When 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.
If every pro-life candidate in the country was forced to respond repeatedly to Akin's comments, perhaps we could spare just a question or two for a few pro-choice leaders? Maybe just the ones who oppose all or almost all limits on abortion, those on the extreme, outside-the-mainstream pro-choice side of things?
Just by way of example, our own President Barack Obama twice voted against bills to protect infants born alive in abortion clinics. He said he couldn't address the case earlier because the trial was ongoing (a fact oddly omitted from that New York Times piece in favor of a less direct demurral from his press secretary). But the trial is over now. Let's ask away!
Or to take Cecile Richards, the head of Planned Parenthood. She had a couple of conflicting tweets I'd love to see an enterprising reporter ask about. Here's her "get ahead of the tough questions" attempt from yesterday. Here's just one of many obvious opportunities for a tough follow-up. We talked yesterday about other questions that Richards could have been asked in favor of the puffballs she was given from the New York Times the day prior. Or maybe we could hear more about that video up top of a Planned Parenthood official Alisa LaPolt (and former journalist, natch) arguing for Gosnellian post-birth abortions? Wouldn't that provide some opportunity for good questions?
Again, no one is saying that the murders and killings and unsanitary conditions of Kermit Gosnell, aided and abetted by other abortionists who referred patients to him and pro-choice politicians who failed in their oversight duties, is a bigger deal than a Missouri politician saying something stupid. No one. So the 250 stories within three months of that one statement are without a doubt journalistically defensible. But maybe just, you know, one or two tough stories here? Is that too much to ask? In light of the million+ abortions performed each year and the general abortion culture we have in this country? We're not afraid to ask tough questions, are we? And if so, why are we?
Another note, real quick. A few weeks ago, tmatt wrote in a related post:
It’s pretty obvious at this point that many very powerful journalists raised in the ’60s (Yes, I’m talking about Bill Keller’s Austin speech again) no longer believe that it is necessary, or possible, to be accurate and fair when covering moral/religious news stories, as opposed to political stories, strictly defined.
I'm not entirely sure we're seeing a tremendous amount of accuracy or fairness about political stories from certain media outlets, but the problem as evidenced above is compounded when we're talking about religion and moral stories. To some extent, they're the canary in the coal mine of the problems caused by the media's breakdown.
*I'm sure these numbers must be inflated or duplicates, although I couldn't figure out for sure or, how many items are duplicates.