Grade D: Local Media Coverage of Planned Parenthood Rally
All four area television stations and the Cincinnati Enquirer covered Tuesday’s #WomenBetrayed Rally at the Cincinnati Planned Parenthood abortion center — at least in passing. But even the best of the coverage (by Channel 5) was poor.
All four stations noted that the Cincinnati hosted a rally, and most noted that rallies were held in “dozens” of cities across the country. None mentioned that rallies were held in 65 cities, that they were organized nationally by a coalition of pro-life groups led by Students for Life of America, or that the Cincinnati rally was also held by a coalition of more than a dozen pro-life groups. None mentioned even the organizing group, Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati.
None mentioned that the rally had a 45-minute program featuring a radio personality MC and nine speakers, much less that they represented Cincinnati and Dayton Right to Life, 40 Days for Life prayer vigils, student and young adult pro-life groups, and crisis pregnancy centers; and included a state representative, a pro-life attorney, and a Catholic priest. None interviewed any of the organizers or speakers. None gave an accurate count of participants (almost 500 by the end of the rally, despite sweltering heat and a severe shortage of parking spots — which none of the stations mentioned either). Planned Parenthood was not speaking to the media, although the abortion business did allow news reporters inside its fenced lawn to film, but rally organizers and speakers were available to the press. None were approached for interviews.
“No media approached me to ask me questions,” said Dayton Right to Life’s Margie Christie, who was among the speakers. “I said hello to several and even commented on the heat — they seemed uninterested. It seems though they came wanting to see confrontation though, not really reporting the story.”
Counting protesters — and counter-protesters
Several news reports attempted to make the size of the rally and of a counter-protest by Planned Parenthood supporters (outnumbered two to one when the rally began — and by almost eight to one by the rally’s end) seem nearly equal. Only one, Channel 5, gave a clear explanation for what sparked the rally in the first place. Several mentioned “a video” that had been released and that Planned Parenthood claimed was “heavily edited” by “abortion extremists.”
“From my vantage point, although at least two media outlets were present, local television coverage missed the story entirely,” said 40 Days for Life Cincinnati coordinator Mary Clark, also among the speakers. “This is typical of coverage over the years whenever a public rally or prayer event takes place at Planned Parenthood. Local media ignores the Greater Cincinnati pro-life community, one of the most active pro-life areas of the country.
“You would think that this being the home of two of the founders of the pro-life movement, Dr. John and Mrs. Barbara Willke, the media would take a greater interest in those who are carrying on their legacy.”
Local television coverage ranged from fair (Channel 5) to poor (Channel 9) to nearly non-existent (Channel 19, although a reporter and cameraman were on site, and Channel 12, which sent no one).
Channel 5 coverage fairest, still biased
Channel 5 provided a fairly balanced story, though it left out some key points, including that the rally was one of many around the country. The story did show two quick shots of the crowd more than halfway through the rally, when it had grown to several hundred, although the close-up shots were taken earlier when the crowd was much smaller. The reporter summarized the undercover video story fairly well and called rally participants “pro-lifers” rather than “anti-choice” or “anti-abortion,” but the story also showed more shots of Planned Parenthood supporters than rally attendees, and signs and included a longer interview with a Planned Parenthood supporter (not wearing a pink t-shirt and so, apparently, not part of the organized protesters, who said they were not allowed to speak to media) than with the lone rally attendeed interviewed. Both the signs and the supporter said that the pro-life movement wanted to keep women from getting healthcare, an absurd statement that the interviewers did not challenge.
Channel 9’s early coverage said that “dozens” of protesters were at the rally and implied that the crowds of pro-life protesters and Planned Parenthood supporters were about equal. The reporter on-scene actually remarked excitedly that “you can see HOW BIG turnout was on BOTH SIDES of this issue!!” in a shot filmed before the rally began, when only about 120 pro-life participants had arrived — still twice as many as Planned Parenthood supporters. Most of the story was about the political ramifications of “a video” and whether or not funding for Planned Parenthood would be affected. The late news story was much shorter and included a shot clearly showing more than 100 people on the sidewalk across the street from the building, where the anchor said “more than 100 people” had protested. A short interview with an attendee correctly identified the purpose of the rally (funding) but the anchor also said the rally was sparked by “a video released several weeks ago” and that Planned Parenthood called it “heavily edited and misleading”
Channel 12 covered the rally at the state house in Columbus, mentioning that it was one of many around the country “including one here.” It also mentioned the videos, which it described only as depicting Planned Parenthood staff “talking about fetal tissue donation in graphic terms.”
The only station to run a story on a third undercover video being released that morning, Channel 19 did not mention the local rally. Although it included clips from the video, it quoted Planned Parenthood as saying that the videos are “highly edited” and made by “militant anti-abortion extremists who took the conversation [in one video] out of context.”
The Cincinnati Enquirer sent a photographer but not a reporter, and included only a photo in its print edition. In contrast, last week the newspaper devoted most of its local news front page and all of an inside page to photos of the double wedding of two same-sex couples.
The web edition included ran a story on legislators and possible funding cuts to Planned Parenthood, illustrated with three photos from the rally: a small one showing both rally participants and Planned Parenthood supporters (taken toward the beginning of the rally, when many participants were still looking for parking spots, but identifying the rally as having about 300 participants), a small closeup of a sleeping baby held by her tattooed father, and a large photo of Planned Parenthood supporters — giving the impression that on-site support for Planned Parenthood was far larger than it was and rally support much smaller than it was.
The story quoted a spokeswoman from NARAL saying that funding cuts were sought by “anti-choice extremists” who wanted to limit healthcare for women, a statement the reporter did not challenge.
Catholic Telegraph reporter John Stegeman (read his story here), who live-Tweeted the rally, applied for permission to photograph behind the Planned Parenthood gate but, after being told someone would “get back to him,” was denied entry. After he tweeted that Planned Parenthood would not allow him in with the rest of the media, he received permission.
Stegeman, who works for what can be considered a publication with a pro-life slant, wrote a story contained all the journalist mainstays of accurate counting of both the rally participants and counter-protesters, background information, and lists of speakers and both national and local participating organizations. Inaccurate reporting, he said, fails the public.
“Coverage of these events is critical to the mission of the press, which is a reporting on the issues of the day and the dialogues going on in our communities,” he said. “Fairly reporting that 500 people turned out on a blazing Tuesday afternoon to support the pro-life cause and only 65 showed up to oppose it allows people to draw their own conclusions.”
Christie said she doesn’t expect accurate reporting on pro-life issues. “My position on the media is to expect little and if you get something — it’s a good day,” she said.
Clark urged pro-life viewers to call television newsrooms. “This is not a small story,” she said. “It is important that media give accurate coverage of the pro-life movement because this is the civil rights movement of our time. I want to urge everyone who was at the rally yesterday to call Channel 19 and Channel 12 and ask why no coverage of the Women Betrayed Rally was on the news.”
Photos © Gail Deibler Finke
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