NYT Misleads on Pouillon Murder and Clinic Violence


There’s
nothing new about the so-called liberal media bending over backwards to prove
its impartiality — often at the expense of responsible reporting — but it doesn’t
make it any less frustrating.  This
past Saturday, I woke up to the latest offense in The New York Times’ coverage of last month’s shooting death of an
anti-abortion protester in Michigan.  While the murder of Owosso resident James Pouillon is
undoubtedly tragic, coverage in The Times has repeatedly cast this
random and senseless incident misleadingly, portraying it, without evidence, as
part of a larger abortion battle.

 

On
the one hand, the Times’ coverage
obfuscated police reports that abortion did not play a central role in the
killing (one of two by the same alleged shooter on the same day).  On the other, the articles unduly
romanticized the actions of anti-choice protesters, while completely ignoring the
long history of violence,
intimidation and harassment
perpetrated against abortion providers.  As Randall Terry, founder and former
leader of Operation Rescue, admitted to The
Washington Post
recently, the goal of anti-choice forces has been to “torment[]”
providers, including medical residents, to reduce access for women to safe
choices
.

Last weekend’s article “Abortion Foes Tell of Their Journey to the Streets”
is probably the worst offender, declaring (in the lede) that Mr. Pouillon’s
murder is proof that anti-choice protesters are under the same threat of
violence as abortion providers. Really? Let’s just do the reporter’s job by
looking, first and foremost, at the facts. Mr. Pouillon’s death is believed to
be the first of a person protesting abortion. Meanwhile, anti-abortion violence,
including clinic bombings, kidnappings, arson, and shootings, has spanned the
last three decades.  The National Abortion Federation documents more than 6100
violent acts in the U.S. and Canada since 1977

What’s
more, the perpetrators of this violence are quite frequently well-connected to
prominent anti-choice organizations and readily acknowledge their anti-abortion
motivations. James Kopp, the convicted murderer of New York’s Dr. Barnett
Slepian for example, was a well-known militant in the notorious anti-abortion
terrorist organization, The Lambs of Christ. Paul Hill, who admitted killing
Florida’s Dr. John Britton and his bodyguard, expressed no remorse after the
shootings and told CBS
News’ Connie Chung in 1994
that, “I know for a fact that I’m going to go to
heaven when I die. I am certainly guilty of no crimes… My actions are
honorable.”

In
contrast, in the Pouillon case, the reported facts strongly indicate that the shooting
was part of a random killing spree stemming from individual grudges – none of
which were brought on by pro-choice sentiment. As authorities have reported, the
suspect Harlan Drake shot a second victim, Mike Fuoss, an owner of a gravel
pit, and planned to shoot a third, James Howe, who was a local Owosso realtor
.
Shiawassee County Sheriff’s Detective Lt. David Kirk told The Detroit News
that there are no clear ties between the victims, but that Drake had
separate interactions with each of his targets
and that, “It didn’t appear
to be a case where Pouillon was pro-life and Drake was pro-choice."

Then
there’s The Times’ unsubstantiated
claims.  Two more articles
published in The Times (“Abortion Protester Is Killed in Michigan
(Sept. 12); and “Memorial Held for Slain Anti-Abortion Protester”
(Sept.17)) drew deeply spurious connections between Mr. Pouillon’s murder and
that of Kansas abortion provider Dr. George Tiller.  Again, mere reference to the facts shows otherwise.  Scott
Roeder, the suspect in Dr. Tiller’s murder, was a well-known
anti-abortion activist, openly connected with Operation Rescue
, a prominent
anti-abortion organization, and has been linked to
vandalism at another Kansas clinic
. Mr. Roeder also had a noted violent
record, including
a 1996 conviction for criminal use of explosives
. Mr. Drake, on the other
hand, has no connections with the pro-choice movement and there have been no
reports of a history of harassing members of the anti-choice movement.

Dr. Tiller was the eighth person murdered in
attacks on abortion providers, while again, Mr.
Pouillon’s shooting is believed to be the first of its kind
(reported by The New York Times, incidentally). In
addition, Dr. Tiller was the target of anti-abortion activists for years, actions
which included an
assassination attempt in which he was shot five times
, and his
clinic being vandalized
.

 

In
contrast, Mr. Pouillon has no known history of being harassed nor has even been
mentioned by name by any pro-choice organization. He also has a long list of
run-ins with the law, according to The Detroit Free Press,
including a conviction of stalking a woman he who worked at an Owosso car
dealership
. As a more responsible paper, the Free Press, reports, Mr. Pouillon regularly protested at the auto
dealership for its support of a pro-choice candidate and apparently targeted
this female employee mistakenly believing, she says, that she had some
connection to this pro-choice activity.

 

In
the first comprehensive investigation of the battles waged against abortion
providers, the Center for Reproductive Rights this year found that aggressive
harassment as well as discriminatory legal restrictions and serious stigma are
reducing the number of abortion providers
.  Doctors and clinic staff operate under appalling
circumstances, including death threats, dead animals left at their front door,
break-ins at their homes, and being physically assaulted by protesters. They
live in fear of violence.

Among
other precautions, they carry bullet-proof vests, purchase elaborate security
systems for their homes and offices, and change their daily routes to work. As
one executive director of a Pennsylvania clinic who is regularly picketed by a
protester at her home told us, “Every day, I work in a culture of terror. Every
day, I worry about being shot or targeted, especially
now that Dr. Tiller was murdered. That has increased a hundred fold. I have not
felt more vulnerable. I’ve never felt this vulnerable in my job.” A moving
video in which she talks about the difficulty of living with this fear and
intimidation is here.

Overall,
The Times’ recent coverage has been profoundly
misleading, irresponsibly suggesting that Mr. Pouillon’s murder is an
escalation in violence over abortion.On top of
the recent tragedy, it has added an utterly avoidable injury – by equating a
random shooting with a sustained and intentional campaign of intimidation,
harassment and violence by anti-choice forces, it disregards the dangerous and
sometimes, deadly environment in which abortion providers operate daily.  What journalists must remember is that
a trumped-up “balance” in their reporting can actually cover up the truth,
distort the meaning of violent acts like this one, and do far more harm than
good.  

 

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  • progo35

    oh, please. You’re just mad that for once in the last twenty years, the NYT didn’t portray pro life advocates as a hoard of blood sucking vampires, and, thus, did not pander to your cause.

    "Well behaved women seldom make history."-Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

  • progo35

    If you were really interested in democratic discourse on this issue, you would encourage other perspectives on events such as these.

  • heather-corinna

    If a man gets a shotgun and goes into an elementary school, and into a classroom, with the aim of shooting children and shoots children, we can very clearly say he was purposefully and intentionally trargeting children.  We can do so even if he doesn’t say as much, but when he DOES — as has been the case with most anti-choice violence, there’s no room for question.

     

    If, on the other hand, a man gets a shotgun and walks into a public square shooting randomonly and happens to also shoot a child, as well as adults, we can say he was targeting people, but not specifically children. 

     

    If a man gets a shotgun and shoots/plans to shoot a few different men, and one them them happens to be pro-life, but the others are not — and it also is pretty clear the person at hand had a pile of issues and personal grudges that had nothing to do with abortion or anti-abortion activism at all, and he also gave no statements to INDICATE a) his politics on choice or b) that he had any intent of acting politically, we cannot validly say he had that agenda and that this was a political violence due to the slain person’s politics or that of the murderer.

     

    If we DID say so, just because one of the men slain WAS pro-life, and applied that same logic to violence to people who were pro-choice, abortion providers or workers, or who had had or were going to have abortions?  The numbers for antichoice violence would be WAY higher than they already are, which I have this funny feeling you’d (quite validly) have an objection to.

  • amanda-marcotte

    But dishonest voices distract from a good conversation, they don’t add to it.  Diversity achieved through lying and misinformation isn’t helpful at all.

  • pilar608

    No, I mean that.  There are the facts:  the man who allegedly shot Pouillion (sp?) also shot another man, someone who was not in any way connected with the anti-choice movement.  The alleged shooter has given no statements to indicate that he targeted Poullion because of P.’s anti-choice activities.  The alleged shooter reportedly has many other issues with the men he shot, none of them involving the abortion debate.

     

    How do you add all of this up and get "Poullion was murdered because of his anti-choice activities?"  It’s like saying that 2+2=5.  You can believe that with all your might, but it still doesn’t make it true.

     

    (And I can’t believe I have to add this:  the shooter should be locked away for life for murdering Poullion and attempting to murder the other person, regardless of what the shooter’s motives were.)

  • progo35

    FACT: The man SAID that he was angry at Pouillon for protesting outside high schools with bloody fetus signs. Frankly, I just think that the people here tripping over themselves to deny that this had something to do with the shooter’s pro choice leanings are in denial and are spreading that denial for their own political purposes. After all, if Drake, a pro choice shooter, is not reflective of the pro choice movement as a whole (he’s not), than pro choicers will have to admit that people like Roeder do not reflect the pro life movement (he does not), which would remove a huge propaganda tool from the militant pro choice arsenal. "Well behaved women seldom make history."-Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

  • heather-corinna

    Has Drake identified himself as pro-choice?  As well, can you link me to his statements on the shootings so I can look at them for myself?  I haven’t yet been able t find any actual statements he has made.

     

    I assure you, I am not in denial.  I am simply lacking the kind of firm information we had on Roeder and Tiller to draw a comparison to Drake and Poullion, and also am aware this man shot more than one man, and intended to shoot even more, and that the latter two were not pro-life activists.   By all means, if someone can link me to that same kind of information in which Drake says a) he is pro-choice and b) intended his shootings to be with that political aim in mind, you can be sure I will not deny that is exactly what the case was.

  • jayn

    Progo, you’re conflating a couple things here.  All avaiable information points to Drake being angered not by the guy’s pro-life views, but how he expressed those views.  Not that either is a reason to shoot the man, but I think that Pouillon’s actions can be equally reviled by pro-choicers and pro-lifers.

  • crowepps

    After all, if Drake, a pro choice shooter, is not reflective of the pro choice movement as a whole (he’s not), than pro choicers will have to admit that people like Roeder do not reflect the pro life movement (he does not), which would remove a huge propaganda tool from the militant pro choice arsenal.

    On what basis do you assert that Drake is a "pro choice shooter"?  I haven’t read anything anywhere that says that.

     

    If people like Roeder are not typical of the pro life movement, but instead obnoxious attention freaks, then it would seem more logical that it was this UNtypical behavior that motivated someone to shoot him.

     

    What "militant pro choice movement"?  Is there somebody out there trying to FORCE women to choose something?  Besides the advertising industry?

  • colleen

    FACT: The man SAID that he was angry at Pouillon for protesting outside high schools with bloody fetus signs

    Drake has made no public statements at all. This ‘FACT’ is anecdotal evidence and if you believe that those repulsed by signs depicting gigantic bloody fetuses are limited to pro-choice activists than you really need to get out more. The FACT is that Drake has been declared incompetent to stand trial. Due to the gravity of his crimes and the fact that he has a public defender the most likely conclusion is that he has had a psychotic break and this, rather than politics, was the reason for his crime.
    What I find interesting is how anxious the anti-abortion community is to try to ‘prove’ that this was a politically motivated crime despite a dearth of evidence about Drake’s political positions or any links at all to the pro-choice community .

    The only difference between the American anti-abortion movement and the Taliban is about 8,000 miles.

    Dr Warren Hern, MD

  • crowepps

    Little kids try to excuse their bad behavior by saying that ‘he did it first’. Apparently the ProLife movement is trying to retroactively justify the dead doctors, clinic workers, police officers and innocent bystanders on the basis that finally, after many years, somebody from the ProChoice side may have responded in kind.