Now the phony outfit which produced one bit of propaganda video smearing the work of Planned Parenthood has released others – albeit without so much fanfare after the first one was thoroughly debunked as beyond heavily edited and well into the realm of sick fiction. Sad to say, there’s a market for this stuff.
If we combine religious convictions with partisan politics the result is a rationalized*, but not necessarily reasonable, audience for all manner of propaganda which supports the world view of the anti-choice activist. Further, if we combine a media intent on publishing superficial coverage of policy with an emphasis on the politics of the subject matter and not the substance, then we get the breathless “debates” which pass for discourse in national media.
And the anti-choice activists are playing the media like a cheap tin whistle. This is relatively easy in a media environment in which facts don’t matter all that much. The anti-choice activism attracting national attention is as artificial and sensational as it is formulaic.
Step One: Attract Media Attention. Marches on Washington, D.C. have become rather common place, the one planned by March For Life back in January 2014 was attended by “thousands.” That would be “hundreds of thousands” if we count attendance at all the marches from 2003 onward. The event will continue to be on the calendar as long as speakers are ready to sign on, such as Jesse Helms, Rep. Chris Smith, Randall Terry, Rep. Patrick J. Toomey, Rep. Eric Cantor, and Rep. Kevin McCarthy. However, as this event becomes more illustrative of the close relationship between religion and politics, it doesn’t command attention onto single targets.
Step Two: Make Your Own News. This is the point at which the phony videos come into play. Planned Parenthood has come under fire before, and as a target for anti-choice activists who seem to be disturbed by the 3% of its medical care in the form of abortions, but also enraged by the “planned” part wherein the clinics provide contraceptive care. In my opinion, it’s necessary at this part of the discussion to separate segments of the anti-choice audience.
If we look at the Gallup Polling for trends, since presumably they’ve asked the questions the same way over the course of their reporting, the number expressing support for abortion under any circumstances has ranged from about 21% in the 1970s to about 29% today. Those who expressed the view that abortions should be illegal in all circumstances has never achieved more than a 23% level. Gallup has been tracking opinions of “single issue” voters, asking if the candidate must share the prospective voter’s views, and in this instance among registered voters only 19% self identified as ‘abortion single issue voters.’
Americans are generally in favor of having a physician inform women of alternatives, but are opposed (57%) to having a law allowing a pharmacists or physicians to opt out of procedures which could induce an abortion. 61% were reported as opposed (61%) to the idea that a Constitutional amendment should be enacted to prohibit abortions with the exception of an immediate threat to the mother’s physical health.
What these numbers show us is that the anti-choice influence as currently voiced by Governor Scott Walker, is a function of the fringe of the “pro-birth” advocates, a group identified as opposed to abortion in almost every circumstance, and agreeable only if the woman’s health is in immediate danger.
So, how did this this rabid minority grab the headlines? (1) Television needs pictures, (2) and Television needs to fill air time. Therefore, the strategy, as practiced by the erstwhile Center for Medical Progress is to create the pictures and edit the narrative to get media attention. It did: on Fox, on ABC, on NBC, and in the Washington Post, among others.
Step Three: Provide a Distraction. Now we have the confluence of political strategy and conservative social activism. A Republican Party, currently engaging in intriguing internecine warfare between its establishment and Tea Party ranks, has struggled to get a message out to voters on crucial issues, and has to deal with the Trump’ed Campaign which is long on bluster and short on policy. CNN polling from this month indicates the top issue for Americans is the economy at 44%. Issues at 20% and below are: health care, terrorism, immigration, and foreign policy. If the GOP opts for health care then it has to present a full blown policy alternative to the Affordable Care Act; if the GOP opts for terrorism then it has to present a unified vision of exactly who in the Middle East is going to be supported by whom. If the GOP opts for trailing along with Donald Trump on the immigration issue, then it needs to offer a viable alternative to the Senate comprehensive immigration policy reform bill languishing in House committees.
In short, the anti-abortion issue is extremely attractive as a distraction. The media is enraptured with its latest shiny object “Celebrities talking about something scandalous which can be simply stated and opens the possibility of endless speculation.” The Perfect News Story. Let the lambent divagation begin!
Step Four: Enter the Opportunists. Once the assault was given credibility by a credulous media, the politicians immediately pounced. For example, Missouri politicians could be addressing the fact that the median household income for that state ranks 44th in the nation. [Census] However, it’s ever so much easier to launch a state Senate investigation into Planned Parenthood. Tennessee politicians could be evaluating information about the potential $1.4 billion “Insure Tennessee” could bring to the state, [UTecon] but no, they’d prefer to wail on about Planned Parenthood. Florida politicians could be addressing how to deal with an influx of people from Puerto Rico’s lamentable economic situation [Orlando] but the publicity seekers prefer to call for an investigation of Planned Parenthood. [NBC2] And, one more example: Washington state Republican leaders want an investigation into Planned Parenthood’s activities, [King5] instead of discussing further why it was necessary to cut $10 billion in basic services from the state budget? [WABPC]
Step Five: Lather Rinse Repeat. Once conservative politicians discover that media attention can be drawn by magisterially announcing an Investigation into the Scandal, I Say Scandal!, and reporters chime in by asking those pro-choice politicians What Do YOU think? the great game can continue. Meanwhile, the Missouri economy can lurch along, the Tennessee insurance options can be put aside in the wonky category, Floridians can contemplate what can go wrong when there’s an influx from the economically devastated Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and Washingtonians can muddle through a sparse budget while trying to renovate and redevelop waterfront properties.
The unholy alliance of shrill advocates, all too many of whom don’t much care what happens to the child after its birth (No food stamps for you, you little grifter, you’ll just learn to be dependent), combined with a sensationalist and shallow press – not well known for its fact checking, and added to a partisan farrago of opportunistic and camera seeking politicians, yields a recipe for political cynicism at its finest.
Come Back To Me When You’re Ready To Get Serious
Bluntly stated, I don’t much care for this brand of politics, or the attendant perfunctory press which nourishes it. Come back to me when there’s a real scandal – like the 16 million children in the United States who are now living in poverty. [NCCP] – like the 18,000 children and teenagers who are killed or injured in gun violence each year in this country [Brady] – like, for how many years now have we been discussing the number of children who attend school in substandard buildings? “National spending on school construction has diminished to approximately $10 billion in 2012, about half the level spent prior to the recession, while the condition of school facilities continues to be a significant concern for communities. Experts now estimate the investment needed to modernize and maintain our nation’s school facilities is at least $270 billion or more…” [ASCE] – like, when you want to talk about the 49 million Americans, 15.8 million of whom are children, who are living in food insecure households. [FAO]
Until then, I will continue to hold the opinion that the radical anti-abortion advocates who are adept at playing the Grab the Microphone Game, and the politicians and members of the press who are delighted to play along, are little more than shallow opportunistic attention seekers. Attention seekers who can’t differentiate between being Pro-Life and being in favor of Forced Birth.
Recommended Reading and References:
*Dissertation: University of Iowa, “The Violent Transformation of a Social Movement: Women and Anti-Abortion Activism,” Karissa A. Haugeberg, 2011. Iowa Research Online. JSTOR: “Movements, Counter Movements, and the structure of political opportunity,” American Journal of Sociology, Meyer & Staggenborg.
Media Matters for America: “Factcheck.Org debunks deceptively edited video smearing Planned Parenthood,” July 22, 2015. “Unspinning the Planned Parenthood Video,” FactCheck.Org, July 21, 2015. “Second Heavily edited Planned Parenthood Attack Video is Also A Big Bust, Slate, July 21, 2015. “Debunking the Planned Parenthood Video Hoax,” RH Reality Check, July 20, 2015. “What the Planned Parenthood hoax really proves: Right Wing Extremists have no qualms about destroying people’s lives, “ Salon, July 16, 2015. “Here’s how the anti-abortion movement plans to modernize its approach,” Huffington Post, January 22, 2015.