Feeling blue about abortion coverage

blueSeveral days ago, two MSM reporters described Barack Obama as a centrist on the abortion issue, or at least wrote that his position differed from that of liberal pro-choice activists. Their news hook was an interview that Obama gave to a magazine aimed at young evangelicals. For The Washington Post, reporter Jonathan Weisman characterized Obama's comments this way:

Last week, Obama expressly came out against using "mental distress" as a justification for late-term abortions, a position widely seen as the latest in a string of moves toward the political center but one aimed specifically at Christian conservatives.

"Historically, I have been a strong believer in a woman's right to choose, with her doctor, her pastor, her family," he said Saturday. "And I've been consistent in saying you have to have a health exception on any significant restrictions or bans on abortions, including late-term abortions.

"It can be defined by physical health. It can be defined by serious clinical mental health diseases," he continued. But "it's not just a matter of feeling blue."

Such statements may run the risk of alienating Obama's liberal activist supporters.

For the Associated Press, reporter Jim Kuhnhenn characterized Obama's remarks this way:

The health care exception is crucial to abortion rights advocates and is considered a legal loophole by abortion opponents. By limiting the health exception to a "serious physical issue," Obama set himself apart from other abortion rights proponents.

Both reporters jumped the gun. Instead of drawing political conclusions, they should have given readers accurate facts. Which is what bloggers, as well as the Baptist Press, have been doing since the stories came out: showing that Obama's statements were misleading and incompatible with his previous record.

Over at ABC News, Supreme Court reporter Jan Crawford Greenburg noted that Obama supports the Freedom of Choice Act, which would make the court's 1973 decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton federal law in the event that those decisions are overturned. Greenburg implied that Obama' s statements are at odds with the high courts' decision in Doe, the companion case to Roe:

I'd like to hear how Obama can continue to support the federal Freedom of Choice Act, which contains a broad mental health exception by specifically referring to the 1973 Supreme Court case that demands that any abortion ban contain an exception based on "all factors--physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman's age ... all these factors may relate to health."

A fair-minded critic should not be too tough on either reporter. AP reporters have arguably the toughest job in journalism, as their stories not only have to be accurate but also fast. The Post's Weisman was writing a wrap-up story not an examination of Obama's stand on individual social issues and religion.

Yet both the AP and the Post's stories were more conclusory than factual. It's good that the stories attempted to link Obama's position with religious voters. But it'd be better if the articles were accurate.

(Photo by user Carf used under a Creative Commons license).

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