Trouble keeping score in abortion coverage

innocentsThis has been a week like no other in Washington. Following the deluge of visitors for the inauguration of President Barack Obama, another deluge of visitors crashed the mall yesterday for the 36th annual March for Life. I was able to attend both events. There's a bit of history with media coverage of pro-life rallies. You can read the infamous David Shaw investigative essay in the Los Angeles Times for more details. He builds his piece around the shockingly disparate coverage received by pro-choice and pro-life rally participants by the Washington Post back in 1990. While the Post had front-page coverage for days of the pro-choice rally, it had barely noticed the massive pro-life rally in its own backyard:

The rally was the lead story on the ABC, CBS and NBC evenings news programs that day, and it was at the top of Page 1 in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and several other major papers. The New York Times published three separate stories on the rally.

But the Post consigned the rally to its Metro section and covered it with just one, relatively short story -- less than half the length of the primary New York Times story.

In some cases -- notably the Washington Post in the last couple of years -- coverage of pro-life events has improved. In other cases, not so much.

Each year pro-life march participants joke -- a lot -- about how their numbers are laughably under-counted. They'll know, say, that they themselves came in a caravan of 5,000 people in rented buses from Pittsburgh but they'll read the paper the next day describe the entire crowd as consisting of "thousands."

Crowd estimates are a thankless task and anyone who has seen the estimates for the Obama inaugural crowd ranging from 800,000 to 1.8 million can understand that. But the headline for this Associated Press video of this year's March for Life actually had me gasping:

Scores March Against Abortion

Scores? As in groups of 20? Really? Really? I literally have nothing to say about that headline. A GetReligion first: a headline so unfair and inaccurate that I'm left without anything to say.

So that's an example of the legendary struggles the mainstream media have with reporting on pro-lifers. Another is the general blackout. It's hard to find any good mainstream coverage of the march. If you want to go to the Catholic, Protestant or pro-life media, you have plenty of options. With mainstream media? Not so much. Perhaps that will improve throughout the day.

I rather enjoyed, on the other hand, this Washington Post story about the day's activities, although it describes the crowd as "thousands" large. Still, a team of reporters fanned out to contribute to the story and it shows. The big difference this year, other than the increased size, was the targeting of speeches and signs to Obama. Here's the lede:

The inauguration of a president who supports abortion rights fired up the annual March for Life yesterday, with activists warning of new, more liberal legislation and urging President Obama to view abortion as a civil-rights issue akin to slavery.

Signs read: "Yes we can -- eliminate abortion." One speaker took the microphone and called for anti-abortion "community organizers," a job the president held in Chicago. Another taunted Obama with references to one of his heroes.

Looking east at the thousands of marchers gathered from Fourth to Seventh streets on the Mall, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) said Obama needed to be reminded "that the reason we built that monument to president Abraham Lincoln is because he saw the humanity in a slave that the Supreme Court said was not human." Nothing could make Obama less like Lincoln than "forgetting that the unborn are also little children of God," he added.

lfl"Taunt" is the wrong loaded word to use to describe Franks' quote but the larger vignette captures the overall scene. Many speakers spoke of their hopes and prayers that President Obama would change his mind about the issue.

The tightly written story that's on page A2 describes other pro-life activities taking place before the march. It mentions the Freedom of Choice Act but not President Obama's promise last year that signing it would be his first act as executive. It does note the strong statement in support of abortion rights that he gave yesterday.

The story also mentions the youthful vibe of the march and the inclusion of various politically progressive groups. It ends with a nod to a small contingent of abortion rights supporters that counterprotested.

There's even a brief -- but good -- photo gallery accompanying the story. Please send us links to the other major media coverage of this massive pro-life event.

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