MediaWatch: March 1997

Vol. Eleven No. 3

Partial-Truth Abortion Coverage

Ron Fitzsimmons, director of the National Coalition of Abortion Pro- viders, reignited the abortion debate February 26. He said he'd "lied through his teeth" when he insisted partial-birth abortion was rare and used only on deformed fetuses. He now admits up to 5,000 a year are done, many when baby and mother are healthy.

That night, NBC's Tom Brokaw still claimed: "What anti-abortionists call partial-birth abortions -- that's a provocative and mostly inaccurate statement." On CBS, Dan Rather noted the "deceitful twist" and said that in politics, "truth can be the first casualty." Rather should know.

Between November 1, 1995 through the end of 1996, the networks ran 97 stories (22 full stories, 75 anchor briefs) on the partial-birth debate, tracing it through Congress, Clinton's veto, and Congress's failure to override. Almost one-third (28) contained disinformation.

The deceit started the morning before the bill passed the House. Matt Lauer said on the November 1, 1995 Today it would ban one "rare abortion procedure." That night, Tom Brokaw claimed it would make the "little-used late term procedure" a felony. Lauer claimed the procedure was "rare" or "little-used" five times in thirteen stories between November 1 and December 8, 1995.

On March 28, 1996 the day after House passage, CBS This Morninganchor Troy Roberts stated "about 500" were done annually, twice claiming it was "often chosen by mothers who discover serious birth defects in the fetus."

On the September 26 CBS This Morning, Family Research Council's Gary Bauer cited a Bergen Record report on how 1,500 such abortions were performed annually in New Jersey alone, host Jane Robelot retorted: "The statistics we hear from both sides of the issue is more like 600 a year, nationwide. Where are your statistics coming from?" Despite the New Jersey report, that night Dan Rather returned to calling the procedure "rarely used."

Although the networks treated Fitzsimmons' admission as a revelation, they had the abortion doctors' own words years earlier. Dr. Martin Haskell told the American Medical News in 1993 that 80 percent of partial birth abortions he performed were "purely elective."

Only Ed Bradley (on the June 2, 1996 60 Minutes) mentioned Haskell's comment, and only ABC's Dr. Tim Johnson (on the September 19, 1996 World News Tonight) pointed out "no one knows how many...are done each year...Nor does anyone know how many are done on healthy fetuses versus those with severe birth defects." Otherwise Rather and other network reporters spent 13 months dutifully endorsing abortion advocates' claims.

But the following report by Lisa Myers went on to describe one such procedure until the title "Partial Birth Abortion": "The fetus is pulled partially out of the birth canal feet first, then the skull is punctured and the brain suctioned out."