As you may have heard, the right-wing (i.e. most of the Republican Party) had itself a field day(s) last week going after President Joe Biden and other Democrats for using as an example of the horrors of losing abortion rights a story about a 10-year-old girl who was raped and forced to travel to Indiana to terminate the pregnancy. It’s a HOAX, they cried out, which is something they apparently learned from Crazed Former President Donnie Trump – crying out HOAX bends reality at your will.
This is not a story about schadenfreude, which would be cruel and sick to have about such a feeling over such a horrible event, and I am not a conservative, who thinks such a form of schadenfreude is their favorite kind. What this is about is how once again, way too many in the DC media crowd were seemingly eager to carry the water for a right-wing conspiracy theory.
The story was strong and based on solid reporting by the Indianapolis Star, a very reputable paper with a 120-year history that includes multiple Pulitzers. The source was the doctor who had the child referred to her, and she went on the record. This is definitely not like the story popped up on some random Facebook page. Yet, conservatives railed against Biden and claimed he cherry-picked some viral story that he found while scrolling social media.
That is to be expected these days because being conservative is just another synonym for being disingenuous. That is the air they breathe. Unfortunately, once again, some of the DC media jumped on board.
The most egregious offender, or at least the most noticed, was the Washington Post Very Serious Fact Checker Glenn Kessler, who ran a “fact check” on this story. Kessler shifted into the infamous “just asking questions” mode and cast a lot of doubt onto the story himself, even running with a few of the right-wing talking points. This included skepticism of the doctor, Dr. Caitlin Bernard, who was the person who performed the procedure.
As they are wont to do, the right went into full smear mode, accusing Dr. Bernard of being a wild-eyed abortion monster, which no doubt has greatly decreased her personal safety. Fox News had all sorts of outrage as well. For Kessler to feed this is, well, not great.
Kessler wrote a mea culpa of sorts, and as a person with journalism training, it raised an eyebrow. I know that doctors are rarely questioned as sources, and Kessler said this:
The only source cited for the anecdote was Bernard. She’s on the record, but there is no indication that the newspaper made other attempts to confirm her account. The story’s lead reporter, Shari Rudavsky, did not respond to a query asking whether additional sourcing was obtained. A Gannett spokeswoman provided a comment from Bro Krift, the newspaper’s executive editor: “The facts and sourcing about people crossing state lines into Indiana, including the 10-year-old girl, for abortions are clear. We have no additional comment at this time.”
This is a thinly veiled claim the reporter practiced shoddy journalism, and that is a bit outrageous for a Post fact checker to claim. Again, doctors are considered a trusted source for a story and it is pretty rare they are questioned. In any event, his mea culpa included this…basically, I do not need to learn anything, you critics, YOU need to learn something:
This is an interesting example of the limitations that journalists face in corroborating this type of story without evidence confirmed by law enforcement. Should Bernard have disclosed the case before the police charged a suspect? Should the IndyStar have published her account without a second source? Should other news organizations have repeated the story without doing their own reporting? Those are questions beyond the purview of the Fact Checker, but worthwhile for readers and media pundits to consider.
I mean, one could turn every one of those against Kessler, based on what he wrote. But that is not the only thing that stood out in that story. He wrote this:
An abortion of a 10-year-old is pretty rare. The Columbus Dispatch reported that in 2020, 52 people under the age of 15 received an abortion in Ohio.
One abortion a week in a single state for people that young is a fairly strong point that these abortion bans will cause girls to suffer greatly. Shrugging this off as “rare” is a very privileged perspective, and reminds me of people like Professional Troll Matt Yglesias claiming that mass shootings are statistically rare so they are not a big problem.
That is a really bad perspective, that something that is rare is not worth thinking about. No 10-, 11-, 12- or 13-year-old girl should be forced to give birth. It is ultra cruel and the number of girls in that situation should be zero.
We are likely to see more horrors occur as Republicans take away more and more rights that we used to take for granted. There often will be stories that have a sole witness, the victim, and especially with abortion, patients, doctors, medical staff, etc. will be very reluctant to go on record for fear of arrest.
Is the entire national media ready for these horror stories? It will require some shifting in journalistic thinking, which too many media leaders have failed at doing since the rise of Trump. That includes losing the “rational” thinking that something is too awful to be true because that will increasingly not be the case.
The last word goes to Cyndi Lauper, and her powerful song about a woman who died from a back-alley abortion.