Don't call him an "abortionist," and other issues with coverage of the Tiller murder
The murder of Kansas physician George Tiller is a devastating and, unfortunately, perfect illustration of the stupid, hypocritical, blindered self-righteousness of the anti-choice movement. And just as painful as the news itself is seeing the variety of twists and dodges with which the mainstream media does—or doesn’t—cover it.
Let’s start with CNN, which I turned on this morning in hopes of seeing some on-site coverage from Wichita, where the man who shot and killed Tiller at his church Sunday morning was now in custody. What I got was a CNN anchor telling us that he’d show us footage of a press conference—but only for the 40 secords or so until the CEO of General Motors was ready to start his press conference, because god forbid GM’s bankruptcy declaration is shunted aside for even a minute. For crap’s sake, it’s only been months in coming, CNN. We didn’t really have to see every awkward twitch and hear every paper-rustle of this shocking-to-absolutely-no-one press conference, did we? Apparently, we did.
Then there’s the fact that headlines of major newspapers repeatedly referred to Tiller as an “abortionist” or “abortion doctor.” Yes, Tiller was one of the few physicians in the United States who performed late-term abortions to women whose pregnancies threatened either their own lives or those of their fetuses. And I know headlines need to pack a punch in a limited number of words. But reducing Tiller’s work to the word “abortionist” just buys into the antichoice fanaticism that equates “abortion” with “murder” and paints compassionate, humane people like Tiller as curette-wielding, manically-grinning baby killers—“doing Nazi stuff,” as self-appointed Tiller watchdog Bill O’Reilly has put it. Just substituting “abortion provider” could make all the difference in editorial tone and framing.
And finally, the reporting on the sham outrage of various pro-life figures. There’s just too much to parse here, but between Father Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life (“At this point, we do not know the motives of this act, or who is behind it….whether an angry post-abortive man or woman, or a misguided activist…”) and Operation Rescue founder and capo di tutti douchebag Randall Terry (“Unless some miracle happened, [Tiller] left this life with his hands drenched with the innocent blood of tens of thousands of babies that he murdered. Surely there will be a dreadful accounting for what he has done”) we’re in for a horrible week of anti-choice blameshifting. (Don’t you just love how Pavone slips in that “angry post-abortive man or woman” comment?) Less fanatical pro-life groups have come out to condemn the murder, of course, but headlines like the Washington Post's "Pro-Life Activist: Doctor 'Reaped What He Sowed'" (you'll need to register to read all that hatey goodness) don't do much to foreground them.
Former patients of Tiller’s, whose lives were saved by his procedures—procedures that I wish the mainstream media would do more to emphasize were medically necessary, emotionally and physically awful, and not in any way the result of a woman waking up at 30 weeks of pregnancy and saying, “Huh, you know, I don’t think I want this baby after all. Let’s get abortin’, doc Tiller!”—are speaking out at blogs like A Heartbreaking Choice and in the comments sections of news and blog stories. Let’s try and make sure that they get reprinted and circulated and made as central a part of this story’s coverage as are the smarmy, faux-concerned contributions of the Pavones, Terrys, and O’Reillys.
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