pro-life

Free-speech protests in Boston: How many points of view, on left and right, made it into news?

Free-speech protests in Boston: How many points of view, on left and right, made it into news?

To be honest, I'm still working through the emotions and, at times, confusion that poured out the other day in the Crossroads podcast that ran with this headline: "Your depressing 'think' podcast: Faith, hate and details that mattered in Charlottesville."

I want to make sure that readers know how much of a challenge hard-news reporters face covering massive protests at street level, as opposed to the angle used by members of the chattering classes as they sit in studio chairs in Washington, D.C., and New York City (and a few other hives).

Take the demonstration the other day in Boston. How many different points of view did you have to understand to explain to the public what appeared to happen there?

First: Let's mention the religion angle. I became interested in this "Free Speech Rally" because of the involvement of some pro-life, or anti-abortion, demonstrators. They were there as part of the coalition that put the event together for the expressed purpose of (a) standing up for the free-speech rights of conservatives outside the media mainstream and, at the same time, (b) to condemn the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville. I think it's safe to say that religious faith is central to the story of the pro-life demonstrators.

According to reporter Garrett Haake of MSNBC, this small circle of demonstrators faced some pushy, some would say violent, opposition from the left. The quote from Haake's tweet:

These protests rarely end pretty. Antifa folks just mobbed some anti-abortion protestors w/ posters. Yelled & tore posters til cops came

Kudos, by the way, to MSNBC for reporting that information.

So we have some pro-lifers, we have some Antifa folks. Who else is there? Let's pause for a moment and look at the top of an ABC News report on this drama. I thought this passage -- which is a bit long -- was especially crucial:

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Obviously, journalists needed (trigger warning) to let Nat Hentoff speak for himself

Obviously, journalists needed (trigger warning) to let Nat Hentoff speak for himself

If you really want to understand why the First Amendment radical Nat Hentoff was so controversial -- I mean, other than that whole Jewish, atheist, civil libertarian, left-wing, pro-lifer thing -- then what you really need to do is spend some time reading (or listening to) to the man.

That will do the trick. So watch the video at the top of this post. And hold that thought.

In this week's Crossroads podcast (click here to tune that in), host Todd Wilkens and I talked about the difficulty that some elite news organizations had -- in their obituaries for this complex man -- managing to, well, let Hentoff be Hentoff.

As our launching point, we used the passage in my earlier GetReligion post about Hentoff -- "RIP Nat Hentoff: How did press handle his crusade against illiberals, on left and right?" -- that argued:

... (T)hree pieces of Hentoff's life and work that must be mentioned in these pieces. First, of course, there is his status as a legendary writer about jazz, one of the great passions of his life. Second, you need to discuss why he was consistently pro-life. Note the "why" in that sentence. Third, you have to talk about his radical and consistent First Amendment views -- he defended voices on left and right -- and how those convictions eventually turned him into a heretic (symbolized by The Village Voice firing him) for post-liberal liberals who back campus speech codes, new limits on religious liberty, etc.

To my shock, Wilken ended the podcast session -- with about 90 seconds to go -- by asking me the three essential themes that would have to be included in an obituary for, well, Terry Mattingly. Talk about a curve ball question! You can listen to the podcast to hear my rushed answer to that one.

Like I said earlier, anyone writing about Hentoff has decades of material to quote, if the goal is to let the man speak for himself. Journalists tend to produce lots of on-the-record material.

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On abortion, last Trump-Hillary debate was no contest, saith the Washington Post

On abortion, last Trump-Hillary debate was no contest, saith the Washington Post

How can you tell the viewpoint of a book or movie? Common wisdom says it's usually in the longest, most eloquent speech of the story.

I don’t pretend to know the innermost thoughts of anyone at the Washington Post. But with its sort-of news article on the state of the anti-abortion movement after the last Trump-Hillary debate, it could sure look that way.

The article reports the disarray of the anti-abortion movement after that debate. Donald Trump's assertion that later-term abortion requires doctors to "rip the baby out of the womb" has dismayed pro-lifers and, they fear, set back their painstaking progress:

Earlier this year, he suggested that women who have abortions should be punished, a position he later reversed. His campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, said in a recent interview with the New Yorker that the remark was "a great example of him just undoing decades of work where we worked really hard."
And Wednesday, in a nationally televised debate, he criticized his opponent for wanting women to have access to a procedure in which, he said, doctors "rip the baby out of the womb . . . just prior to the birth" — a crude description of abortions that he claimed occur late in pregnancy.
"Politically, we’re on defense," said Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League. "There are some really serious things at stake in this election, and we’ve seen the legislation we fought hard for being rolled back by the Supreme Court."

First, some praise for the Post. It gets deeper into the pro-life movement than any secular news story I've ever seen. It quotes veterans like Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League, and Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America. And it shows some respect, with a lack of bias adjectives and sarcasm quotes.

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For news media, Kaine is a 'Pope Francis Catholic,' other than all that moral doctrine stuff

For news media, Kaine is a 'Pope Francis Catholic,' other than all that moral doctrine stuff

Look at it this way: When it comes to the death penalty, The New York Times is to the left of Sen. Tim Kaine. That appears to have been the key factor in producing a rather nuanced news feature on Kaine that, for many liberal Democrats, may be a sobering read.

Then again, maybe not. The message of the Times story("On Death Penalty Cases, Tim Kaine Revealed Inner Conflict") appears to be that Kaine is a strong Catholic, but when push comes to shove he gives voters what they want. That may comfort Democrats on the left, since the nation (or the courts at least) appear to be swing their way on moral and social issues.

The key -- according to the contents of this story -- is that Kaine's Catholic faith is right where the Times editorial page would want it (other than on the death penalty). It's in his heart and in his campaign ads.

That whole "be doers of the word, and not hearers only" thing? Not so much.

Before we move on, let me confess (once again) that I am a pro-life Democrat who -- believing that life is sacred from conception to natural death -- is opposed to the death penalty. Kaine is, or was, the kind of Democrat who once gave me hope that there might be ways to at least compromise on the hot-button moral issues that have dominated American politics most of my life.

The point of that Times piece is that Kaine remains that guy -- in appearance. That's why Hillary Clinton picked him. But read carefully:

For Mr. Kaine, now a senator and Hillary Clinton’s newly named running mate, no issue has been as fraught politically or personally as the death penalty. His handling of capital punishment reveals a central truth about Mr. Kaine: He is both a man of conviction and very much a politician, a man of unshakable faith who nonetheless recognizes -- and expediently bends to, his critics suggest -- the reality of the Democratic Party and the state he represents.
He opposes both abortion and the death penalty, he has said, because “my faith teaches life is sacred.” Yet he strongly supports a woman’s right to choose and has a 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood. And Mr. Kaine presided over 11 executions as governor, delaying some but granting clemency only once.

Note that 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood. Now read on:

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Euphemism in the news? We debate 'abortion care' terminology in front-page report

Euphemism in the news? We debate 'abortion care' terminology in front-page report

My friend and former colleague Kenna Griffin loves to "talk nerdy" about the intricacies of journalism.

That description probably fits GetReligion's behind-the-scenes discussion over two words that appeared in a Sunday front-page story in The Oklahoman — the Oklahoma City metropolitan daily where Kenna and I both used to work.

A question from reader Brandon Dutcher sparked the dialogue by our team:

You doubtless saw The Oklahoman’s front-page story on the new abortion clinic coming to Oklahoma City. One sentence in particular jumped out at me: “Burkhart did not get involved in women's rights work to provide abortion care in underserved communities — but that's where life led.”
Am I being overly sensitive here, or is the phrase “abortion care” inappropriate for a straight news story? Why not just say “provide abortions”?
My Orwellian alarm bells are going off, but I’m curious to know if anyone else sees anything amiss here.

A little background: I wrote a recent post praising an earlier Oklahoman story on the planned facility by religion editor Carla Hinton. The Sunday story about which Brandon inquired was written by Carla, a friend with whom I worked for nine years, and Jaclyn, a health reporter of whom I am a big fan. (In other words, these are not people I am in a hurry to criticize.)

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Why is The Atlantic surprised that early pro-lifers were, uh, liberals?

Why is The Atlantic surprised that early pro-lifers were, uh, liberals?

It always amuses me when a large magazine discovers something about the religious world or culture wars issues that many of us have known about for decades.

Recently, the Atlantic made the surprise discovery that the pro-life movement had some liberal founders. The piece, by Emma Green, is actually a book review of “Defenders of the Unborn,” by University of West Georgia professor Daniel Williams. You may remember Williams from his 2012 book “God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right.” This time around, he’s come out with a tome reminding people that it was the left that first opposed abortion.

The Atlantic's treatment has considerable less snark than a similar New York Times review last month that assumed readers were liberals who can't imagine how someone reasonable could oppose abortion. But it does have some gaps. It starts thus:

Ronald Reagan. Barry Goldwater. George Wallace. These men probably won’t be featured on pro-choice pamphlets any time soon, but during at least some point in their political careers, the Moral Majority-era president, conservative stalwart, and infamous segregationist all favored the legalization of abortion. In the four decades since the Supreme Court decided Roe vs. Wade, the political debate over abortion in America has become stale and polarized, with two sides utterly divided and little change in public opinion. But in the years leading up to Roe, many people’s views on abortion didn’t fit neatly into either liberal or conservative ideology. In fact, early anti-abortion activists viewed their cause as a struggle for civil and human rights, of a piece with social programs like the New Deal and the Great Society.
In a new book, "Defenders of the Unborn," the historian Daniel K. Williams looks at the first years of the self-described pro-life movement in the United States, focusing on the long-overlooked era before Roe. It’s somewhat surprising that the academy hasn’t produced such a history before now, although Williams says that’s partially because certain archives have only recently opened. But the gap in scholarship is also partly due to the difficulty of putting abortion into a single intellectual framework.

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Keeping up: Journalism word games, slogans, euphemisms and misdirections

Keeping up: Journalism word games, slogans, euphemisms and misdirections

Journalists’ need to nurture professional skepticism should apply to the latest partisan lingo.

Examples from showbiz and advertising are legion. Are drivers of cars other than Subarus unloving? If a TV drama announces that the events and characters are totally fictional, the viewer automatically thinks “this story must be about real events and characters. Otherwise why the disclaimer?”  

Public discourse on politics, morals and religion is full of such word games, slogans, euphemisms and carefully calculated misdirections. 

In politics, during the Great Depression conservatives coined a classic still with us, the “right to work law,” which actually means the “right to refuse union membership or dues-paying,” and in reality “the right to have a weak union.” Ask your Guild rep. The Jan. 17 New York Times Magazine ran down the ways different eras have proudly embraced or shunned “progressive” and “liberal.”  “Left-leaning” becomes cautious journalistic usage when “liberal” is a slur. Has “socialist” suddenly become benign now that 43 percent of Iowa Democrats accept that label? 

In other up-to-the-minute canons, oppressive-sounding “gun control” is now “gun safety.” Insurgent Tea Party favorite Marco Rubio is magically an “establishment” candidate. In current campaign speak, “amnesty” means whatever immigration policy the other guy wants -- or used to want.  Newswriters are now expected to replace “illegal” immigrant with “undocumented.” 

Turning to moral and sexual conflicts, the Stylebook from The Religion Guy’s former Associated Press colleagues has this stumble (unless it’s been corrected in the latest edition):  “Use anti-abortion instead of pro-life and abortion rights instead of pro-abortion or pro-choice.”

My take: "Anti" sounds negative while “rights” is positive for Americans. Better for journalists to use parallel terms that leaders on the two sides accept as their labels, “pro-life” vs. “pro-choice,” admitting that the latter skirts what action is being chosen. Meanwhile, conservatives borrow that helpful “choice” slogan when it comes to schools.

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