My latest article in the Columbia Journalism Review scrutinizes a The Detroit News package published this week that looks to localize a new poll revealing that large numbers of female voters in swing states are shifting support to President Obama. Reporter Christine Tierney covered the basics of the poll’s findings for the News, and Marisa Schultz offered a take on the current political battles in Michigan over abortion and family planning. It's a mostly solid package on a crucial issue, but there are distracting lapses ... and a very significant absence.
Schultz leads with this week’s opening of the first Planned Parenthood clinic in Oakland County, outside Detroit, which she puts in context of “about 30 bills” targeting reproductive health that are now before the state legislature (with two-thirds of its members opposing abortion). The piece includes plenty of interviews with lawmakers and advocates on both sides of the fight, and it explains well how a period of steady conservative gains set the table for the legislature to prioritize laws that restrict abortion and family planning. From the article:
“We do have a window of opportunity and we need to utilize it,” said state Rep. Thomas Hooker, R-Byron Township, who is pushing legislation to defund Planned Parenthood.
Despite its virtues, there are ways the News’s package could have been better. One quibble: Schultz’s article indicates that for anti-abortion lawmakers, already “there have been some gains. Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law a late-term abortion ban last year.” But Schultz neglects to mention that a federal ban on the procedure has been in place for several years, making the Michigan law redundant. Its passage last fall was, at most, intended to ensure the procedure wouldn’t be permitted in Michigan in the event that the federal ban is ever changed. A more cynical interpretation is that the ban was pure pandering ahead of a key election year. ...
A bigger complaint is what’s missing from the piece: the voices of doctors, nurses, and patients, the people most palpably impacted by the policies debated by politicians and advocates. This is a significant, if not necessarily atypical, hole in an article on the political reverberation of reproductive health policies. With Schultz’s article pinned to the opening of a new Planned Parenthood clinic in a county that has its own Detroit News bureau, it seems like an obvious step to talk to the people who will be working there and potentially using its services—or, for that matter, the clinic’s new neighbors. But in the entire News package, there are two women quoted: Amanda Henneberg, a Romney campaign spokeswoman, and Sarah Scranton, the Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan executive director. The absence of the people being talked about—the unaffiliated women who, as Tierney notes, are hardly a unanimous voting bloc—feels glaring.
Speaking of Michigan's legislature: on The Rachel Maddow Show last night, there was an intriguing segment on (what appears to be) astonishing practices in Michigan's government that results in skirting votes not only of citizens, but of fellow legislators. I disagree on a few of Rachel Maddow's points, and am still mulling over a few others, but the core "scoop" (as she calls it) is worth attention.
P.S. What you want to do right now is fill out my amazing (yet brief) survey. Time for this is short!