Here’s a question for our Fourth Estate, who consider themselves unimpeachable paragons and defenders of objective truth:
How do you report on a controversy when you edit out what the controversy is all about?
The media is now reporting that Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is fighting for his political life. This isn’t a surprise; once it comes out that you put a photo of two people, one in blackface and one in a Klan outfit, in your medical school yearbook, you’re in trouble. You’re in even more trouble when it comes out that you’re one of the individuals in said photo.
“Hours after the photo emerged, Northam faced calls to resign from the NAACP, at least four 2020 Democratic hopefuls for president, Planned Parenthood and the Virginia GOP,” CBS News reported. “He said in a video posted to Twitter that he has ‘spent the past year fighting for a Virginia that works better for all people’ and he is ‘committed to continuing that fight through the remainder of my term.'”
So, no surprises. The surprise, instead, is that this is the same media that was running damage control for Northam just one day prior.
On Wednesday, the governor went on Washington, D.C., radio station WTOP and was asked about a bill by state Delegate Kathy Tran which, she said, would allow a woman to obtain an abortion up until the point of birth.
The same network that delivered a rather sobering view of the governor’s prospects on Friday covered the Wednesday incident and the fallout on Thursday’s edition of the “CBS Evening News.” The tone was markedly different then — and CBS was even willing to omit the most controversial part of the governor’s remarks entirely.
“Virginia’s governor responded to critics after a move by Democrats to ease restrictions on late-term abortions ignited intense debate,” Jeff Glor began, before launching into a report by Ed O’Keefe.
“Anti-abortion rights activists were in the crowd this afternoon as Virginia’s Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, said outrage over a Democratic-sponsored abortion bill was unfounded,” O’Keefe said.
Not “pro-life” advocates, mind you, “anti-abortion rights” activists. The tone would persist throughout the piece, as O’Keefe’s description of the bill showed: “It dealt with abortions in the third trimester, which are currently legal in Virginia, if three doctors determine the life or health of the mother is at risk,” he said.
“Under the proposed law, only one doctor’s approval would be necessary, among other changes.” Yes, among other changes.
When the network played a clip of Tran saying her bill would allow abortion while a woman was in labor, O’Keefe was also more than willing to run damage control for her, too:
“Tran said today that she misspoke,” he said.
But the most mind-bending part was the coverage of Northam’s remarks on WTOP: O’Keefe narrated over the most controversial part of his answer, saying that he talked about abortion “during birth” if the baby had “severe abnormalities.”
“And then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother,” Northam is shown saying.
The full clip, however, is what the controversy is all about. And it remained unplayed.
Let’s look at what Northam really said after talking about third-trimester abortions: “So in this particular example, if the mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen. The infant would be delivered, the infant would be kept comfortable, the infant would be resuscitated if this is what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physician and the mother.”
Given that he was speaking in support of the abortion bill, there was only one ghoulish context for this “discussion” that “would ensue between the physician and the mother.” But this context was denuded for viewers at home, who were essentially told what to think about the prior few deeply troubling sentences the governor had uttered.
So, back to my original question. CBS News was reporting on a controversy without reporting on what the controversy was really about: Namely, a governor who happens to be a pediatric neurologist uttering a statement that could only be reasonably construed as supporting infanticide and then not walking that statement back, telling you that you should believe his interpretation of his own words — as opposed to your lying ears.
Compare this with what “CBS Evening News” had to say about Northam’s racist yearbook photo one day later, which was much more straightforward and didn’t omit pertinent details:
How do you reconcile the quality of reportage in video A with video B? You don’t, the same way that you don’t honestly report on a story by editing out what the story’s all about. In a vacuum, this could be considered a mistake — but when “mistakes” all fall on one side of the political spectrum, it becomes an agenda.
The term “fake news” is often used by conservatives — especially the president — to describe this type of liberal bias in the mainstream media as a kind of ironic takeoff on the moral panic generated by an incredibly small subset of websites hawking obviously bogus stories that were shared by an equally small subset of credulous social media users in the run-up to the 2016 election.
Those who use the term now obviously know the news isn’t “fake,” just incredibly slanted.
Ed O’Keefe’s report, however, comes dangerously close to the literal definition of fake news. It reported on a controversy involving a governor who made comments clearly evoking infanticide and refusing to apologize for them. It then deliberately edited out the macabre infanticidal remarks and replaced them with O’Keefe assuring the viewer Northam was only talking about third-trimester abortions. Not as if that wouldn’t be horrifying enough, but the only reason this became an outrage is because that’s not where Northam stopped.
And then, as if to present a perfect coda to this journalistic malpractice, there was the least shocking bit of this whole kerfuffle: CBS News miraculously rediscovered its journalistic integrity at the same time Ralph Northam’s racist yearbook was discovered.
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