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In this era of "some say" and "both sides do it" journalism, it's not exactly surprising to read an article in the Washington Post that tries so desperately to be "fair" that facts and reality are sacrificed for the apparently greater purpose of "balance."

Take, for example, an article by Dan Morse, published earlier this week, about a pregnant woman who died after visiting Dr. LeRoy Carhart's abortion clinic in Germantown, Maryland.

There are a few important things to keep in mind: (1) The full autopsy has not yet been completed; (2) Dr. Carhart has not commented; (3) The woman's family has not commented; (4) Dr. Carhart's clinic is one of the very few in the country that performs late-term abortions, which are legal; (5) None of the "pro-lifers" interviewed in the article are medical experts, nor do they have any connection to the woman who died. So, keeping those points in mind, let's go below the fold to examine just how this sort of all-too-typical hackery happens.

 

From the start, Morse is, knowingly or not, doing the bidding of the forced-birth movement:

The Maryland Office of Health Care Quality is investigating the death of a woman who visited a controversial abortion clinic in Germantown before dying last week at a local hospital.
Why is this clinic controversial? Because the zealots who have made harassing and terrorizing the staff and patients of the clinic a priority? It would have been for more honest for Morse to describe the clinic as the latest target of a radical movement to shut down all women's health care providers, but then, that wouldn't be very fair to the zealots, would it? So instead, Morse simply declares the clinic controversial.
More than 150 demonstrators gathered near the clinic Monday to step up their efforts to draw national attention to the case, asserting that the clinic’s leader, LeRoy Carhart, was directly responsible for the woman’s death and that she had come to his office for a multi-day abortion procedure when she was 33 weeks pregnant.
Since the woman's medical records haven't been released, and no one from either the clinic or her family have issued any statements, we don't even know how pregnant she was. And certainly none of the demonstrators have any authority to assert even the stage of her pregnancy, let alone the cause of her death. But Morse doesn't say that. He merely writes that these demonstrators blame Carhart. Without any evidence. Without any expertise. With nothing more than an extremist agenda that routinely invokes blatant lies. None of which Morse mentions.
The circumstances leading to the woman’s death remained unclear Monday. State and county officials confirmed that she had visited the abortion clinic and that she died Thursday morning at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, but they offered no details.

Antiabortion demonstrators seized upon the incident to try to sway public opinion about late-term procedures. Many of their specific claims about the case could not be immediately verified.

That's an important point—in fact, it's the point. Which sort of makes you wonder what the point of the article is in the first place—unless the Post is getting into the business of writing up unverified claims from extremist demonstrators just 'cause. It's really no different than writing up any other ludicrous conspiracy theory—say, that the Kenyan government implemented a decades-long plot to install one of its own in the White House by planting fake newspaper articles and ginning up bogus birth certificates—without bothering to fact-check such claims.
Speakers at the rally said the woman, 29, arrived at the clinic Feb. 3 from New York. They asserted that she had recently learned of medical problems with the baby she was carrying. “It was a perfectly healthy young woman that died,” said Michael Martelli, executive director of the Maryland Coalition for Life.
Michael Martelli isn't a doctor. He isn't a relative or friend or spokesperson with any connection to the woman who died. He's an activist with an agenda. His "opinion" on the health of the patient who died has zero validity or relevance. And yet, Morse repeats his claim as if the patient's health is simply a matter of opinion, all opinions being equal. Her doctor has not commented, but hey, some dude on the street has something to say about it, so let's quote him.
[Dr. Carhart's] facility has become a touchstone for the abortion debate nationwide. Opponents have launched regular demonstrations there, accusing Carhart of regularly performing late-term and dangerous abortions. Abortion-rights advocates say Carhart, who lives in Nebraska but flies to Maryland to operate the clinic, courageously performs procedures that other physicians won’t.
This little paragraph is the classic example of false equivalence. On the one hand, opponents "accuse" Dr. Carhart of performing a perfectly legal medical procedure, as if he were doing something wrong. As for whether it's dangerous, Morse does not bother to interview a single medical professional about whether that's actually true. On the other hand, there's the fact that Carhart lives in Nebraska but regularly travels to Maryland to perform a procedure that only a handful of doctors in the entire country perform. See, one statement is opinion; the other is fact. The two are not equal. But Morse, who is lazy or ignorant or both, sets them up as if they are.
Still unclear was whether the woman was as far along in her pregnancy as the demonstrators say and, if so, why she sought an abortion so late. The gift registry indicated a due date of March 20. Also unknown was the nature of the fetus’s medical condition and whether the health or life of either mother or child was at risk.
Again, Morse gives the benefit of the doubt to the speculation of the demonstrators' claims, which, again, violates a basic rule every wannabe journalist learns in Journalism 101. But there's another point here. We don't know the details of the pregnancy or the health of the mother or child—and we shouldn't. It's none of our business. We are not entitled to that information. Zealots with an agenda can speculate on street corners all the want, but that doesn't mean the Washington Post should repeat those speculations as if we, the readers who did not know the woman or her family, have some vested interest in knowing her private medical history. We don't.

But even assuming, for the sake of argument, that the demonstrators' unfounded accusations are correct, and the woman was 33 weeks pregnant and seeking a late-term abortion, there are a few facts about such a circumstance that Morse omits from his article. Like, for example, that late-term abortions comprise less than 1 percent of all abortions. They're exceedingly rare. They're also highly restricted. If a woman is seeking an abortion 33 weeks into her pregnancy, something is wrong with her health and/or the health of the fetus. That's a fact.

Not only that, it's the law. Morse does mention that under Maryland law, a late-term abortion is permitted only when "the life or the health of the mother is at stake or when the baby develops a fetal abnormality." It would be safe, then, to assume that if Dr. Carhart was performing an abortion 33 weeks into the pregnancy, it only could have been because something was wrong. That would be a fair speculation to make, but Morse doesn't make it. He easily repeats the unfounded claims of the protestors, but when it comes to how and why this woman could have even obtained this procedure in the first place, Morse simply says we don't know "whether the health or life of either mother or child was at risk."

In the Germantown case, Martelli said, the woman and her family were staying at a local hotel during the multi-day procedure. The woman was taken to Shady Grove on Thursday morning, he said, and died a short time later.
How does Martelli even know where the patient and her family were staying? How does he know when she died? Did he obtain that information by stalking her, as "pro-life" activists commonly do? Staking out hotels located near abortion clinics, taking pictures of guests, even looking up their license plate numbers to track them down to harass them in their homes—these are all common practices of the forced-birth activists. In fact, this was a common practice among the zealots who terrorized Dr. George Tiller at his clinic in Topeka, Kansas, before he was assassinated in his own church. The former attorney general of Kansas, Phill Kline, spent years investigating and harassing Dr. Tiller, and was ultimately himself the subject of an investigation into his unethical obsessive pursuit of Dr. Tiller. Among his ethical violations:
In 2005, the complaint said, Kline's office tried to identify women who were having abortions at Tiller's clinic by "staking out the clinic, following visitors and employees to their vehicles and recording automobile license plate numbers."

"Attempts were made to run the numbers through state agencies in order to identify the name of the driver," the complaint said.

So how did Martelli and his fellow demonstrators obtain private information about the woman who died? Did they stalk the woman who died? Did they steal her records? Did they misrepresent themselves at the hospital? How they obtained this information is actually far more relevant than whatever idle speculation the activists have invented to further their political goals.

Morse concludes with this paragraph:

On Monday, opponents of abortion carried signs with statements such as “A fetus is a child” and “Life is not a choice.” One demonstrator held up a large photograph of the woman who died, identifying her by name next to the abbreviation “R.I.P.”
What's the point of this paragraph? What's the take-away message from Morse's whole article? A woman died. We have no idea why or how, but some extremists are pushing a conspiracy theory—and that's all it is—that her doctor is at fault and should therefore have his clinic shut down and his license revoked. Never mind the facts. Never mind the pattern of harassment and lies from this movement upon whom Morse relies for most of his "facts" in the article.

Is he trying to give credibility to this movement and its claims? Is he trying to smear a doctor who puts his life on the line to provide necessary health care to women? Is he too lazy to bother investigating just what makes this clinic "controversial" or the basis of the claims made by the activists or the very real problem that, thanks to this movement, there are so few places in the country where women can even go for this legal medical procedure? Or how these activists routinely violate women's privacy in order to advance their agenda? Or any of a number of unanswered questions that Morse apparently didn't bother asking, didn't consider relevant to the story, or didn't even realize were far more important than what some people screaming on a sidewalk have to say?

Lazy, ignorant, or pushing an agenda—whatever the answer, it's certainly not good journalism.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sun Feb 17, 2013 at 10:00 AM PST.

Also republished by Abortion and RaceGender DiscrimiNATION.

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