David Harsanyi / June 20, 2013

The Media’s Shameful Coverage of the Abortion Debate

Here’s what we know about the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban most abortions after 20 weeks: The Associated Press tells us that the “GOP-led House on Tuesday passed a far-reaching anti-abortion bill.” But don’t worry, Politico adds. It is “largely symbolic: The bill will be dead on arrival in the Senate.” All well and good – and maybe even true – but consider this: When the Gang of Eight immigration bill finally passes the Senate and the House refuses to take it up, will Politico or any other mainstream news outlet refer to the matter as “largely symbolic”? Have any of the president’s many doomed agenda items been treated similarly? Hardly.

Here’s what we know about the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban most abortions after 20 weeks: The Associated Press tells us that the “GOP-led House on Tuesday passed a far-reaching anti-abortion bill.” But don’t worry, Politico adds. It is “largely symbolic: The bill will be dead on arrival in the Senate.”

All well and good – and maybe even true – but consider this: When the Gang of Eight immigration bill finally passes the Senate and the House refuses to take it up, will Politico or any other mainstream news outlet refer to the matter as “largely symbolic”? Have any of the president’s many doomed agenda items been treated similarly? Hardly.

Congress, as you’ve heard, does nothing – by which the media mean that Congress does nothing that the Beltway finds terribly significant. The assumption is embedded and codified in coverage. Bias isn’t explicit or concerted; it’s about a worldview’s dictating coverage. Immigration bills inspire journalists to find victims who are living in the shadows; abortion bills inspire them to dredge D.C. in hopes of finding some anti-science quackery – a project that invariably unearths a helpful Republican.

But if we were really looking for Todd Akin-level twaddle on abortion, we wouldn’t have to look further than Nancy Pelosi, whose brainy insights make Miss Utah sound like William F. Buckley. It’s one thing to be unable to articulate a moral distinction between baby killer Kermit Gosnell and a standard late-term abortion – maybe there is none – but it’s quite another to claim that the Republican bill “would make it a federal law that there would be no abortion in our country” (a lie) or claim that you’re unable to discuss the morality of dismembering a viable 30-week-old fetus because it is on “sacred ground.” Outside the conservative media (the question was asked by The Weekly Standard’s John McCormack), Pelosi’s incoherence was hardly worthy of discussion.

So some things matter, and other things most definitely do not. The Democrats’ ill-fated gun restriction push was never a “symbolic effort” or “far-reaching,” was it? Coverage of the Newtown, Conn., shootings – though it often had a fitting level of outrage, horror and sadness – was almost immediately turned into a debate over gun control. The Gosnell horror, when covered (which was sporadically), was sequestered from any broader discussion about morality or science or regulations or reform – or anything other than the crime itself.

You will also, no doubt, remember that nearly every piece you read about gun control recently informed you that polls found large majority numbers of Americans – the president claimed that 90 percent of Americans supported him – in favor of expanded background checks. What you may not have heard is that Gallup (and many others) consistently find that strong majorities of Americans oppose not only third-trimester abortions but second-trimester abortions, as well.

That is the reason, of course, that coverage tends to conflate all positions on abortion – throwing together those who believe that 22-week-old fetuses can feel pain and those who believe that a woman can avoid pregnancy while being raped if she prays hard enough – so they can focus on the all-important political implications (hint: terrible for Republicans) of a debate they’re already distorting. It’s a lot easier to file the entire thing under “Troglodytes and the War on Women.”

So Republicans will play the obstructionists (not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you), too busy building fortifications against progress to do anything useful but waste our time with another abortion bill. And though polls may show that gun control and immigration are also regarded as some of the least important problems facing Americans, those issues will be treated with the reverence that the Beltway press corps knows they deserve.

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