s not like this bill is anything new, this sort of thing has been spouted for over a decade, even though the scientific evidence shows that a fetus can’t feel pain in the third trimester. At the very earliest, it would be able to at 24 weeks and even then, there is little to no evidence for that.

    Read for yourself:

    • I would be pretty sure that a fetus at 24 weeks would be able to feel pain. It is almost fully developed structurally with a body that is not quite filled out. But the point is every argument for abortion and choice ignores the fact that choice should be when all your clothes are still on. That poor child is killed because of your moment of sweaty satisfaction. There is no denying that God gives that “thing” a soul at conception, therefore making it a human being, thereby making abortion MURDER! Humans can irrationalize anything. I pray for all the stupid people who support abortion, with the realization that the helpless children murdered are going straight to the arms of God. He will love them even though the humans don’t.

      • Our society does not believe in God or immortal souls. Pray for them as well.

      • It is your assumption that they get a “soul” at conception. Many Christians don’t believe they receive a soul until they breathe their first breath, until they first become truly alive. Before that, they are truly just a part of the mother’s body.

        Furthermore, what about children conceived through things like rape? How does that fit into your conception of “sweaty satisfaction”?

  5. This just seems like same old, same old for the media on abortion. There is really nothing exceptionally restrictive in the bill (dentists who administer any form of sedative have to follow essentially the same rules being proposed for abortion clinics). Very few outlets are willing to cover the actual content of this bill because it is so reasonable. Sadly this gives rise to the histrionic reportage that the bill would close all clinics etc.

    • Maybe you should listen to the points Wendy Davis said in her speech? That might help.

      And the first part of SB5 alone is a major issue. Abortion clinics are not ambulatory surgical centers. They do not perform same day surgical care. Anyone that needs care that urgently will be sent to a hospital. It is because of this part of the bill that 37 of the 42 clinics will have to shut down, because they cannot perform at the level that an ambulatory center does, because they aren’t that.

      • They do not perform same day surgical care.

        Because abortion is not a surgical procedure. Right.

        No the “clinics” will not have to shut down. The owners will have to upgrade them to meet the same level of care as as any other surgical center. There’s a lot of money in the abortion business.

        And urgent care is precisely the reason for requiring abortionists to have admitting privileges in a local hospital.

        It’s really time for an unbiased body count, and not just pro-abortion rhetoric. Unfortunately, the media prefer this sort of nonsense instead of real investigation.

        • I never said it wasn’t a surgical procedure. I said that it wasn’t a same day procedure, which is what ambulatory centers are for. There is absolutely no reason to require them to upgrade to the level of an ambulatory center. They already meet the requirements for a normal surgical center.

          What urgent care are you talking about exactly? You do know that the amount of deaths during abortions is 1 in 137,000 people in the US? Which is lower than plastic surgery even, which is 20 times more deadly, yet they aren’t required to meet ambulatory requirements.

          Heck, death from regular childbirth is 13 times more deadly.

    • Note – “hospital privileges” and “admitting privileges” are different things. Dentists have some hospital privileges, but rarely if ever have admitting privileges. More here. The media – not just the mainstream media, the media full stop – hasn’t made that clear.

  6. Why are we celebrating someone who is fighting against basic standards of decency for health care. IS there any other industry where someone could have the media swoon over them for protecting it from basic government regulation to see that women do not die?

  7. Was the filibuster of the Civil Rights Act a “phenomenal act”. How you view a filibuster always boils down to how you view the law. If you do not think women should be dieing because of unsanitary conditions and doctors without proper connections to hospitals performing life threatening surgery on them, than a filibuster of a bill that would stop this is an act in defense of medical malpractice.

  8. This is an example of the use of the media for purposes other than reporting. The purpose of the media coverage is to give an award for services rendered. Its a chance for an obscure politician to get face time on national TV, to get some notoriety within her party, and even to be treated as a fashion model/trendsetter. Its like getting one of those honorary degrees from a University.

    The media coverage is intended to benefit the subject not to inform consumers of media.

    Just another indication of the total moral corruption of our institutions.

  9. My dentist insists on more informed consent than abortion clinics in Texas provide.

    And there are riots with more civic virtue than that mob-rule riot in the Texas Statehouse.

Close Ad