Reporter asks for more balance in abortion coverage lest pro-lifers stay with Trump

By Dave Andrusko

Tip of the hat to Terry Mattingly of Getreligion.org. He alerted his readers to an intriguing piece (on many levels) written by Peggy Wehmeyer for the pro-abortion to the hilt Dallas Morning News.

The title of her post is, “If journalists would cover abortion with impartiality, maybe they could gain the trust of Trump voters.”

Mattingly keenly observes, “Here we go again — taking a valid news topic and trying to hook it to Donald Trump.” Pro-lifers’ unhappiness with the Major Media didn’t start in 2016. It preceded the election of President Trump by 40 or 50 years, so why not just tackle the issue of media bias and whether covering abortion fairly would lessen the distrust of conservatives in general, pro-lifers in particular?

That aside, let’s tackle her essay, written by a woman who eons ago was selected by the late Peter Jennings to cover “religion full-time for ABC News.” (The in-house response to her fair treatment was “anger and intense newsroom opposition,” Mattingly explains.)

Wehmeyer begins with the ritualistic denunciation of President Trump before she asks the key question—why do so many people share his distrust of the major media, especially his charge of “fake news”—and what can journalists do to regain their trust?

As you may remember, there was some of that “what just happened”? response from the media after Trump’s unimaginable (to them) victory in 2016. That lasted about ten minutes.

Wehmeyer’s preliminary answer to regaining trust is for journalists to reach “the same level of soul-searching and self-correction that occurred after the media was blindsided by Trump’s 2016 victory.”

Understanding that Wehmeyer uses White Evangelicals as a stand in for all pro-lifers in general, she writes

A simple fix might start with greater balance when it comes to coverage of abortion, one of the most volatile issues in this campaign and the one closest to an evangelical’s heart. If evangelicals heard their moral angst over abortion clearly articulated in the media, I’m convinced they’d be far less likely to consider journalists their enemies.

But having made that call for fairer, less pejorative coverage, the bulk of her post demonstrates why that is highly unlikely, if not impossible. I’ll explain as we go along.

For context, she goes back to those 20 years she covered “the kinds of Americans who put Trump in the White House. My job was to pay attention to what moves and motivates them, listen to their concerns and give them a fair voice on prime-time news. Jennings recruited me from WFAA [a Dallas television station] because he thought journalists were out of touch with Americans who practice their faith.”

Alas, she writes, “I’m afraid things have only gotten worse. It’s as if journalists and evangelical Christians belong to two different tribes — on opposite sides of almost every volatile political and social debate. None so explosive as abortion.”

After a side trip down memory lane to 2016–and Hillary Clinton’s support for third trimester abortions, a position shared by a tiny percentage of the population–and a comment about how all of this year’s crop of Democrats running for president “supports abortion rights through the third trimester,” Wehmeyer offers three suggestions for how journalists can “rebuild trust with millions of Americans who feel marginalized by the national media.”

Paraphrased and summarized, they would be

1. Getting ideological diversity in the newsroom; i.e., “Educate reporters, without prejudice, about them. [the 60 million Evangelical Christians]. Better still, hire a few.”

2. “Watch out for balance and bias in abortion coverage.” Better put, end the horrific, negative slurs of pro-lifers we find regularly in places like the New York Times, and can we have something more honest than a “cluster of cells” description of unborn children?

3. “Don’t frame abortion stories solely with a political lens.” That is, offer some appreciation of what motivates pro-lifers.

Evangelicals and other Americans for whom faith matters need reassurance that journalists provide a trustworthy and honorable public service, with a powerful tool — a flashlight. When we shine that light without partiality, the public gains the knowledge, insight and understanding to become better citizens and better-informed voters.

When it comes to reporting on abortion, I worry that like the Democratic Party, whose candidates appear to march in ideological lockstep, some of us have dropped our flashlights and picked up hammers.

Wehmeyer’s conclusion is a hoot. She’s been telling us for hundreds of words how reporters mock, deride, and minimize the humanity not only of unborn children but also of their supporters — and that reporters “appear to march in ideological lockstep.”

That makes us putty in the hands of Trump, who continues to build his dangerous narrative about an evil, treasonous media. And the people I used to cover are buying it.

Ah, yes, they do, for the very reasons you’ve nicely summarized: because it’s true. Wehmeyer ends

I wonder what would happen if we reported on their concerns with more dignity and respect. Maybe they would challenge the president, instead of us. We’re running out of time.

Chances of that happening? My first impulse is to say zero. But as I have alluded, the obvious subtext of Wehmeyer’s post is that if those Evangelicals/pro-lifers stay with Trump in 2020, it will be much harder for a Democrat to win. So we may—may—see an occasional piece that conveys some of the “moral angst” that drives pro-lifers to devote much of their own lives to saying the lives of unborn babies.

But I wouldn’t bet the family farm that this “dignity and respect” meme is sustained (if it ever happens), or that any significant percentage of reporters will even bother to try to understand us.

Why would they? They don’t like us, and overwhelmingly they agree with Hillary Clinton that we are prime candidates for, if not the chief occupants of, her “basket of deplorables.”