Earlier this week, we discussed the six questions that ABC News' reporter Jeff Zeleny asked of State Sen. Wendy Davis in the interview that aired on "This Week" on Sunday. We've been pointing out the problems in this religion ghost-soaked topic for years. Over the past week, those problems have been demonstrated in the softball interviews and coverage of Davis. Zeleny took a bit of heat for the nature of his questions and inability to ask a single question (much less good question) about abortion, which is what the legislation under debate in Texas relates to, as the pro-choice protesters here demonstrate. That takes work in six questions. But today Zeleny proudly released a lengthier version of the interview.
A longer cut of our Wendy Davis interview, where we ask about her past, future -- and yes, her catheter. http://yhoo.it/16LxnJ5 #PowerPlayers
Somehow, it's even more obsequious than the initial interview. It's downright shameful, in fact, how unborn children never make an appearance in this interview, much less the views born Texans hold on abortion. You can watch it here, and it could be used unaltered as a campaign or fundraising video. These are things no journalist should ever aim for.
I went ahead and transcribed the portions Jeff Zeleny spoke, which we'll look at below. He introduced the piece and concluded it and had 18 questions or statements to which Davis responded. Please note the three shoe questions, the three catheter questions and the zero abortion questions:
Welcome to the fine print. I'm Jeff Zeleny Today we're in Ft. Worth, Texas at the Stage West Theater having a conversation with State Sen. Wendy Davis, rising democratic star at the center of the abortion debate here in Texas.
(1) Senator. Thank you very much for joining us.
(2) So A week ago, no one knew State Sen Wendy Davis outside of Ft. Worth, now you've become a national and international name.
(3) Why did you decide to wear your running shoes. Let's take a look at those. They've kind of been rocketing around the internet.
(4) These are the shoes now, probably the most famous shoes in politics. And is this a pink?
(5) But you're also a runner. These are legitimate running shoes.
(6) How did you handle the personal side of this?
(7) With a catheter, is that right?
(8) I apologize for my rudeness. But I think I read in the Ft. Worth Star Telegram that you came prepared for ...
(9) The journey that you made to the Senate floor in Austin actually passed through this very room, here at the Stage West Theater here in Ft. Worth. How does a young woman from Ft. Worth end up at Harvard law school?
(10) Now you have become central to this fight here in Texas.
(11) The front page of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram is featuring the back and forth with Gov. Perry and you. He's made this very personal against you.
(12) Is that offensive?
(13) What has this shown you about the political views of Texas. I mean, is this an example of Texas turning purple and blue, because of the reaction. Or is this a sign that Texas is still deep read, because of the legislation?
(14) That sounds like a good campaign ad against Gov. Perry. Will you run?
(15) Do you believe that SB5 will become law?
(16) Will you have to filibuster again?
(17) Gonna put these shoes on again?
(18) Senator, thank you very much for your time.
How does one even explain such an interview? Is it that Zeleny just assumes the justice of the cause Davis is fighting for? Is he unaware of pro-life arguments against late-term abortion or in favor of regulations at abortion clinics?
I actually think he must just be ignorant of that -- for two reasons.
You'll note that Zeleny's follow-ups are quite limp and almost designed to be limp. At one point in the interview, the subject says that her filibuster is actually in defense of small government. Journalists familiar with the policy implications of that "local crime story" related to Dr. Kermit Gosnell would know immediately to point out that the abortion regulation regime created by Republicans and Democrats in Pennsylvania was lax precisely on the grounds that low regulation was "small government" and that low regulation would be the best way to preserve access to abortion. So any reporter with even only passing familiarity with the Gosnell story would know to follow-up with a question about how those were the same arguments used in Pennsylvania in the years that led to the Gosnell house of horrors.
Perhaps Zeleny didn't know about Gosnell.
The second area where ignorance seemed to come in play was when Zeleny set up a question that itself betrayed ignorance of abortion views and allowed Davis to talk about how moderate her views were and how extreme the big bad Republicans views were. Now, I'm not much for such partisan lines of questioning, even while acknowledging that there is a partisan element here. But a knowledgeable reporter would know that bans on aborting children who are five months' gestation or more actually enjoy broad support in Texas and that protecting unborn children in the second and third trimester actually enjoys consistent support throughout the country. A follow-up question noting how extreme her views are relative to the population might have led to less smiling in the interview, but an interesting answer.
Perhaps Zeleny went into this interview without knowing these things. That's not a defense of him, just a reminder to know even the bare minimum about the subject you're discussing before entering into an interview. It can go a long way to avoiding the embarrassment of interviews such as this one.
Let's end with a familiar appeal to readers.
Please check out the classic David Shaw series on media bias in mainstream news coverage of abortion. Shaw was a liberal, on abortion issues, but one of the nation’s top writers -- ever -- on media issues. The series was published, of course, in The Los Angeles Times back in 1990. It needs to be read by reporters as much today as ever.