Masturbation bill: This isn't fake news, it's parody news — and it doesn't help newspapers' credibility

Dub this Viagra Bill 2.0.

Although — to be more accurate — this marks at least the fourth time a state lawmaker somewhere in the U.S. has generated a wave of news media coverage with legislation poking fun at anti-abortion forces.

Last time I wrote about this, I pointed out: 

It's a valid story, of course. The issue is whether journalists are willing to do more than lead cheers for her cause.

Fast-forward 13 months, and the lawmaker and the state have changed, but the pesky journalistic issue remains the same.

The latest, mostly one-sided reports emerged over the weekend in Texas: Lone Star State journalists — mimicking their peers in other states — dutifully turned parody legislation into serious headlines. But again, the news organizations largely failed to give the other side a chance to respond. (Please honk if you don't need to be reminded about pro-abortion bias seeping into the news.)

Some of the Texas headlines:

Texas lawmaker files bill that takes aim at men’s health care (Austin American-Statesman)
Texas men would face fine for masturbating, need rectal exam for Viagra under proposed law (Dallas Morning News)
New bill takes aim at men's masturbation habits (Houston Chronicle)

Other news organizations reporting on the bill include the San Antonio Express-News, the Washington Post, BBC News, the Huffington Post and the International Business Times.

The lede from the Houston Chronicle:

HOUSTON — Texas State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, filed a bill Friday that would penalize men for "unregulated masturbatory emissions." 
The satirical House Bill 4260 would encourage men to remain "fully abstinent" and only allow the "occasional masturbatory emissions inside health care and medical facilities," which are described in the legislation as the best way to ensure men's health. 
Farrar said she created the bill after feeling fed up with the various legislative bills introduced by men addressing women's healthcare.
"A lot of people find the bill funny," Farrar said in a phone interview. "What's not funny are the obstacles that Texas women face every day, that were placed there by legislatures making it very difficult for them to access healthcare."
A man would face a $100 penalty for each emission made outside of a vagina or medical facility. Such an emission would be considered "an act against an unborn child, and failing to preserve the sanctity of life," according to the legislation. ...
Her latest bill also seeks to provide men with a safe and healthy environment during vasectomies, Viagra uses and colonoscopies by creating "A Man's Right to Know" booklet that should "exactly follow the rules and procedures of the informational booklet "A Woman's Right To Know," required to be given of women terminating pregnancies.

One Texas newspaper editor — who perhaps missed the previous incarnations of this legislation — tweeted that he's "pretty sure this is going to be a famous bill":

Um, OK.

Anybody care to talk about journalism?

Why dub the Texas stories Viagra 2.0? Because more than a year ago, I already wrote a first version of this post:

Once again, I see plenty of room for journalists to improve their coverage — and their credibility.

The first two stories I read were from the Austin and Dallas papers. Neither bothered to do anything but quote Farrar. The Houston story (also published by its sister paper in San Antonio) was not any better.

Is it too much to expect that a major Texas newspaper might consider quoting someone on the other side — someone, say, who fails to see abortion as a laughing matter? 

Give the Texas Tribune — whose editor was the source of the above tweet — credit for reflecting opposing viewpoints, including quoting state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, an abortion opponent:

In a statement, Tinderholt said Farrar lacked “a basic understanding of human biology.”
"I'm embarrassed for Representative Farrar,” Tinderholt said. “Her attempt to compare [HB 4260] to the abortion issue shows a lack of a basic understanding of human biology. I would recommend that she consider taking a high school biology class from a local public or charter school before filing another bill on the matter."
Farrar said the filing of her bill was necessary this session because of the bills she says directly targeted women’s ability to make choices about their own bodies and care. And she told the Tribune that the election of President Donald Trump will add additional hurdles and that the tone regarding women’s health has gotten worse from years past.
“Especially with Trump as president, I think these folks are on fire now. They’re off the chain now,” Farrar said. “If they can elect someone based on making racist remarks and derogatory remarks toward women and such, then we’ve just given them license to offend and license to be even worse than before.”

Unfortunately, the Tribune's approach is the exception and not the rule in the viral coverage of the Texas parody bill.  

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