How PR attempt against Life Marchers played out at MSNBC

Earlier this week, I looked at how a PR push from a progressive group called Faith in Public Life, which attempted to distract from the annual human rights march in defense of unborn children, became a New York Times article. I got a lot of feedback on that piece, and I appreciate all of the kind words about it. I also got quite a bit of feedback from people who suggested I was naive to think this was surprising or noteworthy -- as if this is just standard operating behavior from the media. I was the media critic who had a hard time believing that Faith in Public Life would simultaneously run a PR campaign suggesting that the Catholic bishops were being too political when they fought for religious liberty and a PR campaign for a hyper-political anti-Paul Ryan bus tour featuring a couple of nuns. I further found it impossible to believe that the media would swallow both campaigns whole without even mentioning that these were both highly funded and savvy PR campaigns from a group with tons of connections to the Obama campaign. (Why do journalists always like to claim they're about afflicting the comfortable or speaking truth to power? I don't see it as much as they do.)

Anywho, I get the criticism that I was naive to be surprised or outraged by this press release being transposed into the pages of the New York Times but (and, as Pee Wee Herman says, everyone he knows has a big "but"), this really was a particularly egregious example of the larger problems the media have in covering the pro-life movement. To that end, you may be heartened to know that more than a few reporters wrote me to say that while they respect the Times' journalism, they didn't support this approach and they would encourage fellow reporters to be more skeptical of some PR campaigns (however much we all rely on them for stories).

So let's move on. Above is an interview of a pro-life activist done by MSNBC. I know, I know -- MSNBC. But this isn't one of that cable outlets opinion shows. MSNBC, as to be expected, perhaps, also pushed the "if you're really pro-life, why not gun control" messaging from the savvy PR group. (One wonders why people who support gun control are never asked by reporters about scalpel and curettage control or other tools of violence used in abortion. Why did this question only move one way last week? Why not both ways? Hmmm.)

My transcript of the above video interview by MSNBC's Craig Melvin of Ryan Bomberger:

Melvin: Do you agree that anti-abortion activists, groups and politicians also have a moral commitment to also join the fight for stricter gun control?




Bomberger: Well, the pro-life movement is involved in so many different aspects of elevating human dignity. It's not just about the issue of protecting the life of the unborn, of the innocent child.

And when you look at that issue, If we're supposed to address every single issue that can be tied to the life issue. You look at the issue of slavery. We never would have abolished slavery if we had to worry about, you know, home, we had to worry about health care, we had to worry about jobs and all those things. We were worried about the injustice of slavery. There was a laser focus of the injustice of slavery.

Some of these discussions are really distractions because the injustice of abortion is worthy enough --

Melvin: The gun control debate is a distraction! Did you say the gun control debate is a distraction?

Bomberger: I don't think the two are comparable. When you are talking about innocent life in the womb. I mean, if we're not willing to protect life in the womb, it devalues life after it comes into this world. So the issue of gun control, when we're talking about 1.2 million abortions a year, they're not the same thing.

One of the reasons why we launched was to talk about how the epidemic of abortion in the black community. Sixty percent of black pregnancies in NYC are aborted. Sixty percent. More black babies are aborted in New York City then born alive.

Melvin: I have to say, you questioned our numbers earlier, I'm going to have to question your numbers there. I have not seen that poll -- before I let you go, I do want to ask you one more thing ...

Interesting exchange. But I want to highlight that last part. Bomberger says that 60 percent of unborn black children are aborted in New York City, Melvin says he's going to "have to question your numbers there." He ties it back to how Bomberger pointed out some errors in previous ways that Melvin discussed pro-life and pro-choice sentiment.

So let's do a little fact checking:

New York City has the highest abortion rates in the nation – nearly double the national average of 23%.

According to the most recent statistics, just made available by the New York City Department of Health:

* There were 208,541 pregnancies in New York City in 2010.  They resulted in 124,791 live births and 83,750 abortions, a 40% abortion rate.

* Among non-Hispanic blacks there were far more abortions than births, 38,574 to 26,635, or 60%.   So for every 1,000 African-American babies born, 1,448 were aborted.

Isn't it interesting what stories and data points the media choose to tell in their coverage of abortion and which they are -- willfully or otherwise -- completely ignorant of?

Melvin doesn't "have" to question numbers that are easily obtained and have been reported on outside of his network. Instead, perhaps he could familiarize himself with his interviewee's work or just ask him for substantiation.

Still, at least MSNBC brought the PR campaign out for a healthier discussion than we saw at The New York Times.

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