Penny Starr's Anti-Abortion Crusade
The CNSnews.com reporter is so biased on the subject that she thinks Harry Reid is a baby-killer, yet she's allowed to report on the subject anyway.
By Terry Krepel
The bio for Penny Starr at CNSNews.com describes her as a "senior staff writer" who reports on, among other things, "a wide range of cultural issues."
In reality, Starr has been trying to keep the culture wars alive, promoting the mission of her right-wing employer, the Media Research Center, by writing "news" articles. This was demonstrated most recently when her mission to find things to complain about in museum exhibits hit paydirt when she highlighted an 11-second clip of ants crawling over a crucifix in a Smithsonian exhibit on gay and lesbian portraiture. This set off a firestorm -- well, to be accurate, the MRC set it off -- that ultimately resulted in the video being removed from the exhibit (though falling short of Starr's presumed ultimate goal of shutting down the entire thing).
When she's not trolling museums, Starr's top issue is abortion -- or rather, promoting "pro-life" activism while bashing and smearing anyone who supports abortion rights.
ConWebWatch has previously documented Starr's work in writing biased articles about Planned Parenthood, and she brings that same lack of fairness to her reporting on abortion.
Starr made her stand on abortion perfectly clear in a Dec. 21, 2009, column in which she essentially called Sen. Harry Reid a baby-killer:
It’s more than a bit ironic that Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is threatening to work right up until Christmas to pass legislation that could allow federal dollars to pay for the deaths of untold numbers of unborn children.
Starr appears to be merely regurgitating unverified claims by anti-abortion activists -- as apparently lifted from another CNS article -- that the compromise agreed to by Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, in some convoluted way, permitted federal funding for abortion.
Starr also penned a Jan. 19 column in which she sneered at the EPA for recognizing environmental risks to fetal development but not opposing abortion: "Last time I checked, removing an unborn child limb by limb definitely will cause not only rapid changes in physiology and anatomy, but most certainly that irreversible state called DEATH."
In any other news organization, a reporter who expressed such extreme, absolute opinions would have been disciplined -- or, at the very least, barred from reporting on the subject. At CNS, such a vengeful opinion is likely encouraged. Needless to say, the abortion beat she was on before the column is where she remains today:
A Jan. 23, 2009, article embraced biased right-wing (and CNS) terminology on the subject, repeatedly described President Obama as "pro-abortion" or as supporting "pro-abortion policies." Starr fails to describe abortion opponents as "anti-abortion"; rather, she uses the preferred right-wing term "pro-life.
A May 26, 2009, article uncritically repeated results of a poll bought by Americans United for Life claiming that, in Starr's words, "Americans care about what kind of Supreme Court justice that President Barack Obama will nominate, including how they would rule in cases involving abortion." Starr noted that the poll was conducted by The Polling Company without further explaining that the firm's owner, Kellyanne Conway, is a partisan Republican activist. Starr makes no apparent effort to obtain any response to the claims in the article -- the only people she quotes are the head of AUL and Conway. Starr similarly omitted The Polling Company's right-wing linings in an April 2009 article.
Starr also spread misinformation about the health care reform bill as it relates to abortion.
A Feb. 22 article claimed that President Obama's health care proposal "mostly mirrors the Senate bill and, in particular, would allow for tax dollars to be used to fund health plans that cover abortion." In fact, as Media Matters detailed, the Senate bill followed the Hyde Amendment by not using federal funds for abortion. Rather, in health plans in the proposed health insurance exchange that offer coverage for abortion, premiums collected to cover abortion are segregated from other federal funds -- a procedure permitted by existing federal law.
A July 19 article by Starr uncritically repeated the claim of a "revelation by the National Right to Life’s legal counsel that the new health care law will allow some states to use federal funds for abortion," and Republican Rep. Mike Pence's assertion that it "must not stand," without mentioning that the claim is utterly discredited.
Whitewashing anti-abortion extremism
Starr has been eager to play public relations agent for the anti-abortion movement. She has repeatedly insisted that Scott Roeder, convicted of murdering abortion doctor George Tiller in 2009, is someone "known to have mental problems" and "a mentally unstable man." In fact, while Roeder family members claimed immediately after the shooting that Roeder suffered from mental illness, Roeder did not mount an insanity defense at his trial; indeed, Roeder attempted to portray his actions as justified under a "necessity defense." Further, a psychologist hired by his defense found Roeder competent to stand trial.
This follows in line with CNS' attempts to divorce Roeder from the anti-abortion movement, as ConWebWatch has detailed -- even though CNS has touted the antics of Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, a group Roeder was known to have contact with prior to the Tiller shooting. CNS failed to report Terry's implicit endorsement of Roeder's shooting of Tiller.
But that doesn't appear to be true, and Starr ignored contradictory claims. A 2006 report by the office of Rep. Henry Waxman found that when 23 random crisis pregnancy centers were called, 20 of them wrongly tied abortion to breast cancer or infertility or mental illness. And a 2008 report by NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland found that every one of the 11 pregnancy centers it visited in Maryland offered up some piece of false information; in once center, a male counselor locked the door and acted "controlling and intimidating."
Starr pulled a similar stunt in a July 9 article asserting that a new congressional bill will "restrict the speech of pro-life crisis pregnancy centers by regulating the advertising they do." In fact, all the bill would do is forbid ads that "create the impression that such person is a provider of abortion services if such person does not provide abortion services." While Starr quoted this provision in her article, at no point did she or any of the "pro-life" people she quotes explain how that provision equates to "restricting the speech of pro-life crisis pregnancy centers." Starr again omitted the fact that numerous crisis pregnancy centers have been found to give out misleading or false information about abortion or even acted in a "controlling and intimidating" manner to the client.
Starr went into full whitewash mode in a Sept. 30 article touting "the first published report of the work done by pregnancy resource centers around the United States."
This was followed by an Oct. 13 article in which she gushed over "the pro-life movement of pregnancy resource centers across the United States," focusing on a center in a Los Angeles neighborhood where "abortion clinics are commonplace." Buried toward the end of the article is mention of a NARAL Pro-Choice California Foundation report on how such centers "target" low-income and minority women, followed by a rebuttal from the pregnancy center director. She made no reference to criticism of the centers.
But the report did much more than report on alleged "targeting"; it also detailed how "many of these centers practiced manipulative counseling and provided medically inaccurate information" -- conclusions Starr didn't see fit to report.
Starr followed this with an Oct. 18 article on a woman "lobbying members of Congress about the work done by pregnancy resource centers across the nation." This time, Starr did note the NARAL report's claim that the centers were allegedly "using inaccurate medical information and untrained volunteers who use intimidation techniques" -- but it was immediately followed by the lobbyist portraying the centers as "under attack" and describing her own experience at such a center when she was younger where the people were "so nice" and "did not judge me at all."
At no point does Starr or any of the people she interviewed respond to the specific criticisms made in the NARAL report.
A Nov. 11 article by Starr played a disingenuous bit of guilt by association. Under the headline "Planned Parenthood Got $349.6 Million in Tax Dollars, Performed 324,008 Abortions, Paid Its President $385,163," Starr writes:
Planned Parenthood received $349.6 million in tax dollars in the fiscal year ending on June 30, 2008, and it paid its president, Cecile Richards, $385,163, plus another $11,876 in benefits and deferred compensation.
Starr never comes right out and says it, but the implication is clear: federal tax money goes toward abortion. That is false. The Hyde Amendment prohibits federal funds from paying for abortions.
But the point of Starr's article is not to inform, it is to inflame -- by her own admission. Starr concludes her article by noting efforts in Congress to defund Planned Parenthood, and, on her Twitter account, Starr linked to her article with the message, "Let the de-funding begin!"
That kind of blatant bias would not be permitted at a real news organization, yet CNS gives her a pass.