A media field day

Mona Charen

March 17, 1993|By Mona Charen

AS SOON as I heard that a doctor who performed abortions had been murdered in Florida, I felt a sinking sensation in my stomach. I was sorry for the doctor and his family, but also, I knew that the media were going to have a field day.

I couldn't have imagined how bad it was really going to be.

First came the parade of kooks. The major networks poked around in the fever swamps looking for "pro-life" spokesmen who would condone the murder. They found some. These zealots -- usually inarticulate boobs representing pro-life organizations few have heard of -- were pitted against mainstream pro-choice spokesmen. The pro-choicers were thus given a perfect platform from which to insinuate that all pro-life activists were variants of Michael Griffin (the alleged gunman).

Where were the mainstream pro-life organizations? Surely it was essential to their credibility to condemn the murder! Nancy Myers, of National Right to Life, told me of her frustration at being unable to get out her group's message. Her organization, like all the major pro-life groups, issued prompt and severe condemnations of the shooting. But the major media froze them out of its reporting.

It was therefore with considerable relief that Ms. Myers took a call from "Nightline," the day after the shooting, asking for someone to appear on the program that night. Ms. Myers told the producers how happy she was to be invited, since NRTL had been receiving calls all day from grass-roots pro-life activists, demanding to know why the shooting hadn't been condemned. At 9:30 p.m., Nightline called back to cancel. They had gotten some lay preacher from Florida (who conveniently turned out to be a former member of the Ku Klux Klan) to appear instead.

While the major media presented the pro-life movement as a collection of shrieking zealots who would condone even murder in the service of their cause, columnists and editorialists were training their guns on anyone who has ever entertained doubts about abortion. You, too, they said, are responsible for the death of Dr. David Gunn.

New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis [Other Voices, March 15], after quoting one fringe pro-lifer after another, came to the desired target: "It has to be added that Ronald Reagan and George Bush bear responsibility too. In their political embrace of the anti-abortion movement . . . they nourished extremism." A New York Times editorial echoed the point, accusing Presidents Reagan and Bush of "implicitly" encouraging violence by their "unwavering support for anti-abortion protest" and their "noisy commitment to overturning Roe vs. Wade."

Columnist Ellen Goodman was a little more subtle. "The right-to-life movement was surely no more to blame for the death of Dr. Gunn than Muslims were for the bombing at the World Trade Center," she wrote equably. That said, Ms. Goodman went on to quote a series of extremists, like the protester in Florida who reportedly said, "Praise God, one of the baby killers is dead," to urge the point that at least some segments of the pro-life movement are to blame when a lone gunman pulls the trigger.

In 1970, a group of anti-Vietnam War activists blew up a research center at the University of Wisconsin, killing a graduate student. At the time, some attempted to indict the entire anti-war movement for murder, but it didn't wash. In 1856, in the Kansas territory, anti-slavery activist John Brown seized four unsuspecting pro-slavery settlers and, with their wives and children looking on, opened their skulls with a broadsword. His barbarism did not invalidate or discredit the anti-slavery movement -- not then, not since.

The unseemly eagerness with which so many in the pro-choice movement seized on this murder as an opportunity to defame those who oppose abortion is an outrage. The truth is, Kate Michaelman and Co. would be delighted if the whole pro-life movement consisted of villains like Michael Griffin. It's the reverent appeal to conscience that unnerves them.

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.

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