The meme coming from the left is simple: right-wing activity leads to extremism. As early as last April democratic staffers on Capitol Hill were passing out press releases
claiming the Town Hall attendees were "neo-Nazis."
Since then the claim has been echoed by dozens of high profile opinion writers including Paul Krugman
at the New York Times
and Eugene Robinson
at the Washington Post
(who claims "far-left violence in this country has gone the way of the leisure suit.")
In an Op-Ed
in the New York Times
, Bill Clinton not so subtly drew parallels
between the Oklahoma City bombing and the current environment. He didn’t identify any particular source of danger, but his warning was clearly aimed at those who use “anti-government” rhetoric. No surprise those people tend to be conservatives.
Of course there has been real right-wing extremism, most notably the murder of abortionist George Tiller
last Summer. That shouldn't be ignored or minimized. On the other hand, there was another killing not long after which received a lot less attention. Jim Pouillon, a long time pro-life advocate
, was shot three times through the pro-life sign he was holding by a stranger who was irritated by his message.
One could reasonably argue that Tiller's murder was the bigger story, news-wise. He had become symbolic of a particularly controversial kind of abortion (late term) and had experienced previous violence. Giving the story double (even triple) coverage would be reasonable. But five and a half times as much? That’s what the New York Times
did. How about twenty times as much? That’s what the Los Angeles Times
did. The Washington Post
was in between with just over twelve times as much coverage of Tiller than Pouillon. All of them put Time
magazine to shame: Time
ran nearly 5,000 words on Tiller, but not one on Pouillon. Here's a chart that shows how lopsided the coverage was:
The numbers don't tell the whole story. Much of the coverage of Tiller was glowing. There are quotes from fellow church members, quotes from family, quotes from supporters. His story is conveyed as a tragedy. One whole piece was devoted to his family life. And one biographic story in the New York Times
ran 6,000 words, 50% longer than all their coverage of Jim Pouillon's murder combined.
The coverage of the Tiller case raised the specter of further violence at every turn. Who will be next? The Washington Post
gave space to religious believers of every stripe to comment on the story including a pro-choice Wiccan priestess, a pro-choice Rabbi and a pro-choice Christian pastor who accused pro-lifers of "fedoaltry." In short, all three papers took Tiller's murder as an opportunity to look at the big picture, usually from a pro-choice point of view, and to push their editorial agenda.
By contrast, the coverage of Pouillon painted him as a confrontational rabble-rouser. The New York Times ran a story
(headline: "Slain Abortion Opponent ‘Loved the Controversy’ His Protests Generated") which in the first paragraph described Pouillon as “breaking the idyllic quiet with loud anti-abortion rants.” It went on to suggest that his real motivation wasn’t a principled view of life but unhappiness over his divorce. Not exactly sympathetic treatment from the Times
. The authors stop short of suggesting he brought the murder on himself, but the tone is a long way from the hagiography
that Tiller received. When the Times
eventually ran word of the conviction of Harlan Drake (Pouillon’s killer) it was a 65-word stub under the headline "Michigan: Trucker Guilty of Killings
." There is no indication that political assassination was part of the story.
Lacking in coverage of Pouillon's murder are any of the big questions that might have been asked, starting with will this happen again? There was, so far as I could find, no recounting of past acts of violence against pro-lifers or any suggestion that a pattern might exist. No one offered a round up of quotes from angry pro-choicers, some of whom said he got what he deserved (they weren't that hard to find if anyone had bothered to look).
Bad as it was, the Times
's coverage was far better than the Post
or the L.A. Times
could muster. Can anyone justify a 20:1 split in coverage of these two murders? The Washington Post
ran a few AP pieces but basically devoted zero resources to Pouillon's murder. Time
didn't mention him at all (neither did Newsweek
). If you only read those magazines you might think left-wing extremism didn’t exist.
It's impossible to look at the numbers, not to mention the tone of the coverage itself, and avoid the obvious conclusion that the press has a dog in this fight. The reporters writing these stories are nearly all pro-choice. So are the editors assigning the stories and writing the headlines. As a result, right-wing violence garners a lot more media coverage. It's not a conspiracy, just confirmation bias
And it extends far beyond this story. Did you know that a Crisis Pregnancy Center in Arizona was burned out
just before Christmas? Probably not since not a single major media outlet covered the story. But if someone sets fire to an abortion clinic you can bet it will be national news.
Sadly, the MSM's story selection eventually forms a kind of conventional wisdom, one that suggests "right-wing" is the natural prefix for "extremism." In contrast, examples of left-wing violence are just a blip, a local crime story with no national implications worth mentioning, if the story is even covered at all.
Of course, this isn't true. There was a bigger narrative in which to place Jim Pouillon's murder just as was the case for Tiller, but that story remains untold. If the MSM is serious about being non-partisan they need to start compensating for their own measurable bias.