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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

What Tiller's murder tells us about the state of U.S. reporting

posted by bitchphd
A few days after his murder, people are finally starting to say smart things and do some actual, you know, reporting. Like this fabulous piece, which does an awesome job of refuting the first video in this post--not only the overt claim that Tiller's clinic was indifferent to the women it served, but the implied claim that late-term abortions provided to very young women are purely elective, as opposed to being--by law--medically indicated for, among other things, mental health reasons. Which, however dismissive O'Reilly or John McCain want to be about "women's health," I'm sorry, but a suicidal teenager is a serious thing, not an excuse to "kill babies" for fun.

But why wasn't something like that published when that O'Reilly video originally aired? Or rather, since I'm sure some blogger somewhere wrote something along those lines, why wasn't something like that published in a major media outlet?

Then there's this and this, two pieces by former anti-abortion protesters (one of whom, Frank Schaeffer, made an anti-abortion film that, by his account, he and later Surgeon General Koop shopped around to Fallwell and Reagan to convince them to oppose legal abortion. These two pieces alone are exponentially more valuable than all the "well, I guess if you really oppose abortion, it makes sense to kill someone" theorizing or debating whether or not "the right" or "the pro-life leadership" are "responsible."* Those two people have been there. They know that the movement deliberately uses apocalyptic and violent rhetoric, and that they do so, not to entertain, but deliberately to whip people up. Of course some people are going to get whipped up to murder.

And on that subject, I also found the NYT's piece about the shooter's background thought-provoking. Surely there is some research somewhere about the mental state of political paranoids--people who think that license plates are government oppression, that taxes are unconstitutional,** that Obama is a socialist. (I mean the people who really believe this shit, not the irresponsible blowhards that say it on the news in order to whip up the base.) There's some new talk about the DHS report warning of potential right-wing terrorism, now that Tiller's been shot, but where are the pieces--now, or then--countering the shrieks about how unfair this is with actual reporting about right-wing extremists? Not just what they do (remember all the reports about the Montana Freemen after the Okalahoma City Bombing?) but also any evidence or studies--not just wild speculation or implied condemnation like Blumenthal's video about gun shows, but actual research--about whether there's any correlation between political paranoia (as opposed to political hyperbole) and an actual propensity to violence?

I suppose I could do the research myself, but really, shouldn't someone at the Times or CBS or some other big organization--you know, the kind with money and trained reporters--be doing this shit instead of, oh, the kind of some say x, some say y "reporting" that I can do in my goddamn pajamas?

And finally, all of a sudden people are linking to or telling stories about the kind of abortions Tiller performed. Which is awesome. But those stories have been there all along, both on the feminist blogs and on memorial sites like the one linked at the beginning of this paragraph. They pop up occasionally in the big news outlets when there's a bill to outlaw intact dilation and extraction. But for the most part, it's easy for people like the woman telling that story to have "no idea that this happened to people," despite the efforts of organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL, because the big media can't be bothered to report them. Instead we get stories, week after week, about Modern Love or what's happening "On the Runway" or new trends like teenagers hugging or expensive remodelling projects.

I'm serious about this. "Style" sections are supposed to be soft news, for women, right? Why the hell *aren't* columns like "Modern Love" sometimes about late-term abortions? That's a women's issue. Everyone and their dog has an opinion about abortion; it's not as if people wouldn't read those stories. And publishing them might help people like Andrew Sullivan, who are intellectually honest but think they "cannot . . . support" late-term abortion, to "reassess" their "certainties and beliefs"--beliefs formed in the abstract, rather than after actually learning facts about the issue.

It would be really nice if Tiller's murder led some reporters to find some of the stories and sites where this kind of information is available, or to go out and put together information that isn't yet available. I don't think there's any chance of a major change, but god I hope that maybe half-a-dozen journalists are a little bit more aware that there are real news stories to be written on the subject, not just lazy-ass opinion pieces.

* In saying that, though, I think about the arguments in favor of banning, say, video games that crop up whenever there's a school shooting.

** I actually know and admire someone who assures me that legally one doesn't have to pay taxes--although he does, he says, because even though the law's on your side, the system isn't and you'll go to jail anyway. And I don't think this person is crazy or unstable in any way, just like I don't think that anti-vaccination people are crazy or unstable. It's possible to be entirely sane and be convinced of misinformation. But people who seem to structure their lives around a conspiracy theory, or who seem to collect such theories, are surely a little nuts.

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