Planned Parenthood vs. a straw man

Notebook and pen 01And now it is time for another episode of "As the Notebook Turns," an ongoing feature in which friends of this blog offers their side of conversations and/or interviews with journalists. In this case, the person on the other side of the reporter's notebook is, in fact, a journalist herself. This episode is drawn from a post by Dawn "The Thrill of the Chaste" Eden, a fierce blogger who also works on the copy desk at the New York Daily News. Let's join the always opinioned Dawn as she talks with a journalist from a major British newspaper and they discuss his research trip into the American heartland -- South Dakota -- to do a profile of the abortion providers there who live under the gun, so to speak.

He said he wanted to get opinions from the street, which he did, and he also interviewed employees of the abortion clinic. He had notified the clinic ahead of time that he would be coming, and an executive was there to greet him.

"Which one?" I asked.

He took out her card. It was the president of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota.

"Who were some of the pro-life people you talked to?" I asked.

"I talked to a pastor," he said. He added that the pastor "wasn't very intelligent" but gave him some good quotes.

I pressed on. "Who was the highest person you spoke to in the pro-life movement?"

"I didn't want to speak to people from organizations," he said. "I was there to visit the clinic and speak to people on the street."

"Yes, I know that," I said. "But the clinic knew you were coming, and they sent an executive who oversees Planned Parenthood in three states to speak to you."

He looked at me quizzically. I sighed.

jdkingblond2In the end, it appeared that the British journalist would end up with a classic abortion coverage scenario in which a brilliant, well-prepared female professional speaks for the pro-abortion-rights side of the debate and a straw-man evangelical male yahoo speaks for those who oppose abortion. Truth is, the vast majority of anti-abortion activists are female and it isn't hard at all to find a female evangelical church leader, a crisis-pregnancy volunteer who has experienced abortion herself, the actual president of a local pro-life network or some other logical person to stand opposite the articulate Planned Parenthood leader.

As it turns out, there is yet another option that some would even say is worse than the straw man. Eden has updated her blog item to include the URL of the Telegraph article by reporter Harry Mount, showing us what ended up in print. Want to guess what happened?

I will show you the end of the story, in which the reporter allows the Planned Parenthood leader to offer her version of what protesters shout outside the facility.

On a story that is this loaded with hot language, it is always best -- if at all possible -- for journalists to attend real demonstrations and take their own notes instead of letting leaders on one side of the story jam secondhand, loaded words into the mouths of leaders on the other side of the story. Yes, comment-typing folks, that concept would be just as true if you turned the situation around and used secondhand quotes to slam the pro-abortion side.

Every week pro-life protesters surround the Planned Parenthood clinic, bristling with cameras, on the edge of Sioux Falls.

"They shout, 'Sarah, you're a Nazi'," said Sarah Stoesz, the president of Planned Parenthood, which operates clinics across America. "At the parking lot, they shout, 'How many babies did you kill to get that car?'"

The roads are dotted with posters saying "ABC: Abstinence Breeds Control" and "Abortion -- One dead: Two wounded", next to a silhouette of a grieving couple and a child's grave on a hilltop.

The quotes may be accurate. It may also be true that there are two or three rude demonstrators, while dozens of other sing hymns and pray silently. It's hard to know without being at the demonstration. Right?

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