MediaWatch: November 2, 1998

Vol. Twelve No. 19

Shut Up Before Your Words Kill Again!

Violence Tied to Pro-Life Advocates, But Not to Green Groups

The murder of Buffalo abortionist Barnett Slepian topped all the evening news shows on October 26, and ABC and CBS didn’t wither from blaming the pro-life movement for inciting the violence with its rhetoric. That didn’t happen to liberal environmentalists when all the networks devoted full stories four days earlier to the "Earth Liberation Front" burning buildings in Colorado.

Dan Rather announced Slepian "was just the latest abortion provider to be targeted by a violent, sometimes murderous, section of the pro-life movement." ABC’s John Miller noted: "Activists on the most radical end of the pro-life camp make no apologies for the sniper."

CBS reporter Richard Schlesinger suggested the whole movement was to blame: "Abortion rights activists now believe some leaders of the mainstream anti-abortion movement are inciting supporters on the fringe to violence." Schlesinger underlined the election: "It might be hard for voters to remember that the vast majority of anti-abortion protests are peaceful so soon after a doctor was shot to death in his own home."

Connecting the abortion procedure itself to death was anathema: "What they’ve got to stop doing is saying these people are murderers," abortion advocate Kelli Conlin told CBS. ABC’s Bill Redeker even put a priest on the defensive: "Today a Catholic priest defended the provocative mock cemetery marking hundreds of abortions performed in New York state this year."

But the arson of ski resort buildings in Colorado was reported differently. ABC’s Tom Foreman did not place the "Earth Liberation Front" on "the most radical end of the environmentalist camp." He declared "militant environmental groups such as Earth First say it’s fair game to attack property" and suggested sympathetically: "many environmentalists in Vail...are afraid their cause will be tainted by the violence."

On CBS, Bob McNamara didn’t go out to find that "property rights activists now believe leaders of mainstream environmental groups are inciting supporters to violence." He read a press release: "Urging a skier boycott of Vail, the group threatened more trouble, saying ‘putting profits ahead of Colorado’s wildlife will not be tolerated.’"

But perhaps the best measure of the media’s ideology on these stories is the overall trend: while the networks have devoted more than 500 news stories since 1993 to violence and threats against abortion clinics, only a handful of stories have touched on hundreds of cases of organized eco-terrorism in the West.