Let's consider a mirror-image scenario, as GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly calls it.
The scenario: A federal judge, who once served as a local chapter director and board president for the National Right to Life Committee, hears a case concerning abortion. In his ruling, the judge rejects a new state law friendly toward a woman's right to choose an abortion.
Might news reports on the judge's decision mention his connection to the anti-abortion movement? (You think?)
Now, let's look at a real-life scenario involving a U.S. district judge in Ohio with ties to Planned Parenthood, the nation's leading abortion provider:
(CNN) — An Ohio federal district court judge blocked legislation that would have banned abortion in cases where a fetus is diagnosed with Down syndrome.
Republican Gov. John Kasich signed the legislation into law in December of last year, and it was scheduled to go into effect March 23. The legislation is now blocked until a final ruling is made in the lawsuit.
In a court order granting a preliminary injunction Wednesday, Southern District of Ohio Judge Timothy Black said that federal abortion law is "crystal clear" that "a State may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability."
A quick aside: My colleague Julia Duin recently delved into "Outlawing Down syndrome abortions: Isn't religion always part of this news story?" I, too, have explored the holy ghosts that have haunted much coverage of the Ohio legislation.
But for the purposes of this post, my focus is this specific question: Does news coverage of Black's ruling inform readers of his possible bias? In a case such as this, that seems like a pretty crucial detail, right?
It does to me, but apparently not to CNN, which fails to mention it.
Likewise, the Columbus Dispatch does not call attention to it.
From The Plain Dealer:
Black, appointed by President Barack Obama in 2010, served as an unpaid director of the Planned Parenthood Association of Cincinnati from 1986 to 1989 and as board president in 1988. He recused himself from a 2014 case involving Planned Parenthood over the objections of anti-abortion group Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati. Judges are randomly assigned district court cases.
And from the Enquirer (whose story was picked up by Gannett sister USA Today):
Just a few other states have implemented similar laws. Indiana's was deemed unconstitutional as well. Black referenced the Indiana decision in his order.
Still, proponents of the law -- including Ohio Right to Life -- say it will save the lives of unborn children and prevent eugenics.
They also questioned the judge's impartiality. Black, who was nominated by President Barack Obama, served as president and director of the Planned Parenthood Association of Cincinnati in the late 1980s. Both were unpaid positions. Black recused himself from a 2014 case involving Planned Parenthood.
Why did Black recuse himself in the previous case and not this one? That, too, seems like an important question for news organizations to ask.
Is there any doubt that if the scenario were reversed, CNN would be all over such an apparent conflict?
Image via Pixabay.com