On the cover of yesterday’s Courier-Journal, I saw a headline tantamount to promoting fascist propaganda. It read: “Planned Parenthood being accused of ‘black genocide.’” This headline looks like a sign you would see at a Trump or Cruz rally, not the cover of Louisville’s daily newspaper.
I take no joy in featuring the bad work of another media outlet in Louisville. In my opinion, in this town, a strong, trusted media is good for all media as well as the community. Unfortunately, this was a shameful week for the C-J, and it reached a crescendo with yesterday’s front page.
No editor should have let this headline stand. And as a reporter (which I make no claims to be a professional) your first job — before ever putting pen to paper — is to determine whether or not a story is worthy of reporting. I would argue that this story itself is not worthy because its subjects are neither legal, medical, historical or relevant experts of any kind to the Planned Parenthood lawsuit. Similarly, their only purpose is to promote a knowingly-biased opposition to abortion based on their religious beliefs, which is not news.
Let me ask you this: If I called a press conference to promote all the phenomenal life-saving services provided by Planned Parenthood, would I get front-page attention? Possibly a headline proclaiming, “Planned Parenthood applauded for saving black lives.” No. Nor would I expect that kind of attention. But that headline would be more factually accurate and germane to the pending lawsuit. As a former board member of Planned Parenthood I would be more of an expert than the people who called this press conference.
All media, in particular national political television, seem to be compelled to give a 50-50, left vs. right, “fair and balanced,” split-screen debate of every issue. The problem is that not every issue is 50-50. Facts don’t always support both sides.
This group, whom I refuse to mention by name because they’ve already received more attention than they deserve, did nothing but sensationalize the cover of the C-J. They offered nothing new to the debate. They used tactics that appeal to our core emotional senses to get attention: race-baiting, abortion, genocide, Black Lives Matter, Nazis, Hitler, all in an effort to get their names in the paper and push their religious agenda, veiled in racial and religious righteousness. And the C-J bought it.
The final quote in the article, from the organization’s president, said, “Do we want Planned Parenthood out of the neighborhood? … Yes! There are other organizations that provide help that don’t kill babies.”
The problem is, in many cases, there are not other organizations. For many, Planned Parenthood is the only option people have for vital health services, such as: STI testing and treatment, flu vaccines, as well as screenings for cancer, cholesterol, diabetes and blood pressure among others. That’s what people who are opposed to Planned Parenthood don’t, or choose not to, understand. So the misleading messages sent regarding other people’s health and reproductive rights actually puts the health of those listening at tremendous risk, because they may need those services one day, and Planned Parenthood could be the only door open to them.
As for the C-J, this headline and article should be used in journalism courses around the country as a test exercise for finding everything that is wrong from a journalistic standpoint.
In no particular order of egregiousness: The headline is shameful — simply click-bait to get readers. For me, the single aforementioned quote would alone be the red flag that lets the reporter know that these are not serious people, and that their ignorant, selfish, self-promoting propaganda is not worthy of the ink the once-great C-J was printed on. Neither was the statement from one minister who said, “The most dangerous place for a black man in America … is in his mother’s womb.”
If that didn’t raise concerns, then the time-tested standard of reckless references to Hitler, Nazis and genocide almost always surpasses the threshold of reasonability: “Reading from a statement, [president’s name] likened Planned Parenthood services to the Eugenics movement aimed at creating a superior race, a movement ‘that inspired Hitler to launch the most evil campaign in human history.’”
We at LEO are not perfect. We engage in serious editorial debates every week. I win some, I lose some, but in the end, collectively, we do the best we can and hopefully present a story that is worthy of your attention. Sometimes this has led to pulling an entire feature story the day before print deadline, leaving us with something inferior than we’d hoped for. That said, sometimes not running a story is the responsible thing to do.