Afghan obsession — how the press missed the Texas abortion story

Ignoring big news

  
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Wednesday morning’s Politico Playbook, the AM round-up of Beltway news, led off with a “BREAKING NEWS” update:The Supreme Court allowed a controversial Texas law banning abortion after six weeks to go into effect just months before it hears a more direct challenge to Roe v. Wade this fall.”

“Controversial” is putting it mildly. The Texas law, passed in May, bans all abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, which is well before most women even know they are pregnant. The Supreme Court on Tuesday night, without comment, refused to block the bill from becoming law, despite the fact it runs counter to Court precedents, which prohibit states from banning abortion prior to fetal viability, usually between 22 and 24 weeks of pregnancy. If the Texas law remains, it would block the vast majority of abortion patients from obtaining services in the state.

In short, the law represents a legal and political earthquake, as Republicans march closer toward overturning Roe v. Wade. Yet loyal Politico readers were excused Wednesday morning if they were caught unaware, because in the weeks leading up to its midnight trigger, Politico didn’t publish a single stand-alone article about the historic GOP attempt to deny women choice. That, according to a search of Politico’s online archives. (The site then published three articles on the topic yesterday.)

Politico wasn’t alone. Across the national media spectrum, outlets in the last 24 hours scrambled to play catch-up with the story, which could alter nearly fifty years of choice in America. The stunning lack of coverage plays into the hands of conservatives who likely don’t want a loud debate about overturning Roe v. Wade, since a clear majority of Americans support the right to choose.

I literally watch the news for a living, and I had little to no knowledge of this abortion ban in Texas until late last night,” tweeted Media Matters’ Lisa Power. “It's a huge indictment of cable news that something this impactful can occur with practically no cable news coverage until after it's too late.”

During the week prior to the bill becoming law, “Texas” and “abortion” were not mentioned in any Fox News segments over that seven-day stretch, according to TVeyes.com. For all three news channels, “Texas” and “abortion” were referenced together less than 10 times. During that same stretch, “Afghanistan” was mentioned nearly 4,000 times.

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It’s impossible to miss the fact that the media’s virtual Texas abortion blackout occurred while the press gorged itself on Afghanistan “optics” coverage for weeks. For most of August, the Beltway press presented nonstop, 24/7 “crisis” coverage, condemning President Joe Biden for a “disaster” and “debacle” — as he oversaw the successful evacuation of 120,000 people from the Kabul airport.

The U.S. troop withdrawal was obviously a big story and required lots of attention. And within that coverage, the Taliban’s inhumane treatment of women represented a pressing news story, and the media were right to focus on the fears that surround Afghanistan’s future. But the GOP’s appalling treatment of women in the United States also represents an urgent news story that deserves constant attention. Instead, it’s being ignored.

And it’s not just cable news viewers largely left in the dark.

Prior to the bill being enacted, both the Washington Post and New York Times ran a couple of perfunctory news updates about the unfolding legal challenges. Readers had to visit the papers’ opinion sections though, for in-depth analysis of what the Texas bill meant and how radical and dangerous it was. Meanwhile, CNN.com during the month of August published just one news article about the history-making bill.

Most of the thin national coverage glossed over stunning aspects of the Texas law. Aside from effectively banning choice, the law’s enforcement is head spinning and dangerous. From the Texas Tribune, which has been excellent on the story [emphasis added]: “The state wouldn’t enforce the law. SB 8 instead provides enforcement only by private citizens who would sue abortion providers and anyone involved in aiding or abetting an abortion after a “heartbeat” is detected.”

Texas Republicans have basically created a taxpayer-funded system for snitching on abortions and anyone associated, where an Uber driver who takes a woman to a health clinic to get a procedure could be targeted under the law.

The media’s lack of coverage is especially galling considering the one area of the abortion story over the years that the press normally focuses on are the various legal and legislative tracks, as Republicans ceaselessly try to overturn Roe v. Wade. In fact, the topic is usually treated as a political football, and not a pressing healthcare issue.

Media analysis from 2019 sponsored by the pro-choice group NARAL found “that more than 77 percent of articles about abortion were written by political, legal, breaking news or general assignment writers—rather than health reporters,” Ms. magazine reported. “Just 13.5 percent of articles analyzed quoted a physician, and only 8 percent referenced the lived experience of someone who has had an abortion.”

A separate media study from 2019 confirmed that,The personal experiences of people who get abortions are present in only 4% of the sample, and language personifying the fetus appears more often than women’s abortion stories. State abortion restrictions are newsworthy, yet basic facts on the commonality and safety of abortion are virtually absent.”

In their radical attempts to outlaw choice, Republicans don’t want a lot of attention lavished on their actions. This week they got their wish.

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(Photo: Sergio Flores/Getty Images)

👩🏻‍⚕️ GOOD STUFF:

For a deeper dive into the Texas law, NPR’s “What The Texas Abortion Ban Does — And What It Means For Other States”:

Anyone who successfully sues an abortion provider under this law could be awarded at least $10,000. And to prepare for that, Texas Right to Life has set up what it calls a "whistleblower" website where people can submit anonymous tips about anyone they believe to be violating the law.

In a federal lawsuit challenging this, a coalition of abortion providers and reproductive rights groups said the law "places a bounty on people who provide or aid abortions, inviting random strangers to sue them."

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