Death and Politics - and Politics, and Politics

A few weeks ago, we faulted the New York Times for turning a news report on the deaths of two California women who had taken the “abortion pill,” RU-486, into a political brawl featuring talking points from partisan advocacy groups.

There is a new development in that RU-486 story this week: As the Los Angeles Times’ Maria L. La Ganga reported on Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, the California Depart of Health Services and the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services “are investigating whether there are any links in the case of four California women who have died since 2003 of massive infection after taking the so-called abortion pill, RU-486, and a follow-up drug.”

Today, — like the New York Times before it — opted to treat this news as a “he said/she said” political debate about abortion (it was the headline that tipped us off — “Politics Meets Health Care on RU-486 Debate”). At Fox, the investigation by health officials is just another excuse to remind readers, in the lead of their report, about “the fiery debate over the so-called chemical abortion pill.”

While the second and third sentences in the Los Angeles Times’ report are devoted to telling readers more about the investigation and the first quote comes from someone actually involved in the investigation, Fox hands its second sentence over to Wendy Wright, Policy Director “of the anti-abortion Concerned Women for America” (a character who also showed up in the New York Times’ report), who helpfully coughs up an anti-RU-486 talking point followed by a more general pro-life talking point.

And then, with an apparent straight face, comes this sentence: “[Wright’s] charge has led to complaints that issues surrounding RU-486 seem to be more about politics than health.” (Yeah. Especially on Providing a quote tsk-tsking the “politics involved” and touting the drug’s safety and efficacy is one “Dr. Deborah Nucatola,” identified by Fox only as “of the University of Southern California medical school” (Google also identifies her as the medical director of Planned Parenthood of Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo Counties, which we confirmed with a quick call to that organization).

Next, Fox readers learn what “RU-486 opponents suspect” and what its “supporters point out,” (emphasis ours) followed by a quote about the drug’s safety and efficacy from Vicki Saporta of the (pro-choice) National Abortion Federation.

Now, the Los Angeles Times also saves room for the same partisan advocates — Wendy Wright and Vicki Saporta — in a couple of paragraphs about “the already charged debate over the risks, rights and morality of abortion.” But partisan advocates are all that Fox readers get.

Which makes us wonder: how ever will Fox’s readers “decide” if Fox doesn’t “report?”

Liz Cox Barrett

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.