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Keeping Up Appearances

To avoid harming the anti-abortion agenda, WorldNetDaily and CNS would rather that its readers not know certain things regarding the death of George Tiller, such as Randall Terry's reaction to it and the alleged killer's ties to Operation Rescue.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 6/10/2009

The ConWeb is generally, and unsurprisingly, anti-abortion, so the May 31 killing of controversial late-term abortion doctor George Tiller was a subject of interest -- and spin.

Upon his death, and WorldNetDaily were quick to rush to press with denouncements by anti-abortion activists of Tiller's shooting and efforts to portray Tiller's alleged killer, Scott Roeder, as having no links to the mainstream anti-abortion movement:

  • A May 31 WND article quoted several anti-abortion groups condemning the shooting. Another May 31 article, by Drew Zahn, stated that "Several pro-life groups ... immediately condemned the murder as counter to their cause." A June 1 article by Chelsea Schilling hyped a claim that Roeder "allegedly suffered from mental illness" and insisted that "Roeder was not associated with the mainstream pro-life movement."
  • A June 1 CNS article began by asserting: "Pro-life groups say murder is incompatible with their beliefs, and they are condemning the shooting death of Kansas abortionist George Tiller."

Conspicuous by their absence, however, were the words of one anti-abortion activist in particular: Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue and a seminal figure in the movement. Terry issued the following statement after Tiller's death:

"Dr. Tiller was a mass murderer.

"I grieve for him that he did not have an opportunity to properly prepare his soul to face his Maker. Unless some miracle happened, he left this life with his hands drenched with the innocent blood of tens of thousands of babies that he murdered. Surely there will be a dreadful accounting for what he has done.

"I believe George Tiller was one of the most evil men on the planet; every bit as vile as the Nazi war criminals who were hunted down, tried, and sentenced after they participated in the 'legal' murder of the Jews that fell into their hands.

To this day, neither WND nor CNS have mentioned Terry's statement; only Newsmax among the ConWeb has reported Terry's remarks.

It's all the more puzzling because both WND and CNS had no issue with reporting Terry's antics in protesting Notre Dame's invitation to President Obama to speak at its commencement.

That WND and CNS would turn squeamish and spin-centric about reporting relevant facts about the anti-abortion movement is as unsurprising as their anti-abortion stance. Perhaps CNS felt it didn't need to after its leader, Media Research Center head Brent Bozell, engaged in some Terry-esque rhetoric in his June 2 column.

Complaining that the anti-abortion movement was the victim of "liberal mudslinging" because of an "unhinged vigilante," Bozell attacked Keith Olbermann for calling Tiller's death an "assassination": "Olbermann insisted that the mere act of denouncing Tiller as a killer of babies – as if he were instead removing tumors – is an invitation to terrorism and murder." Bozell concluded: "George Tiller was a monster who personally murdered 60,000 babies. May God have mercy on his soul."

That sentiment was echoed by Colleen Raezler, a writer for the MRC's Culture & Media Institute. In April, Raezler complained that the media allegedly failed to report the fact that the victims of a plane crash were an abortion doctor and his family; Raezler's repeated insistence that "loss of human life is a tragedy" was overshadowed by the overall tone of her piece, which made it clear that she believed the deaths of these people weren't a tragedy.

In a June 2 CMI article co-authored with Sarah Knoploh and also posted at NewsBusters, Raezler went even farther, suggesting that Tiller deserved to be targeted:

Loss of human life is a tragedy and should be reported as such, and premeditated murder is always wrong – something all the mainstream pro-life groups were quick to affirm in the wake of the killing. But in reporting this tragic story, the news media have much to say about a man who helped provide women with the “right” to end their pregnancies, but have little to say about lives he helped to end. In failing to highlight what Tiller’s work actually entailed, reporters do nothing to help their audience understand why this man was targeted.

By suggesting that Tiller was targeted for completely understandable reasons, she's also saying that it's completely understandable that someone would want to murder him, her disingenuous blather about how "loss of human life is a tragedy" notwithstanding.

Further, as ConWebWatch has detailed, CNS itself has had a longtime labeling bias on the subject, preferring "pro-life" to "anti-abortion" and "pro-abortion" to "pro-choice."

WND, meanwhile, has long been sympathetic to the extremist end of the anti-abortion movement. Two examples particularly stand out, as ConWebWatch has previously detailed:

  • In 2002, WND published a fawning profile of Neal Horsley, most notoriously known for operating a website with the names and personal information of abortion providers and their employees, and whose website served as a conduit for radical anti-abortion activist Clayton Waagner to issue death threats against 42 abortion clinic employees. WND portrayed Horsley as just a guy who runs "a pair of popular pro-life websites" who's being discriminated against because of a few unpleasant pictures are causing Internet service providers to continually dump him. (Horsley is also, by the way, currently a candidate for Georgia governor.)
  • WND also published in 2002 a seven-part series by Jack Cashill claiming that James Kopp was framed for the 1998 death of abortion doctor Barnett Slepian. Cashill accused the Clinton administration of being "determined ... to protect the abortion industry" and of having "open hostility to the pro-life movement" (and Hillary Clinton in particular of having "made the department into a formidable feminist stronghold"), painted Kopp as having "an almost Gandhian devotion to non-violence and passive resistance," accused officials of singling out Kopp as part of "a fishing expedition," claimed that because Slepian was a "mediocre student" and performing abortions takes "no great talent" he "fit the classic stereotype of the abortion doctor," asserted that evidence against Kopp was planted, and even suggested that "the pro-choice side had a much greater motive to kill Slepian than did the pro-life side" because Slepian was allegedly considering leaving his abortion practice. Six months later, Kopp pleaded guilty to killing Slepian; Cashill has yet to correct his articles or apologize for them. Cashill has similarly suggested that Eric Rudolph -- convicted of a bombing an Atlanta abortion clinic in 1997 that killed an off-duty policeman -- was also a victim of a Clinton conspiracy against him.

WND has also regularly attacked Tiller; according to WND's search engine, the phrase "Tiller the killer" occurs no less than 94 times on WND's website as of this writing, including several headlines. WND's attacks on Tiller have tended to be one-sided with little to no effort to fairly tell both sides of the story. WND -- and particularly Cashill -- has promoted the anti-Tiller crusade of Phill Kline, former Kansas attorney general and current county attorney.

WND's initial article on Tiller's death was typically unbalanced: It rehashed a case in which he was "accused on 19 counts of illegally aborting viable babies" -- of which he was acquitted.

WND writers have unloaded harsh rhetoric against Tiller as well. For instance, in a July 2007 column, Cashill lamented that "In Kansas, we don't even have a Gestapo to explain our passivity" toward allowing Tiller to stay in business, adding that "I have to ask myself whether we judged too harshly those 'Good Germans,' who turned a blind eye to Nazi inhumanities." And in a March 2007 column, Jill Stanek asserted that Tiller's "secret is to spread abortion blood money so thickly among politicians that there is allegedly nary a one with prosecutorial influence he has not bought off!"

If violent rhetoric by anti-abortion activists can be said to have been a contributing factor in Tiller's death, then WND has undoubtedly contributed. Unsurprisingly, WND would rather divert your attention elsewhere.

WND managing editor David Kupelian engaged in such a diversionary tactic in a June 1 column, insisting that "anti-abortion violence is extremely rare and is utterly repudiated by every pro-life organization and leader." (No mention, of course, of Randall Terry's deviation from that supposed norm.) Kupelian went on to assert that the Obama administration will use Tiller's shooting like Hitler used the Reichstag fire -- yet another in the long line of Nazi smears of Obama at WND. But there's nary a word about WND's own anti-Tiller rhetoric, let alone any move by him to accept responsibility for it.

Kupelian's Reichstag reference was shot down in surprising manner by none other than fellow right-wing activist David Horowitz in a June 2 FrontPageMag blog post:

I continue to get emails comparing President Obama to Hitler, the most recent suggesting that the murder of an abortion doctor might be Obama's "Reichstag Fire" and would be used by Obama to take away our civil liberties and terminate our Republic as Hitler did the Weimar Republic in the 1930s. This is lunatic stuff. Obama is better compared to Neville Chamberlain than to Adolf Hitler if you like these kinds of comparisons. Americans are not Germans -- it's a very big difference as far as political cultures are concerned, and Obama is not Hitler. Obama is a machine politician and whatever dangers he represents (and as I see it there are many) are dangers because they reflect the heart and soul of today's Democratic Party not because he is a Manchurian candidate or a closet Islamist, as more than a few conservatives seem to think.

Thus his appointment of a advocate of institutional racism to the Supreme Court is a predictable selection for any Democrat in the White House. His appeasement of Iran and the genocidal Palestinians, perhaps the most worrying of his foreign policy moves is the policy of his Secretary of State, his congressional leaders and his chief of staff. These facts add up to a worrisome prospect but a revival of the Third Reich is not one of them, and those who think it is and say so discredit only themselves.

Randall Terry isn't the only significant aspect of Tiller's death the ConWeb has been ignoring.

On June 3, McClatchy reported that after Roeder was captured following Tiller's shooting, authorities found in his car a note that read “Cheryl” and “Op Rescue” with a phone number. That appears to be Cheryl Sullenger, a senior policy adviser for Operation Rescue. Sullenger told McClatchy that Roeder had contacted her several times seeking information about court hearings involving Tiller, which she provided to him.

Despite the fact that this appears to contradict the claim that Roeder was "not associated with the mainstream pro-life movement" -- not to mention Operation Rescue's own attempt to disassociate itself from Roeder -- neither WND nor CNS have reported this to their readers.

Why would news outlets refuse to report news of interest to its audience? Because there's a storyline to maintain -- anti-abortion activists are never violent, and they don't associate with anyone who is. Anything that contradicts that storyline must be spun; if it can't be spun, it must be ignored.

Is that the definition of a "news organization"? Most people who care about journalism would say no.

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