Last night, reporters were very excited to tweet extensively about an abortion filibuster going on in Texas. While reporters struggled and struggled and struggled to find any reason at all to cover abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell's trial, there was no struggle at all to give extensive coverage to Texas Sen. Wendy Davis' filibustering of a bill that would protect unborn children who had made it to 20 weeks' gestation, would require abortion clinics to meet the standards of other ambulatory surgery centers and would require doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.
Clear Eyes, Full Heart, Can't Stop Talking.
— Sarah Kliff (@sarahkliff) June 26, 2013
This legislation is happening in the context of increased national awareness of serious problems at abortion clinics around the country, including Gosnell's "house of horrors" and a Texas clinic run by Douglas Karpen that is accused of being even worse than Gosnell's, if you can imagine that.
None of that context has made it into stories, near as I can tell. I asked for examples of any reporters tying this abortion debate to any of these other stories that the media have suppressed or downplayed and Texas Monthly reporter Erica Grieder (pictured here, with the big smile on the left, with Planned Parenthood honcho Cecile Richards and another Texas Monthly staffer Sonia Smith) responded "Republicans have made that argument & we've covered it." The link goes to a story that says:
The bill’s sponsor, Katy Republican Glenn Hegar, said that it “raises the standard of care” for women seeking abortions and protects the lives of the unborn. Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, who had repeatedly called for Governor Rick Perry to add abortion to the special session’s agenda, had frequently invoked the genuinely horrific case of Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia-based doctor who was recently convicted of murder after killing a baby who was born alive.
Oh how quickly we forget last month's trial that the media only covered reluctantly at best! Gosnell, of course, was convicted of killing three babies and one woman, although by all accounts he was responsible for the deaths of untold numbers of babies born alive and at least one other mother.
Grieder said she'd correct the story (written by Sonia Smith). She also offered her version of the "Gosnell is just a local crime story" explanation by saying that the Texas legislature doesn't oversee Gosnell and that covering the legislature is a "super-full-time task."
I suggested the omission of mentions of Douglas Karpen might be more significant. She argued that the context of the bill had nothing to do with problems reported at abortion clinics since previous incarnations of this bill predated Karpen. Perhaps reporters might consider why this bill went further than previous bills that attempted to accomplish the same thing and if the context of Gosnell or Karpen might play a role there.
But, as Grieder notes, she literally just wrote a book about putting Texas in context. Perhaps people with opinions on abortion in Texas are very different from people with opinions on abortion elsewhere. And since the Texas AP reporters are all on vacation right now, we have to trust the folks who have stayed to report.
Although I must say that Grieder and Smith's interview of Richards doesn't give much reason for confidence. All of the hard-hitting questions she was forced to answer:
Texas Monthly: Do you think the national Republican party took any lessons from the discussion surrounding abortion and women's health issues from 2012 election cycle?
TM: Have you seen any bills similar to SB5 that come bundled with funding? Something where legislators say ‘We're going to make the restrictions on facilities tighter, but we're also going to help you fund it.’
TM: Why do you think the 2013 edition of this debate is different from the 2011 one? We saw, as you mentioned,the defunding of Planned Parenthood in the state, and the sonogram bill that went through. But we didn’t see this much—
TM: Your decision to come down here this week, when was that decision made, and what really pushed you to come?
TM: There was that one very striking image of a little girl looking up at your mother’s portrait ...
TM: Do you think Senator Davis could win the governorship in 2014?
Unfair! Each of those questions is so tough! So brutal! I mean, I know journalists are supposed to be tenacious, but this is too much! All those questions forcing her to explain the difference between second trimester abortions and what Gosnell did! Man, there was no wiggle room for Richards!
I trust that we all agree that whatever happened there was not journalism.
And speaking of the lack of journalism, I also find it just fascinating how reporters avoid the reality of public opinion on abortion restrictions in the second and third trimester. The way the media presents this is as if all women support unlimited abortion on demand and that mean old Republican men don't.
In reality, women are more likely to think abortion should be illegal in all or most situations than legal in all or most. Texans overwhelmingly support the right to life for unborn children of 20 weeks or more. And 71 percent of Americans say that abortion should be
flat-out generally illegal after 12 weeks and 86 percent of Americans say it should be illegal after 28 weeks. As Ben Domenech notes:
Those who favor on-demand, limitless abortion access are extreme and out of step. But you wouldn't think that from media coverage.
Usually when 71% and 86% of Americans think something, it gets reported occasionally. Y'know.
These numbers are fairly consistent over time and yet people who are in that 14% who disagree are almost never asked tough questions about their views. Even if they're extremely prominent politicians or activists, such as Cecile Richards, pictured above with happy reporters.
Of all the religion-ghost-haunted social issues stories out there, abortion has the longest history of mainstream media problems. Our credibility when it comes to reporting on abortion has taken a rather serious hit this year. Gushing about an abortion filibuster, neglecting to provide important national context, and failing to ask tough questions of activists on one side isn't exactly helping the journalism situation.