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 Magazine Watch

Tuesday October 3, 2000 (Vol. 2; No. 39)

Popping the Kill Pill; Time’s Terrible Ticket; The Death of Big Media?

1. All three news magazines hail the arrival of the abortion pill RU-486 as an overdue remedy for increasingly inconvenient abortions and violent anti-abortion protesters. But Time’s Nancy Gibbs won the blue ribbon for pro-abortion sermonizing: "in much of the country, Roe v. Wade might as well not exist."

2. Time devoted their pages to bashing the Republican ticket. First, Michael Weisskopf explained how Bush favored "Tax Cuts Before Tots," while Margaret Carlson found Dick Cheney was an "uncompassionately conservative...drag on the ticket."

3. U.S. News columnist Michael Barone predicted "The Death of Big Media" and its powerful hold on voters, while columnist John Leo offered a whimsical quiz on Gore gaffes.

On the covers of the October 9 issues: Newsweek covered rap music, U.S. News & World Report explored "How to Fix Your High School." Time giddily greeted "The Abortion Pill: It’s finally here." The "Washington Whispers section of U.S. News featured some revealing quotes about media people. They carried CNN and CBS reporter Christiane Amanpour’s question, "Why have we given George W. Bush such an easy ride–until now–when actually his qualifications are questionable?" And retiring White House mouthpiece Joe Lockhart explained no doubt dealing with The Washington Times and other less-than-supine outlets: "The secret to remaining calm is oftentimes ignoring the question or the questioner."


All three news magazines hail the arrival of the abortion pill RU-486 as an overdue remedy for increasingly inconvenient abortions and violent anti-abortion protesters.

U.S. News & World Report won the dubious distinction of being the least slanted in favor of abortion advocates. The story is illustrated by a large picture of Planned Parenthood bosses Gloria Feldt and Carolyn Westhoff grinning confidently (The caption did not read "Oh, the profits we’ll make!") But David Whitman and Stacey Schultz put the pro-life side in the first paragraph with the rapturous pill promoters.

"The Vatican has dubbed RU-486 – which essentially induces a miscarriage – ‘the pill of Cain – the monster that cynically kills its brothers.’ But abortion-rights advocates applauded the long-awaited FDA decision, saying that access to nonsurgical abortions would make it much harder for anti-abortion protesters to target abortion clinics.

Whitman and Schultz also allowed pro-life spokesman to question the drug’s safety. They also go lightest on how the pill will contain anti-abortion violence: "Protesters can now easily identify abortion providers, and the picketing, harassment, and incidents of violence – including the murders of three doctors – have thinned the ranks of clinics, hospitals, and physicians offering abortions in recent years. Nationwide, the number of abortion facilities fell from 2,380 in 1992 to 2,042 in 1996, the latest year for which statistics are available. In many rural counties, women now drive long distances to get an abortion, and a third of all women of reproductive age currently live in a county without any provider, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research center." No space to mention that AGI is an arm of Planned Parenthood, the nation’s leading abortion "provider"? Whitman and Schultz concluded: "For now, the right to abortion, and, for the first time, the right to the abortion pill, seem firmly in place."

In Newsweek, David France and Debra Rosenburg are more passionate. Pro-life spokesmen don’t arrive until the 12th paragraph, with Rep. Tom Coburn asserting that FDA Commissioner Jane Henney made a political decision. (In their "Perspectives" quotes section, the magazine also balanced a quote from the National Abortion Federation’s Vicki Saporta with another Coburn quote: "Never before has the FDA approved a drug intended to kill people." ) Newsweek forwarded that "opponents worry about the drug's safety." In 1 percent of women, severe bleeding can require surgical intervention, and perhaps 2 percent will need a blood transfusion. Though it involves less immediate risk than surgical abortions, because no instruments are inserted through the cervix, there are no hard data from the estimated 500,000 European women who have taken mifepristone to prove their long-term health." France and Rosenberg were also the only magazine writers to note that 47 percent of Americans in a poll are opposed to making the pills available.

But most of the article focused on how the pill would help women and frustrate the violent anti-abortion movement. "Conservative lawmakers are already proposing strict regulations for the new drug and calling for an investigation of the FDA’s approval process. And pro-life activists are warning they'll discover who is prescribing it and expose them ‘doctor by doctor,’ says the Rev. Flip Benham, director of Operation Save America (formerly Operation Rescue). ‘If there’s any doctor in any city that thinks he can prescribe this and have any degree of anonymity, he is mistaken,’ Benham shouted into a cell phone while picketing a Dallas abortion clinic Friday morning. ‘They want to put their practice in jeopardy, they can start prescribing this pill.’"

They added: "The implications are enormous. Of the 1.4 million abortions in the United States each year, nine of 10 are performed in specialized clinics by a dwindling number of physicians – 2,000 at last count, 14 percent fewer than four years earlier. Most of them are in cities. These trends have made it increasingly easy for abortion foes to target doctors in a campaign that's included protests, intimidation and even violence."

Newsweek columnist Anna Quindlen rejoiced: "RU-486 may well make legal abortion safer, and that is a good thing for many women. Not potential women, not theoretical women, but real live women with homes, husbands, gardens, families, friends, children, jobs and consciences. They have waited in vain for the ideal, but in the meantime they do the best they can under difficult circumstances. You don't know them. You don't know what's in their hearts or their minds or their wombs. And, frankly, it's none of your business. The biggest mirage of all is that it is." And is it "theoretical" humans that are on the receiving end of RU-486?

The blue ribbon for pro-abortion sermonizing goes to the cover story by Time Senior Editor Nancy Gibbs. She begins with a doctor in Colby, Kansas: "In his town, a woman looking to end a pregnancy would need to drive 300 miles to Wichita to find the nearest abortion clinic. That's if she had the time and means to get away and was willing to pass the protesters to enter a building that has been bombed out and fired upon." The Colby doctor said he will not provide RU-486, causing Gibbs to kvetch: "If only doctors in the big cities use it, what will really have changed?"

Gibbs continued by painting pro-lifers in black: "Opponents vow to take to the streets in force, target the doctors who agree to prescribe it, gouge the conscience of anyone willing to wage chemical warfare on women and children. They call the drug baby poison and are enlisting allies in Congress to try to ban it, threatening boycotts of whoever makes it. As for the doctors faced with a decision, the greater the heat, the greater the fear. It's understandable that they could take a while to make up their mind – which means that what really changed last week may be more the promise of abortion in America than the reality of it."

In the most intriguing passage, Gibbs admitted "science has been the pro-life camp's best ally over the past decade," with improving viability and sonograms, but "You could argue that the most important thing that happened last week was that science changed sides and put its power to work for the pro-choice team as well. The abortion pill shifts the focus from the latest stage of pregnancy to the earliest, when the entire embryo is the size of a grain of rice." Pro-life spokesmen arrive in paragraph 27, or about six pages into the piece.

The worst paragraph mourns that there isn’t an abortion clinic within a mile of every woman’s home: "There are no providers at all in 86% of U.S. counties; 91% of abortions occur in easily targeted clinics, and 1 in 4 women has to travel at least 50 miles for treatment. Doctors still see women who try to induce miscarriage by taking quinine pills, or provoke their boyfriends to jump on them, or come into emergency rooms with electrical cords hanging out of them." Restrictions on providers "would have made the approval of the pill almost meaningless; abortion would still be unavailable in vast swaths of the country." Doctors "simply don't want to get involved in a battle that has left the country divided and some of their colleagues dead. They have heard of the doctors and nurses who, when they arrive for work at a clinic, confront protesters who refer to their children by name."

Gibbs concluded by repeating the intimidation of cruel pro-lifers: "Antiabortion activists may not change anyone's mind about the pill – but they could have an effect if they persuade enough doctors that entering this minefield is dangerous to their health and practice. The tactic has worked well for years now; in much of the country, Roe v. Wade might as well not exist, and the only way the abortion pill changes that is if doctors everywhere decide to offer it. ‘There are a lot of doctors who feel very strongly that women have a right to make a choice but are unwilling to wear flak jackets to work,’ says Dr. Diana Dell, an ob-gyn specialist at Duke University Medical Center. ‘ don't know where it will go.’"

The reporters in these articles are not "pro-choice," since the choice to abort a baby is legal. Instead, by mourning the declining number of abortion providers and the growing inconvenience for abortion consumers, they are explicitly pro-abortion. If a supporter of the tobacco companies suggested that cigarettes should have more manufacturing plants and be available for sale at more stores, the media wouldn’t call them "pro-choice." They’d call them "pro-tobacco."


Time’s Michael Weisskopf wrote a story that read like a long Gore commercial. "Tax Cuts Before Tots," read the headline. "Candidate Bush is pushing his compassion, but poor kids in Texas have not seen much of it."

Weisskopf, as most liberal reporters do, framed his story around a lovably vulnerable (and if possible, minority) victim wronged by the Republicans: "George W. Bush had a simple fiscal policy as Texas Governor: he called for meeting the people’s basic needs and returning what’s left to the hands who earned it. But it didn’t work that way for Ray Haros, a poor kid from Austin’s barrio in need of health insurance. While Bush delivered $2.7 billion in tax relief, Ray got left out of the equation."

Since Texas was slow in applying for money from the Children’s Health Insurance Program, of CHIP, "The delay freed Texas from having to spend billions of dollars in matching state grants, leaving enough money for Bush to pass $1 billion in tax relief in the 1997 legislative session. Two years later, he set his sights on even bigger tax cuts. To make the numbers work, Medicaid spending had to be contained." Time will never start a story with a taxpayer who was a victim of a tax hike, or who benefited from a tax cut. The only anecdotes allowed feature dependents on government money.

[Editor’s Note: You can learn more from an article in MediaNomics by Rich Noyes]

Time columnist Margaret Carlson took several whacks at allegedly hopeless vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney: "Like Quayle, Cheney has come to be seen as a drag on the ticket, violating the first rule of veepdom: Do no harm. First, there was his uncompassionately conservative record, voting no on everything from Head Start to college-student aid to the Older Americans Act, which offers support services to the elderly. This prompted the joke that Cheney's never met a welfare program he liked. When the New York Times examined his stint at Halliburton, it found that he was more an ambassador attracting business through government contacts than a hands-on executive. He's had to explain his past support for OPEC's pinching off supply to boost prices and his company's overseas policy of Americans-only rest rooms. He dithered for weeks over their parting gift to him of about $20 million before pledging to forgo part of it should he win. He skipped voting in 14 of the last 16 elections in Texas and cited pressing ‘global concerns’ when it was pointed out. Chosen to bring gravitas to the ticket, Cheney looked like a gee-whiz adolescent when he chimed in, ‘Oh, yeah, big time,’ after George W.'s unprintable insult about a reporter."

Carlson ended: "After two months, Bush-Cheney still comes across as a ticket, not a team. Bush's folks admit the two only talk once a week. While Lieberman brought a sense of joy and excitement with him, Cheney brought a sense of entitlement, the one thing Bush didn't need more of."

No one’s counting on Margaret examining the flaws of Gore’s number two, the apparent St. Joseph Lieberman.


U.S. News columnist Michael Barone predicted "The Death of Big Media" and its powerful hold on voters. "From the 1960s to the 1980s the three network nightly newscasts were, in fact, the town square of American politics. They replaced newspapers, whose circulation has flat-lined since 1960, as Americans' chief source of political news. At their peak, in 1980, 38 percent of households, and 75 percent of those with their TVs on, were watching on any given weeknight. Today, the nightly news audience of the networks has slipped to 23 percent. Political junkies increasingly get their news from cable channels, talk radio, and the Internet. Others get little political news at all. There is no national public square."

Barone suggested that while in past elections, for example, George Bush’s most electric exchange was with Dan Rather instead of Michael Dukakis, the networks aren’t the sole explanation for where the polls go. In assessing Bush’s current uptick, Barone theorized: "Gore, in my view, was hurt by his fabrications about his mother-in-law and dog, his misrecollection that as a child he'd heard a lullaby written in 1975, and, perhaps, by his failure to recall the word ‘mammogram.’ The mammogram slip did not make it onto any of the old-line network newscasts, all of which gleefully had run stories on the word ‘rats’ appearing for one-thirtieth of a second in a Republican ad; ABC and CBS ran nothing on the lullaby; CBS took two days and NBC three to report the fib about his mother-in-law's and dog's medical costs. Yet the news evidently got out somehow, and voters were reminded of Gore's tendency to spin tall tales."

Barone concluded: "We know less about what voters know and how they come to know it than we did a dozen years ago. That's how it's bound to be in a country with increasingly decentralized news media and a fragmented electorate....We vote as one country, but we live in many different Americas, and the campaign is being fought out on different terms in millions of rooms."

His fellow columnist John Leo offered a whimsical quiz on Gore gaffes. Here’s one question:

"Speaking of ‘Look for the Union Label,’ Al Gore says he recalls his mother singing him to sleep with that song, though it was not written until Gore was 27. Explain.

– Union ditties are so catchy that many Democratic politicians can recall loving them before they were written, particularly in election years.

– If some 27-year-olds still need lullabies, who are we to judge? – It was a simple mistake. His mother actually sang him a quite similar song by Britney Spears."

Gore’s daughter Karenna is currently 27. If it’s a family tradition, perhaps Al sings her to sleep with old labor anthems.




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