Coverage of restrictive abortion legislation demonstrates that "balanced" reporting is not necessarily synonymous with accurate reporting. Even while seeming to present impartial facts, media often simultaneously participate in the subtle rhetorical shift toward elevating the fetus to a legal standing separate and equal to a woman's. The "rights of the unborn" is the most recent gambit for the movement to curb reproductive choice--illustrated by Arkansas' Fetal Protection Act, which punishes attackers separately for crimes against a fetus; Missouri's extremist Infant Protection Act (currently under a judicial restraining order), which threatens women and doctors with sentences of up to life in […]
Media adopt rhetoric of 'fetal rights'
Two stories involving politically motivated crimes received substantial--and substantially different--media attention in October. On October 23, Dr. Barnett Slepian of Buffalo, New York, was shot by a sniper, apparently because the obstetrician was one of the few doctors in his area who performed abortions. On October 19, several unoccupied buildings at a Vail, Colorado, ski resort were burned to the ground, an apparent response to the resort's expansion plans, which will destroy wildlife habitat. The most obvious difference between the two crimes is that one was intended to take a human life, while the other was targeted against property. The […]
What the Republican Platform Really Says
One of the biggest dramas of the 1996 election--for the political press corps, at least--has been the question of the Republican platform's abortion plank. Would Bob Dole alienate the religious right by trying to change the plank? Would he alienate pro-choice voters by not changing it? Will Pat Buchanan walk out of the convention? Can Ralph Reed sell "tolerance" to the Christian Coalition? There have been literally hundreds of these stories in major newspapers across the country, according to a Nexis database search. But only about a dozen times did these papers even let their readers know what the platform […]
When Will Media See the Connection?
When the Oklahoma City bombing captured the attention of the mainstream media, some women's rights activists expected that the attack would end mainstream media's reluctance to report on violence against abortion-providers and other domestic terror threats. That reasonable hope was dashed. With its first reporting of the Oklahoma story, the New York Times (4/20/95) ran a list headlined "Other Bombings in America", which spanned four decades and included some attacks that claimed no injuries or lives. But none of the 40 officially documented bombings that have targeted women's clinics in that period was mentioned. Media investigations of where right-wing militants […]
From the Women's Desk
"The Cairo Conference will probably be remembered as the Great Abortion Showdown," exclaimed a Wall Street Journal report (9/13/94) as the International Conference on Population and Development drew to a close this September. But whose fault is that? For all the "isn't it a shame" tone of journalistic commentary, most of the mainstream media allowed that debate to dominate coverage of Cairo. United Nations conferences are bureaucratic affairs; the anti-contraception dogma of the Pope against a most-of-the-world, pro-choice chorus provided a dramatic angle on the "Clash of Wills in Cairo", headlined Time magazine (9/12/94); "Population Wars", U.S. News & World […]
On December 8, 1993, Nightline gave Paul Hill an extended platform to advocate the killing of doctors who perform abortions, unchallenged by any pro-choice perspective. On July 29, 1994, Hill allegedly murdered Dr. John Britton and his escort at a Florida clinic. FAIR warned after Paul Hill's Nightline appearance of the dangers of turning proponents of murder into media celebrities (Extra! Update, 2/94). But despite the murder of Britton and his escort--the latest in a series of violent acts against abortion providers--advocates of anti-abortion terrorism are still able to use media to promote their cause. NBC's Today show on August […]
Executive Director's Column
It was shocking, but hardly surprising, when Paul Hill was arrested for the killing of a doctor and his escort outside a Pensacola, Fla., abortion clinic on July 29. After all, the former minister had been advocating such action on national TV for more than a year. Appearing as a guest on CNN's Sonya Live (3/8/94), Hill hailed the man who had murdered abortion provider Dr. David Gunn as a hero "willing to lay down" his life to fulfill "the commandment of Christ." Host Sonya Friedman responded by seeming to question Hill's commitment to action: "But Mr. Hill, indeed, you […]
Nightline's December 8, 1993 program was a prime example of imbalanced, irresponsible journalism. The issue was the killing of doctors who perform abortions: not how it can be prevented, but whether such attacks are justified. Invited into the studio to discuss this "issue" were Helen Alvare, a representative of the Catholic Bishops Pro-Life Committee, an anti-abortion group, and Paul Hill, the director of a tiny anti-abortion faction called Defensive Action, which advocates the killing of doctors. No one with a pro-choice viewpoint was allowed to participate in the live discussion. (The three soundbites from pro-choice sources in the pre-recorded portion […]