Walter Hoye: A case study in directed reporting


Last week the Los Angeles Times reported on the pro-life activities of Walter Hoye, who became the first person convicted of breaking a 2008 Oakland, Calif., ordinance that creates an 8-foot buffer zone, or "bubble," around people entering abortion clinics. Some of you will remember that WORLD also profiled Hoye---in a May 9 story written by Lynn Vincent---just after authorities had released him from jail, where he spent 19 days locked in a cell with other prisoners.

L.A. Times reporter Robin Abcarian rightly describes Hoye's conviction, stemming from two Tuesday appearances at Family Planning Specialists Medical Group in the spring, where he tried to talk women out of ending their pregnancies. And that Hoye looks more "like actor Don Cheadle than a public menace." But the rest of the story---while giving space to Hoye's own words---delivers a few amazing sucker punches that display the profound difference that reporters' perspectives bring to the abortion debate.

The L.A. Times paints Hoye as a black recruit of "white Roman Catholic antiabortion activists," whose soft voice used during sidewalk counseling, according to a clinic escort, "implied intimacy" and was "inappropriate." (Never mind that clinic operators historically have complained that pro-lifers yell or call out to patients.) The article also tries to link Hoye's persistently mild-mannered protest to the murder of abortionist George Tiller: "Until the May 31 slaying of Kansas abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, this sort of clash seemed an artifact of the 1990s. . . ."

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In contrast, Hoye told Lynn he got into pro-life activism because of the high rate of abortion among African-Americans (and about one in three Oakland residents is black). With census figures showing that deaths exceed live births among African-Americans, Hoye said, "We're no longer replacing ourselves. . . . So we're not using terms like holocaust and genocide just to elicit a response. It's the truth."

The L.A. Times story repeatedly refers to the Oakland "law," which is in fact an ordinance passed by the city council in December 2007 at the urging of clinic managers. It refers to the patients as "victims," yet notes that none of the patients at the clinic complained to police or testified against Hoye. Clinic Executive Director Jackie Barbic called police and brought charges.

L.A. Times: "Barbic and three escorts testified that by approaching them, Hoye was 'intimidating' and 'aggressive,' though he never said anything unkind."

WORLD: "In 2007, pro-abortion clinic 'escorts' began to show up in groups, surrounding Hoye and impeding his movement. They blocked his sign with sheets of blank cardboard and shouted down his low-key offers of help."

Even a videotape used in court as documentation of Hoye's activities is seemingly subject to interpretation.

L.A. Times: "Earlier, the jury watched a videotape of Barbic, the executive director, confronting Hoye and crisply marking off 8 feet with a tape measure.

"'I said, "Mr. Hoye, maybe you aren't so good at math, but this is 8 feet, and I need you to stay 8 feet from the patients and staff,"' Barbic testified. She said he approached her, and she told him, 'You're frightening me. You're scaring me. Please move away from me.'"

WORLD: "[Hoye's] attorneys possessed four hours of uncut videotape documenting Hoye's activities outside the clinic on the dates in question. At trial in January 2009, the tapes impeached the testimony of clinic director Jackie Barbic, who claimed that Hoye repeatedly broke the 8-foot rule and that she and a patient had to put up their hands to fend him off. Instead, the tapes showed Hoye standing still as Barbic approached him; then they showed Hoye walking away."

What both stories do agree on is that jurors found Hoye guilty of violating the ordinance. He served jail time rather than accept a plea bargain that would have required him to pay a fine and stay away from the clinic, and now he's back on the job, keeping vigilance outside the clinic again while his attorneys challenge the city's ordinance in federal court. This is a story we plan to continue to follow, and perhaps the Los Angeles Times will too.


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