Another media coverup

A noteworthy confession puts the spotlight on lazy reporters

Issue: "Beijing Marches On," March 15, 1997

President Bill Clinton has taken a great deal of heat--and properly so--for his brazen 1995 veto of the bill outlawing the so-called partial-birth abortion procedure. But it's worth asking whether primary blame rests with the president. If the mainstream media in America hadn't participated so lazily in the big lie about partial-birth abortion, even Mr. Clinton's vaunted political skills couldn't have let him get away with that one.

All this is coming to light now with the candid admission by pro-abortionist Ron Fitzsimmons that he was, in his own words, "lying through [his] teeth" when he supported Mr. Clinton with public arguments that the partial-birth abortion procedure is used only a few hundred times a year and is limited to cases of severe deformity and hardship. Mr. Fitzsimmons is executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers. In the March 3 American Medical News he acknowledges that the horrible procedure is employed thousands of times, not hundreds, and that it is regularly used to destroy healthy babies simply because of their mothers' whims.

"The abortion-rights folks know it," Mr. Fitzsimmons said, "the anti-abortion folks know it, and so, probably, does everyone else."

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It's that last "probably" that deserves a closer look. My guess is that most Americans don't know what they should have known. Especially in the context of acknowledging his earlier falsehood, Mr. Fitzsimmons's claim that "everyone knows" is a little gratuitous.

Why should the American public know the facts when the medical establishment, the country's top political leader, and the mainstream news media all gang up to keep them in the dark?

All three entities are culpable in the matter--but of the three, the news media are most to be faulted. You might expect a professional group (like the American Medical Association) or a politician (like Bill Clinton) to have an agenda. But aren't the big news organizations supposed to be agenda-free, chasing the facts wherever such a search might lead them? If Ron Fitzsimmons was embarrassed by his lie, the big networks and the prestige newspapers and magazines should spend the next year on their knees asking for forgiveness.

For the untold facts really haven't been that difficult to ferret out. The AMA's magazine reported last week that abortionists' "claims about the numbers and reasons have been discredited by the very doctors who do the procedures. In published interviews with such newspapers as American Medical News, The Washington Post, and The Record, a Bergen County, N.J., newspaper, doctors who use the technique acknowledged doing thousands of such procedures a year. They also said the majority are done on healthy fetuses and healthy women."

The AMA report continued: "The New Jersey paper reported last fall that physicians at one facility perform an estimated 3,000 abortions a year on fetuses between 20 and 24 weeks, of which at least half are by intact D&E [partial-birth abortion]. One of the doctors was quoted as saying, 'We have an occasional amnio abnormality, but it's a miniscule amount. Most are Medicaid patients ... and most are for elective, not medical reasons: people who didn't realize, or didn't care, how far along they were.' A Washington Post investigation turned up similar findings."

WORLD magazine, with a tiny budget and 38 staffers (most of them part-time) on its whole masthead, was able to report to you last year, based on figures from the Centers for Disease Control, that at least 5,000 partial-birth abortions are performed each year. We made the point that such a statistic is equivalent to a ValuJet airliner going down almost every single week, or a TWA 747 crashing every two weeks. Then let Mr. Clinton call those tragedies "rare."

But why can't Time magazine, with more than 400 names on its masthead, come up with such simple statistics? And if ABC can send hidden cameras into the back rooms of Food Lion supermarkets to tell a highly disputable story, why should it be so hard to send those same cameras into an abortion clinic to document procedures the doctors there have already said--on the record--occur there 1,500 times a year. If partial-birth abortions are being done six times a day in a single clinic, the story shouldn't be hard to report.

Even The New Republic magazine was blasting President Clinton last week for telling this grisly lie. "This turns out to be," editor Michael Kelley wrote, "what critics said at the time, another utterance by Bill Clinton that was politically advantageous but entirely untrue."

But The New Republic was the exception. The New York Times, in the words of The New Republic, did their report "in a semi-buried story." ABC's Cokie Roberts referred to "an abortion provider" who lied about some details, implying that he alone was responsible for a coverup. CBS's Dan Rather included the story of Mr. Fitzsimmons's confession, but also ignored the obvious opportunity to explore whether this might be a much bigger story.

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