How National Media Failed
Perhaps the worst offender of the right-wing media campaign was Fox News host Jesse Watters, who hosted the Republican state attorneys general of Ohio and Indiana to deny the story, then attack. wrongly the doctor in the case.
Fox’s corporate cousin, The Wall Street Journal, also tried to deny the story, relying on Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost’s claims about Watters’ program. At every step, these right-wing voices seemed to ignore any idea of trying to find out for themselves if the story was true, instead just assuming it wasn’t and then expounding from there. .
National mainstream media fared little better, bending over backwards to honor the conservative response:
- Washington Post Fact Checker columnist Glenn Kessler wrote a column last weekend, writing that with the “presidential imprimatur” of Biden’s speech, “the story has acquired the status of ‘fact’ whatever or its provenance”. A Media Matters analysis found that Fox News quoted Kessler’s column six times in segments that attempted to debunk the actually true story. Kessler’s work also showed unequal levels of control between abortion rights activists and abortion opponents, clearly facilitating opponents while finding ways to penalize reproductive rights advocates.
- The New York Times published an article on Thursday titled “Facts were sparse on an abortion case. But that didn’t stop the attacks. The wording of ‘attacks’ in the headline apparently did not refer to the campaign of right-wing misinformation targeting the doctor, the victim, local reporters and the Biden administration, but rather at critics of Kessler and other skeptics: “People on the left were quick to jump on it and criticize any media report which underlined how little was known about the girl and the circumstances of the crime. Rather, the focus should have been that every right-wing allegation against the case was refuted as new facts came to light.
- The Associated Press published an article by media reporter David Bauder on Friday, titled “Rape in Ohio shows how story can spread faster than facts.” The phrasing of the headline, as well as the use of a passive voice to describe how “there were already questions being raised about the Star’s story”, failed to emphasize right-wing media and to underscore the reality that the original “story” had been confirmed at every step as new facts were reported.
The Times article also contained crucial insight from Amalie Nash, senior vice president of local news for USA Today, on the distinct advantages of local newspapers over national media. “Our reporter was the only one who was in the courtroom at the arraignment, and he’s someone who’s in the community, who has supply, who’s able to make it happen a lot more faster than someone could nationwide,” Nash said. said.
Unfortunately, the Times buried that quote in the 22nd paragraph, well below all the regular navel-gazing to justify the national media’s inability to confirm or refute the basic facts of the story for themselves, instead continuing to show deference to right-wing narratives. which are concocted while being devoid of any obligation of truth.
Fact checking for accuracy is important. But there is a substantial difference between vetting to uphold reporting standards and the dignity of right-wing denial that the case even existed – or creating a frenzy that could lead to doxing a victim of abuse. Local media handled this appropriately and national journalists should follow their lead in the future.