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Thanks to Jen Roth from Leftout for making this information available. This information has been reprinted here with permission.

Hitting a New Low in Bias

By Nancy Myers
NRLC Communications Director
National Right to Life News, March 30, 1993

The news media hit a new low in bias against the Pro-Life Movement with its lopsided coverage of the murder of Florida abortionist David Gunn.

The murder has been a top national news story. But the quality of that coverage, particularly by the broadcast media, has been appalling, twisting the truth of the pro-life message beyond recognition.

National Media Ignores The Truth

The truth is, to be pro-life is to be anti-violence. No one who is truly pro-life could ever advocate or engage in violence, whether shooting an abortionist outside an abortion clinic or tearing an unborn child apart inside that clinic. But for the media, that truth doesn't fit their fiction of what "pro-life" means. So they ignore it.

Within hours of Gunn's murder, National Right to Life issued a strong statement condemning the murder, saying, "We ... oppose any form of violence to fight the violence of abortion." Other pro-life groups also issued statements -- all decrying the shooting as an anti-life act by a clearly irrational individual.

But for two days after the shooting, no national television program quoted a mainstream pro-life spokesperson -- not once. In fact, in conversations with me, many alluded to or flat-out acknowledged the fact that they didn't want the real reaction of the Pro-Life Movement.

It became a "formula." First, the media focused on articulate, somber, pro-abortion spokespersons who talked about the tragedy and the danger they face in providing "reproductive health care." Quoted were such national figures as Kate Michelman, head of the National Abortion Rights Action League, and several members of Congress. Then, the media (ignoring the mainstream reaction), implied or claimed that most in the Pro-Life Movement were happy or relieved at the killing, and few or none condemned it. For the pro-life reaction, the media focused exclusively on men, mostly inarticulate and who represented little or no constituency, and shut out the mainstream pro-life groups (collectively representing millions of Americans).

Most of the media bought -- hook, line, and sinker -- the basic pro-abortion lie on the shooting: that pro-life activity leads to violence. For instance, Peter Jennings began ABC World News Tonight's coverage of the shooting by connecting peaceful pro-life protests with violence. "There have been hundreds and thousands of anti-abortion demonstrations outside abortion clinics all across the country over the last several years," he said. "Today, in Pensacola, one of them ended in murder."

The intended, and largely successful, result of this formula was to make the pro-abortionists look moderate and the Pro-Life Movement to look "kooky."

Nightline Seeks "Fringe" Pro-Lifers

For instance, producers of the ABC program Nightline openly admitted to me that they wanted a "fringe" person to represent the pro-life side.

Nightline producers had tentatively booked Susan Smith [note: not that Susan Smith --jr], an NRLC public policy director, to represent the pro-life side on Friday's Nightline, two days after the killing. Finally, I thought, the mainstream pro-life reaction would be represented. (At NRLC headquarters, we had been receiving hundreds of calls from grassroots pro-life activists asking why we had not reacted to the shooting. We had, but the national news media had not yet quoted us.)

The first bad news came late in the afternoon the day of the show. A producer told Communications Assistant Michele Arocha that they were "rethinking the show" after initial discussions with the guest host that night -- Chris Wallace.

Great! Chris "Mr. Objectivity" Wallace. NOT! Wallace is a correspondent for ABC's Prime Time Live. In 1991, he narrated probably the most biased segment ever on the show, which is no small feat. This segment, slamming crisis pregnancy centers, was basically designed by the National Coalition for Abortion Providers (NCAP), an abortion industry trade group. NCAP head Ron Fitzsimmons wrote in a 1991 internal memo that when he approached Prime Time Live about attacking CPCs, "They immediately agreed to do an 'expose' on the issue."

The final word came at 9:30 p.m., just two hours before the program time -- Susan was canceled. That was not surprising. In earlier conversations, two different Nightline producers had admitted to Michele Arocha and me that Wallace and another producer were not interested in NRLC's perspective. Wallace wanted the Pro-Life Movement to be represented by -- direct quote -- a more "fringe" element.

The program was a classic. Two segments preceded the live debate. First was a lengthy interview with John Burt, described as "a former Ku Klux Klan member." Burt does not represent any pro-life group, but he had known Gunn's alleged killer. Burt was portrayed as the "typical" pro-lifer, even though pro-lifers disagreed vehemently with the views he expressed.

The second segment followed the "formula" perfectly. First, it presented pro-abortion spokespeople as horrified by the shooting and shocked by the "pro-life" reaction. It presented the general pro-life reaction as inarticulate responses from men, who did not specifically condemn it, but talked about the "good" that could come out of it. For "balance," there was one short "quote" from me in the middle of the segment, saying that the shooting "in no way represents what it means to be pro-life."

During the live interview (which featured an abortionist and the leader of a small local rescue group), Wallace behaved predictably, cutting off the pro-life man and asking softball questions of the abortionist. It was not until March 16 -- nearly one week after the shooting -- that any national news program aired an interview (more than a quick "quote") representing the mainstream pro-life view. That day, the "MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour" hosted Susan Smith, NRLC's public policy director, who opposed a Planned Parenthood lawyer.

Donahue, Dateline NBC Join the Pro-Abortion Bandwagon

Donahue, not surprisingly, also got on the pro-abortion bandwagon, hosting at least five pro-abortion activists (including NCAP's Ron Fitzsimmons), but just one alleged "pro-life" minister, who is not known to any pro-life group and did not make any traditional pro-life arguments during the program.

NRLC was not contacted before the program to provide a guest, but a staffer called NRLC while the program was being taped frantic for us to provide the number of abortions each year. Amazingly, Donahue staff members recognize NRLC as a source for information (since they know, after all, NRLC is the nation's largest pro-life group), but did not even call about potential guests, preferring instead to find an unknown man who seemed to excuse the killing and who did not represent the Pro-Life Movement.

Two weeks later, the infamous Dateline NBC program also decided to get on the bandwagon. Dateline producers, stung by evidence they manufactured news for a recent piece on GM trucks, were undoubtedly under pressure to appear "balanced." So two days before the program aired, they contacted NRLC for an interview.

Apparently, I didn't give correspondent Debra Roberts the appropriate "quote," because after the interview one producer berated me: "Look, if you won't talk openly about your reaction, we'll just go to someone else." Loose translation: if you don't give us the quote we want, we'll find someone who will.

The Dateline story followed the formula well. Anchor Stone Phillips introduced the piece by comparing the Pro-Life Movement to the violent cult in Waco, Texas, led by David Koresh. The segment presented abortionists and abortion advocates as reasonable and moderate, simply providing a needed service. Pro-lifers were almost exclusively represented by John Burt, described as "the former Ku Klux Klan member." And my short quote condemning violence was plugged in for "balance."

There are countless other examples, large and small, of how the media cynically used this isolated violent act to slander the entire Pro-Life Movement.

The trend is frightening, but unmistakable: many in the media, particularly the broadcast media, increasingly feel above such quaint, old-fashioned constraints as truth and objectivity. All too often, they succeed in distorting the truth of the pro-life message.

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