I don’t even know where to begin this post, or even if I should post it. I certainly don’t want it to seem like a post just about me, but I do think a few of my”back in the day” stories would be of interest, as well as how the social media has changed the landscape of so much of what we understand as news.
This week, I noticed the discussion on Facebook and Twitter about publicizing the horrifying Kermit Gosnell case in Philadelphia, and the media non-coverage of it. Probably the best quote from Friday was from Barbara Nicolosi, who said (alongside a photo of the empty media chairs at the Gosnell trial), “But if these don’t speak, I tell you the rocks will cry out.”
Here is just one example, by local and prolific blogger Bonnie Engstrom, and she links to so many great articles that it’s very helpful and instructive. I will say and warn, however, that the content of those links, is gruesome, and while I used to be much more used to reading and seeing such things, I no longer am.
Instead this week, I have spent the bulk of my time: working with a teen on algebra, the bane of her existence; giving a talk to a mom’s group on reading; ferrying kids to and fro from doctors’ appointments, school, practices, classes and so forth; taking my younger kids to see a Holocaust survivor speak; taking my teen to a local university to hear a speaker from Feminists for Life; trying to spend a few minutes here and there with my husband; and basically keeping our house and family humming.
But I had a little more time online Friday, and it was just oppressive to read about the Gosnell case. And it’s obvious how the mainstream media has ignored this story out of for some ignorance and for some malice. While I knew about the Gosnell story before today, I didn’t really think about why it wasn’t on the Today Show, which I sometimes have on as we are getting ready in the morning.
But that wasn’t always the case.
Mollie Hemingway started her most-quoted post about the media blackout on Gosnell by saying,
“If you haven’t read David Shaw’s “Abortion Bias Seeps Into The News,” published in the Los Angeles Times back in 1990, you should. That report also explains why we cover the topic here at GetReligion.”
When I read that, I had a flashback to my years working full-time in the pro-life movement. I worked with David Shaw (may he rest in peace; he died in 2005), for months on that story, giving him copies of newspaper article clippings, VHS tapes that I dubbed of biased ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN stories, and much, much more. Keep in mind, you young ones, that this was before we could Google things or have Youtube videos of television right after they appeared. It was hard work to accumulate all those clipping and that evidence!
One of my goals working at National Right to Life was, certainly, to get reporters to correct their mistakes, such as reporting for instance, as they did oh-so-often, that abortion was only legal for the first three months of pregnancy. But my more ambitious goal in pro-life communications was to develop relationships with reporters so that they would understand being pro-life didn’t equal “crazy,” and that it was important to cover the abortion issue with balance.
All those years back, the few of us working at that time to get the media to cover the abortion issue more fairly felt so very alone.
I still have somewhere (along with copies of the David Shaw series, thinking it might never be available again–thank you, Internet), a mean letter from a CNN reporter about how wrong I was about abortion; various other mean letters from reporters; memories of snide asides and comments from various reporters and editors, and other things I’ve tried to forget.
One time, a television reporter and his crew stayed in my office for what seemed like hours, and he kept bullying me. This was at a time–I don’t know if it still happens–when news reporters would go “quote shopping.” They’d pretty much have their story already written or sketched out on film, and they wanted a quote from an anti-abortion person, in this case saying something along the lines of blah blah blah a about women not being able to make a private decision. And they would ask you questions from all different angles to get you to say the quote they intended to plug into their story.
Keep in mind, I was a very young 20something; today I’d kick that idiot reporter out in about 3 minutes. He kept trying to get me to say on camera that a woman’s reproductive life should never be a private decision, (isn’t that what you really believe, he kept saying) and I just kept repeating that we believed in unborn children having a right to life, and that women deserve better than abortion. After he left I just burst into tears, it was so horrible.
I do have some good memories of working with a few reporters over the years who were professional and covered the issue fairly, even though they would admit they were pro-choice. But they were definitely the exception.
So when David Shaw contacted me to say he wanted to write about the media and abortion, I was ready with a lot of evidence. A funny memory I have from that time: one night, David Shaw took me and several other staffers from NRLC out to dinner. David was a total foodie and took us to a super fancy D.C. restaurant, and plied us with food and wine, perhaps hoping we would admit after all, that we didn’t really think the media was biased on abortion. (And I’m sure he did the same to the Planned Parenthood people, since he was talking to everyone on both sides, for so many months). But we stuck with our story.
When the series appeared, it was amazing. Finally–finally–a well-respected, Pulitzer-prize-winning, journalist agreed with what we had been saying for years, and wrote about media bias in a thorough piece.
I used to give talks at pro-life conventions and I would say, “I’ll be an old lady someday still talking about David Shaw’s series on media bias and abortion.” I would laugh. And I’m laughing now, since that series came out 23 years ago!!!
But here’s what’s interesting: I said years ago I’d be an old lady talking about the David Shaw series, but it turns out I’m not. Yes, I write about abortion here occasionally and even review books about the pro-life movement, but it’s not my work anymore. (Also, I’m not an old lady, but that’s for another day).
What is better: there are so, so many other people out there talking about this, and tweeting about this, and drawing attention to it. For goodness sake, there are skilled filmmakers who created 3801 Lancaster, a documentary about the Gosnell case. And I almost want to cry, and I wish I could travel back to my 20something self and say, “it will get better, I promise.”
Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when we had an issue with a coverage (or non-coverage) of a story, the best we could do was write a newspaper a letter, or cover it in our own pro-life newspapers, or complain to the editor. There was no way to call out a reporter on Twitter or Facebook, or start a Tweetstorm , or to do anything like what’s happening this week. And while I can be a little part of it (I put some things on Facebook and Twitter), it’s not my job anymore. It’s the job of tens of thousands of people who took it up, and it just feels amazing to see it happen before my eyes. And while I’m grateful to all those people, I can see that my vocation right now in pro-life work is prayer.
I wrote back when I reviewed Abby Johnson’s Unplanned:
Back in the day, I worked in public relations in the pro-life movement in Washington, DC. I wrote too many press releases to count (when we used the latest technology of faxing them to reporters), ate expense-account lunches with columnists, and did countless interviews.
Prayer. What else can change the heart?
This morning, I’ll be running a half-marathon. Since I picked up running again and doing longer races some years back, I began a tradition of dedicating and praying a mile of each race to a different intention–a family member or other loved one. The first time or two I did this, I would even text different family members to let them know (mile 8 for you and your family, sis!), but I don’t do that, since I’m usually trying to improve my time or otherwise focus on my run. Usually, one mile early in the race is for unborn children threatened by abortion, and last October I ran my second marathon as a LIFE Runner.
But today, I’m pretty sure most of my race will be run to pray about this whole mess–the horror of Kermit Gosnell and the women and babies he killed, the mainstream media and how blind they have been to this. But one big intention is to pray for a pretty huge tribe–all the those tweeting and blogging about this and who have brought this issue to the forefront. I don’t feel alone anymore, and I’m so grateful for that.