Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Why the March for Life wasn’t “news”

I don't own the copyright.
Two days after record-breaking hordes of people, the majority of them under 25, marched in freezing rain in Washington, DC — between four and five hundred thousand; that’s almost half a million, folks — at the annual March for Life, the pro-life blogosphere is humming with barely-suppressed fury and indignation. 

Why?  Because once again the bulk of the MSM blew off what MSNBC grudgingly admitted was “the largest and longest-running peaceful human rights demonstration for the unborn” (which didn’t stop Andrea Mitchell from posting a slavishly sycophantic interview with Planned Barrenhood president Cecile Richards). 

Clay Waters at the Media Research Center noted that the New York Times blew the March off for the fifth year in a row.  John Jalsevac of LifeSiteNews noted that WaPo’s photo montage of the event “focused primarily on a tiny cadre of pro-abortion counter protesters that gather every year on the steps of the Supreme Court (mostly, I am convinced, just so that the mainstream media has pro-abortion counter protesters to photograph): a group so small that, if you weren’t looking carefully, you would probably miss it.”  Michelle Malkin writes sardonically that “it has become an annual ritual to watch the national media and liberal commentariat strain to ignore or marginalize the burgeoning movement of increasingly young and minority activists taking to the street to stand up for the unborn.”

And when Erik Wemple of WaPo used a story of a cat slain in Russellville, Ark., to claim a conservative media bias, Mark Judge of The Daily Caller hooted, “After The Post ignored half a million people, most of them young people, marching to let one million babies a year live, the paper’s media critic screams media bias because Fox didn’t break into ‘The Five’ with news that a cat had been the victim of a political hit.  Hang on, I just want to check that Post link again.  Nope, it’s not The Onion.”

Now, I’ll admit that those of us raised in a different era of journalistic integrity (i.e., when “journalistic integrity” wasn’t an oxymoron) would naturally expect along with young Marc Barnes that a protest march so large would be newsworthy.  (I don’t chide Marc for naïveté; rather, I envy his already formidable writing skill.)  Equally attention-grabbing should have been the 50,000-strong march in the City by the Gay this last Saturday and the massive turnout in Paris on Sunday.  And we should at least note that the few examples of explicit bias were nowhere as ridiculous as in 2010, when CNN’s Rick Sanchez wondered out loud which side was represented most (follow link for clip) and Newsweek had a story claiming that young women would be missing from the demonstrations.

But we need to step back for a minute and gain some perspective.  One muttonhead sneered in Marc’s combox, “Of COURSE the biggest newspaper in the world doesn’t cover this; they’re busy covering things that matter, like war and disease and famine.”  And when another commenter asked some ABC camerapersons, “this many people could be marching in protest of vegetables and it would make the news so how can they ignore this? They ignored me and made sarcastic comments like ‘Oh yeah, real newsworthy’.”

Okay, so how can the world’s longest running human-rights protest be a journalistic non-event?  Possibly because it has been running for such a long time?

Yesterday, Richard Collins of Linen on the Hedgerow used Abp. Fulton Sheen’s simile of the frog in the bucket in a different context to remind us of how gradual changes are harder to notice.  In the same way, the March for Life has been going on for so long that to many journalists reporting on it at all is like pretending that Mardi Gras parades just came out of nowhere.  So not until something about the parades really grabs their attention will they finally notice that, gee, there’s a lot of young people in Washington every January.

Another factor that works against MFL is the very youth of the marchers.

Although in the last couple of years more people have been identifying themselves as “pro-life” rather than “pro-choice”, the extent to which people have been “pro-life” has been ambiguous at best.  Depending on how the questions are phrased, various polls over the last ten years have shown that the majority of people would favor some restrictions on abortion, but not heavy restrictions or complete illegalization.

Consider the graphic below, taken from the recent Marist Poll/Knights of Columbus study:

Looked at one way, the number of people favoring heavy restrictions on abortion has remained constant at 79% over the last two years.  But in fact, there’s a slight difference when considered by type than when considered by time frame: the number of people who would restrict abortion to certain grounds actually slipped, from 42% to 40%, while the number who would restrict abortion to a certain timeframe slightly increased, from 34% to 36%.

Because the new pro-life movement is predominantly young, it hasn’t grown enough yet to disturb the “mushy middle” who are “personally against” abortion but who haven’t connected the dots (i.e., “I’m personally against atrocities, but I wouldn’t want to tell somebody he can’t commit one”). The people who make decisions in the MSM are mostly in the 40-60 bracket, so it’s going to be some years before the pro-life youth of today are going to be in a position to dictate the terms of the new culture from the top down.

Now, this is not to say we shouldn’t celebrate the growth and youth of the pro-life movement — that would be a truly dumb thing to say.  It’s one of many indications that promise we will be victorious in the end.

I’m just saying that the MSM is going to need a few more shocks before they realize that a new counterculture has come to undo the mistakes of the last.  Then you’ll start to see the kind of coverage that comes with panic.