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Will Media Report Dr. George Tiller’s Murder as an Act of Terrorism?

jpozners Icon Posted by Jennifer L Pozner

May 31st, 2009

With outrage rising at today’s widely reported murder of doctor George Tiller at his church, many news outlets are reporting this crime as if it were a completely unpredictable aberration. As if this cold-blooded killing of this abortion provider for political purposes is somehow unthinkable.

A lesson from the Wayback Machine could be illuminating for reporters, analysts and commentators in corporate media — and new media users including bloggers, podcasters, Facebook users and Twitterers — covering Tiller’s murder.

Back in early 2006, I wrote an op-ed for Newsday, reprinted here at WIMN’s Voices (and reposted below in its entirety), exposing the shameful way media have failed to report anti-abortion violence (including but not limited to murder) for what it is: domestic terrorism.

I was spurred to write the piece after a women’s health clinic was attacked by a suicide bomber on the fifth anniversary of September 11… to which the media responded with a collective yawn. This, while the 9/11 news cycle was clamoring to cover every little shred of a rumor that could be attributed to “terrorism” — so long as it was defined as something that Arabs or Muslims do, rather than anything domestic terrorists do their fellow Americans.

Journalism plats a crucial role in helping citizens more fully understand the events that affect our communities locally, nationally and internationally. By failing to report decades worth of anti-abortion violence and intimidation — and by refusing to clearly name such acts as domestic terrorism — U.S. media have let us down. Worse, by choosing not to place each of these acts within the context of a systemic political movement, U.S. media have become complicit in allowing a culture of politically-motivated violence and intimidation to thrive.

To put it plainly, this historical whitewashing of anti-abortion terrorism has given cover to those who have employed routine violence to intimidate women and health care providers, influence individual behavior and affect policy. Meaning: by willfully ignoring this well-documented, long-term domestic terrorism movement, American media are, at least somewhat, complicit in the death of Dr. George Tiller.

Women In Media & News encourages all journalists and news analysts covering George Tiller’s murder to place this crime in its proper political context. Anything else leaves other health care providers at risk.

For detailed statistics, more history on anti-abortion terrorism in the United States, and journalistic ethics, an op-ed from the WayBack Machine, as promised.

The terrorists who aren’t in the news
Anti-abortion fanatics spread fear by bombings, murders and assaults, but the media take little notice

By Jennifer L. Pozner

Jennifer L. Pozner is founder and executive director of Women In Media & News, a national media analysis, education and advocacy group.

October 8, 2006

On Sept. 11, 2006, the fifth anniversary of the terror attacks that devastated our nation, a man crashed his car into a building in Davenport, Iowa, hoping to blow it up and kill himself in the fire.

No national newspaper, magazine or network newscast reported this attempted suicide bombing, though an AP wire story was available. Cable news (save for MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann) was silent about this latest act of terrorism in America.

Had the criminal, David McMenemy, been Arab or Muslim, this would have been headline news for weeks. But since his target was the Edgerton Women’s Health Center, rather than, say, a bank or a police station, media have not called this terrorism - even after three decades of extreme violence by anti-abortion fanatics, mostly fundamentalist Christians who believe they’re fighting a holy war.

Since 1977, casualties from this war include seven murders, 17 attempted murders, three kidnappings, 152 assaults, 305 completed or attempted bombings and arsons, 375 invasions, 482 stalking incidents, 380 death threats, 618 bomb threats, 100 acid attacks, and 1,254 acts of vandalism, according to the National Abortion Federation.

Abortion providers and activists received 77 letters threatening anthrax attacks before 9/11, yet the media never considered anthrax threats as terrorism until after 9/11, when such letters were delivered to journalists’ offices and members of Congress.

After 9/11, Planned Parenthood and other abortion rights groups received 554 envelopes containing white powder and messages like, “You have been exposed to anthrax. … We are going to kill all of you.” They were signed by the Army of God, a group that hosts Scripture-filled Web pages for “Anti-Abortion Heroes of the Faith” including minister Paul Hill, Michael Griffin and James Kopp, all convicted of murdering abortion providers, and a convicted clinic bomber, the Rev. Michael Bray. Another of their “martyrs,” Clayton Waagner, mailed anthrax letters while a fugitive on the FBI’s 10 most wanted list for anti-abortion related crimes.

“I am a terrorist,” Waagner declared on the Army of God’s Web site. Boasting that God “freed me to make war on his enemy,” he claimed he knew where 42 Planned Parenthood workers lived. “It doesn’t matter to me if you’re a nurse, receptionist, bookkeeper, or janitor, if you work for the murderous abortionist I’m going to kill you.”

That’s textbook terrorism, defined by the USA Patriot Act as dangerous criminal acts that “appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population” or “to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.”

Which brings us back to car bomber McMenemy. According to the Detroit Free Press (the only newspaper in the Nexis news database that reported his crime), he targeted the women’s health center because he thought it provided abortions. It doesn’t. (Oops!) It provides mostly low-income patients with pap smears, ob-gyn care, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, birth control, and nutrition and immunization programs for women and children.

The attack caused $170,000 in property damage and left poor families without health care for a week. But long after Edgerton’s water-logged carpets are removed, scorched medical equipment replaced and new doors reopened to the public, a culture of fear will linger among doctors, nurses, advocates and patients across the country, who will worry that they’re next. Some frightened workers will quit their jobs; some women will be too scared to get the health care they need.

Every fresh incident of anti-abortion terrorism is a reminder that women’s health supporters are not safe in a country where abortion is legal but mobilized zealots believe Jesus has empowered them to kill to prevent women from choosing it.

Is McMenemy a lone nutcase, or a member of that network of violent extremists? We don’t know, because journalists haven’t investigated.

Nor have they reported that just last year, nearly one in five abortion clinics experienced gunfire, arson, bombings, chemical attacks, assaults, stalking, death threats and blockades, according to the 2005 National Clinic Violence Survey. Additionally, 59 percent suffered intimidation tactics such as photo/video surveillance.

Federal efforts to hunt down these terrorists improved with the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act in 1994 and the National Task Force on Violence Against Health Care Providers, established by the Department of Justice in 1998. The feds have taken over McMenemy’s case, charging him with arson against a business affecting interstate commerce. Yet as of Oct. 5, no news outlet on Nexis reported this, despite a second AP story.

As we continue national debates on how to keep America safe from terrorism, journalists do us - and especially women - no good pretending that the threats come only from radical Muslims outside our borders.

Also from the Wayback Machine, my attempts to get these points into the fray by debating Joe Scarborough on two segments of his now-defunct nighttime MSNBC show, Scarborough Country.

Those of you who work for print, broadcast or online media – whether corporate or independent — WIMN encourages you to report on Dr. George Tiller’s murder as an act of antiabortion terrorism that is not an aberration, but part of a systemic pattern of violence and intimidation. Politically motivated violence and intimidation is the definition of terrorism. This isn’t a matter of liberal v. conservative opinion, it’s just fact.

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