(VIDEO) Reflections on Maddow’s “The Assassination of Doctor Tiller”

Last night at 9 pm Eastern Time, I sat where I believe the majority of pro-choice advocates who did not have other non-negotiable obligations sat (albeit in several different time zones): in front of the television watching Rachel Maddow’s documentary on the assassination of Dr. George Tiller.

It was a ground-breaking moment on many levels, and I am deeply grateful that we have a Rachel Maddow in our midst. The documentary told the story of Dr. Tiller’s assassination in full detail, and let the contradictions and lunacies of Scott Roeder and his supporters speak for themselves. 

But, being honest, I also found myself disappointed at the end.  So I wanted to share my thoughts on my dual reactions to the piece in the hopes of generating feedback and discussion here about yours.

First, I repeat, I am deeply grateful for Rachel Maddow, and not just for the Tiller documentary.  She provides, every day, a public service offered by few in the media today.  She holds people accountable. More specifically, she holds people in power accountable.  On both sides of the debate.  It is true, she is affiliated with progressive politics because she herself is, clearly, progressive in her support for equity, human rights, fairness and accountability.  But I admire her as much for taking on the Obama Administration on its profoundly disappointing and avoidable failures as I do her taking on the excuse for a political party that the Tea Party and Republicans have become.

And, I am in fact deeply grateful for her persistent coverage of abortion issues this past year, in no small part because virtually the entire media establishment–left, right, and ostensibly objective–either fails to cover the issue in all its complexities, or simply adopts the rhetoric and philosophical fallacies of the so-called “pro-life” movement, or just plain gets this issue profoundly wrong.  Every day.

Having Rachel cover it regularly, and with the respect and perseverance it deserves, is crucial.  It is unprecedented.  And responsible journalists–including her male colleagues on MSNBC, by the way–should emulate her.

Moreover, while I realize that much of the documentary was “old news” to me in that it didn’t reveal much that was not already known, I remind myself that I am part of a team and a wider community immersed daily in these issues, reporting on them and worrying over them.  And while I am not in this position directly, many of my colleagues are, like Dr. Tiller, daily being subject to harassment and threats for living out their values and for providing women with legal medical services. Providing these perspectives, and the facts and information about the case in their entirety to a national audience was a crucial step in building a foundation of understanding about how tyrannical the anti-choice movement is, and it was in realizing the danger of being exposed like this that the anti-choicers were up in arms about the documentary even before it aired.

Most normal people are not as immersed in this issue 24-7 as I am and others with whom I work, so I realize that the documentary served an educational purpose for a much wider audience than is normally reached.

There are, therefore, lots of reasons it was and is profoundly important to have this documentary.

On the other hand, for me, the documentary fell short in doing any real investigative journalism.  It told a story of the murder of Dr. Tiller.  It did not take that story much further.  It did not, for example, really examine financial, political or other links between groups such as Operation Rescue, which is crazy enough, with groups such as Army of God, or with the shenanigans of a Jill Stanek posting pictures on her website of the locations of clinics and the home addresses of physicians…as a public service of course.

The documentary did not delve very deeply into why earlier reports to authorities including the FBI of Roeder’s activities and those of other violent anti-choicers were not followed up.  It did not tie together in this specific documentary the earlier information provided on the Maddow show of “wanted posters” being circulated now, as we speak, in other states by anti-choicers targeting doctors in much the same way Dr. Tiller was targeted before he was killed in cold blood in his church.  It did not explore the failures before the murder of the government (including but not limited to the Obama Administration) to enforce the FACE Act, or the lame response by the Administration or Congress to Dr. Tiller’s murder. And it did not draw the links effectively to what is now underway in the political sphere with regard to extremist views held by members of the Tea Party and by Republicans running for office on the issue of whether a woman can choose whether, when, and with whom to have a child.  Or whether a woman has to carry to term a pregnancy resulting from rape or incest.

In the end, I did not feel it adequately challenged the “lone wolf” theory and put the issue of murdering doctors in the context it belongs.  The Taliban murders doctors, the anti-choice movement in the U.S. murders doctors…these threads need to be connected.

In saying all of this, I in no way mean to diminish my deep admiration for Rachel Maddow, her show, or the fact that she is one bright light on what often seems like an ocean of television media mediocrity.  She is smart, brave, honest, and hard-hitting.  She is a national treasure.  I just wish we could honor Dr. Tiller more completely by putting the pieces together in a more profoundly meaningful way.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

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  • annrose

    I did say the following in my interview several times:

    “How many “lone wolves” does it take to make a pack?”

    I do agree with you that I would have liked to see an in-depth analysis of the ties between all these groups and the assassins.  That though would be more than can be hadled in an hour.  Maybe Rachel will do a follow-up now that she’s set the stage.

  • truth

    …that Maddow did not slant the show in a completely radical left-wing fashion! I, too, would have liked to see more of the “conspiracy theory” unravelled on this documentary. I would think that the left-wing Maddow nut would have loved to do this as well!? …but she didn’t. Maybe there isn’t one – a “conspiracy” that is… Maybe Maddow was having a hard time meeting deadlines and couldn’t “investigate” any further into the matter? Who knows…


    The bottom line here is this:


    Scott Roeder is an outlier. We have them in society – serial killers, rapists, robbers, perverts, etc. Every society has them. Being an active abortionist, like Tiller, you are exposing yourself to these 5th Standard Deviants in our culture. You can blame the Operation Rescue types of the world, but they have a right to speak out about what they believe to be an atrocious practice. In order to silence them you would have to deny them their Constitutional Rights – are any of you willing to do this?

  • jodi-jacobson

    Ann Rose….

    Thank you. I note that, and did not get into it here, because I did not do a breakdown of the piece into quotes and other contributions by individuals in part for lack of time, in part because so much was already done on twitter and by others, and in part because i wanted to focus on the bigger picture.

    I realize you and others well know–better than most of us–the effects and realities of these folks and their actions.

    I just want the media to get into the basic and fundamental issues of the rights of women to access to care, and the cumulative ways in which these groups work together to isolate and stigmatize women, to take away their rights, and to perpetuate violence, with little to no push back from those we expect to stand up for us (FBI? Obama? Congressional Dems?)


  • goatini

    That’s rich, since your raison d’être is to deny female citizens their Constitutional Rights.  




  • prochoiceferret

    …that Maddow did not slant the show in a completely radical left-wing fashion!


    Surprise!!! Rachel Maddow isn’t just a left-wing version of your favorite radical right-wing fashionistas!


    Scott Roeder is an outlier. We have them in society – serial killers, rapists, robbers, perverts, etc.


    Right, except that serial killers, rapists, robbers and perverts don’t have a large number of people in an established ideological movement openly celebrating their crimes.


    Being an active abortionist, like Tiller, you are exposing yourself to these 5th Standard Deviants in our culture.


    Oh, so only if you are an “abortionist” do you have to worry about serial killers, rapists, robbers, perverts, etc.


    You can blame the Operation Rescue types of the world, but they have a right to speak out about what they believe to be an atrocious practice.


    Not if it rises to the level of incitement. Otherwise, sure, they can speak out about whatever they want, just like the KKK and NAMBLA.


    In order to silence them you would have to deny them their Constitutional Rights – are any of you willing to do this?


    Does due process, and throwing one in jail for being an accessory to murder, deny one their “Constitutional Rights?”

  • on-the-issues-magazine

    I congratulate Rachel Maddow for bringing what I have lived with over the past 40 years into the living rooms of America.

    From the bombing of Bill Baird’s Center in 1979 to the day I stood next to Ellie Smeal at David Gunn’s Funeral to the murder of my friend and colleague George Tiller — I am still waiting for the piece  which will detail all the known connections among these radicals and position these acts of violence where they belong — not within the individual but as a manifestation of right wing fundamentalist forces.

    Perhaps Rachel can do a part 2 which will show the faces of so many more women who have had the courage of making this decision and will detail the ongoing work of the Dept. of Justice Grand Jury on this case.

    – Merle Hoffman
    Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of On the Issues Magazine
    Founder, President and CEO of Choices Women’s Medical Center

  • mechashiva

    I was also a bit disappointed. The advertising for the documentary implied that it would be investigative journalism, and that Maddow would be covering the ties between anti-abortion organizations. I think that’s what she would have liked to do, because I know she has that information and has discussed it peicemeal before. So, I wonder why it was that the documentary was so… insubstantial, for lack of a better word.



    Honestly, I think 45 minutes isn’t long enough to effectively cover this issue. I think a full-length documentary would be more appropriate, and would allow for more discussion of the particulars. While many people would be skeptical of a conspiracy theory, there certainly is plenty of evidence to show that the pro-life movement creates an environment condusive to the development of domestic terrorism. There is plenty of evidence showing that the FACE act is not enforced, and that this resulted in overlooking Scott Roeder (there were tons of warning signs that were not addressed adequately). I was hoping to see this condensed and presented to the audience in a neat little package.

  • brucechris

    When  K  and I decided to start having sex, the first thing that we did was to research birth control.  All hot and bothered,  in the back seat of a ’59 Chevy, we realized that our relarionship was going to continue, and that we were going to have sex, we knew that we had to practice birth control. We did not have sex that night.

    We went to Planned Parenthood,  and other sources that we could find.  If in doubt, we used two methods.  I imagine that that is the sort of thing that is commonly going on in the Netherlands, and other places that understand that young people will have sex.

    We were usually careful, although everything did not always go exactly as planned.  However, we had no birth control failure.  This was back in the late 60’s.

    One fact is very obvious.  Birth Control Prevents Abortions.  And also, no matter what we do, there will always be a need for abortions, even if only medical needs.


    And I would not use the word insubstantial, I would say, very upsetting.

  • squirrely-girl

    It’s a very common misunderstanding that all speech is protected. It is not. You can’t yell fire in a crowded space. It’s illegal to incite riots or other violent activity. And there are limits through perjury and slander as well. 


    Groups like Operation Rescue can hide (in plain sight) behind the 1st Amendment but it doesn’t mean what they’re doing is right or even legal. They can also claim people like Roeder are “outliers” but one side of this debate seems to be attracting the majority of those crazies and I don’t think that’s purely coincidental. 

  • christie

    Maybe I missed it, but did the documentary say anthing about the former D.A. Phile Kline who was so hell-bent on prosecuting Dr. Tiller?  Maybe someone should investigate if he has any ties to Roeder or any of the extreme pro-life groups.

    I agree that the documentary was a bit brief.  Another hour would’ve been nice!

    I want to give big kudos to the three women who were brave enough to share their heartbreaking stories of being patients of Dr. Tiller.  No one truly knows how devastating the decision to abort so late in a pregnancy can be until it happens to you.  It happened to me.  I didn’t have to go to Dr. Tiller’s clinic, but I’ve met many women who have.  Their lives will never be the same.  But their lives might have been infinitely worse had Dr. Tiller not provided them with a much-needed service at such a critical time.

  • jodi-jacobson

    and was wondering the same myself.


    Again, you can’t fit everything in, but in the context of the prosecution of Dr. Tiller, which the show did review, Kline was the essential actor and I found it strange they did not pay any attention to him specifically at all, especially given he was clearly on a mission to take down Dr. Tiller and there is plenty of rhetoric to underscore that.

  • kirsten-sherk

    I was just having a similar conversation with a colleague over lunch today, and made very similar points — first, that since we work in the field, we were familiar with a lot of the points Maddow made in her documentary because we avidly followed the news of Dr. Tiller’s assissination. We also felt that the previews for the documentary teased a connection to a larger conspiracy. And finally, I was surprised that Phil Kline’s complicity in persecuting Dr. Tiller was never mentioned.


    Ultimately, I hope that there this documentary connected the dots for those progressives who don’t spend much of their time thinking about the danger posed by people like Troy Newman and Scott Roeder to women’s lives.

  • rebellious-grrl

    Jodi – Like you said Rachel does an excellent job. I greatly value Rachel for covering abortion issues when the rest of the media won’t. I just watched the video and was somewhat disappointed. I wish is was a longer program and more in-depth. I was annoyed with the antis (like Randall Terry) getting airtime and attention. I will have to watch it again tonight and see if I missed anything.

    I agree that more time should have gone into discussing the failure of the government to enforce FACE and looking at the links of anti-abortion extremists and the tea party, conservative right, and republicans.


    I would love it if Rachel did a follow-up soon.

  • forced-birth-rape

    ~ “I greatly value Rachel for covering abortion issues when the rest of the media won’t.” Me too!~

  • cybersleuth58

    Doh!!! I did  “have other non-negotiable obligations” on Monday night. The DVR was set up; but for some reason it didn’t record Rachel’s documentary. Would anyone have a link so I might be able to see it?

    The current level of political discourse is so polarized, even more so than in the 90’s when such murders were on the rise. The Tea Party has energized the extremist element, perhaps the anger is also part of the backlash against electing an African-American president. When first the rumors circulated – about his citizenship, his religious (non) affiliation with Islam, Obama’s alleged association with the much-maligned Rev. Wright, (oh, and let’s not forget his unmasking as the anti-Christ) – I wondered if there had been a mass recall of anti-psychotic medication.

    With that as a background, is the idea of a criminal conspiracy all that far fetched? We know, for example, the radical fringe has solid financial support from some big money donors.  A very small percentage of uber rich people are funneling money into the RNC through the CoC.  If powerful people think it is perfectly fine to buy an election, is it really such a big leap for them to believe that they can just eliminate people who won’t be intimidated by them?

    One of the tenets of these extreme groups is they are subject only to divine law. As someone else pointed out, a if they see a  law as particularly egregious they consider themselves under no obligation to comply with it. 

    In America, wealthy and powerful people are above the law. Could there be a well funded organization comprised of fools who willingly take the fall for doing “god’s work.” Critical thinking is not a pre-requisite for membership, so they aren’t likely to figure out they’re being played.  Have you ever been struck by how little these folks can  provide by way of sources, explanations, or rationales? (And I don’t mean the bible!) Could there be “tools” doing the dirty work of wealthier-than-god ultra-conservatives?  

    Like several others, I hope for a follow up by Rachel. She is nothing if not tenacious. MSNBC may have required her to spoon feed her audience.  Even fairly well informed people did not know, for example, that Dr. Tiller had been shot before. MSNBC did not see fit to give her a 2 hour slot,  which would barely have been sufficient to scratch the surface. This is a topic better suited for a network (like Public TV) not subject to the whims of sponsors, not edited to allow for commercials. If there is an ongoing criminal investigation, Rachel may not have been privy to some of the information we all wanted to learn. Be that as it may, this is certainly not the last word from Rachel on this topic!




  • jodi-jacobson

    The second part of the video is embedded in the piece and you can get the entire thing in this post.


    best and thanks for your thoughtful note!

  • crowepps

    I’m sure the lawyers went over every detail with a fine-tooth comb to make sure there was massive substantiation in expectation of the inevitable and usual lawsuits.  The show is likely an overview useful to make the background clear for the piece that she plans to run when the Grand Jury issues the indictments.

  • cybersleuth58

    Oops, my bad! :p  I thought that was just an excerpt. I obviously should have checked it before putting my fingers in gear. Great stuff, as usual!! Thanks and keep it up. This is a rare gem. 

  • cybersleuth58

    You can blame the Operation Rescue types of the world, but they have a right to speak out about what they believe to be an atrocious practice. In order to silence them you would have to deny them their Constitutional Rights – are any of you willing to do this?” 


    Unless “any of you” refers to any of you who are in law enforcement or government positions, your statement makes no sense whatsoever. Constitutional rights regarding free speech only apply to government actors. In other words, if an agent of the government wants to abridge free speech, there is a balancing act that weighs the public good against the fundamental right of the speaker to speak. Authorities can limit someone’s speech when there is likelihood of harm to others, as in the case of someone yelling “fire” in a crowded theater when there is no cause for alarm. 

    Constitutional rights extend to the end of your nose. When the exercise of your rights involves jeopardizing the health and safety of the next person, the Constitution won’t protect you. So, if groups like Operation Rescue cross the line by inciting violence against someone, their speech is not protected.

    In this country we defer to the police if we feel someone, even a doctor, is breaking the law. In this instance Dr. Tiller was providing a legally sanctioned, Constitutionally protected (by the way) service. Those who don’t like that are free to change laws, not to murder those with whom they have a dispute. To most Americans, the person who takes the law into his own hands is involved in “an atrocious practice.”

    Speaking of rights, if you aren’t pro-choice, why would you even bother to watch this documentary? (And post on this forum??) Are you one of the many right wing trolls who gets a jolt from stirring up angst on liberal/feminist/progressive information sources? You sounded quite disappointed that Ms. Maddow’s piece was not in conformity with your expectations. 

    Contrary to celebrities like Glenn Beck who never stray from the party line, Rachel is well known for her willingness to look critically at all sides. She regularly criticizes the President when she questions the wisdom of his policies or his actions. Could it be that you heard on Fox that Ms. Maddow was some kind of left wing “nut” and discovered, instead, that her reputation as an insightful and articulate journalist is well earned?   In the land of Fox and Drudge, you are not expected to think for yourself. It is a kick, isn’t it, to listen to her and find yourself agreeing with her insight?

  • auntbec

    I am, and always have been, grateful that Rachel Maddow even has her show on a commercial television station.  That being said, I never imagined they would actually SHOW commercials during this (hopefully) beginning of the documentation of the demonstrated terrorism perpetuated by these groups.

    I was so incredibly upset by the remarks of the demented men that were allowed to have a voice in the program.  I couldn’t even give credit to MSNBC for showing the viewers how disgusting they are by allowing them to speak.

    I finally decided to just let the DVR run and I will watch it again tonight so I can zoom through the commericals.


  • pegjohnston

    Where would we BE without Rachel Maddow? She is pushing that envelope as far as it will go and she needs all of us to push it further.

    That said, the missing link that I found was the one that connects this to other domestic terrorism. The American people want to believe that terrorists are foreigners, not homegrown, Bible thumping, white patriots. Some people woke up when Timothy McVeigh drove up to the federal building in Oklahoma City. But most Americans don’t know that when the Reagan Administration turned a blind eye to anti abortion violence, the social fabric was rent forever. It must also be noted that as a nation we have tolerated domestic violence against black people, Native Americans, gays, among others. Anti-abortion violence was deliberately condoned by the government and domestic terrorists ignored for so long that we are only now gaining the intelligence that might avert more violence.

    I kept thinking that a large percentage of population found Troy Newman, Randy Terry’s, and Scott Roeder’s logic to be compelling. One down. On to the next target. And that’s the point that Americans have to deal with–are we embracing violence or some agreed upon rule of law? Our country is split right down the middle and this is the flashpoint.

    Let’s embolden not only Rachel Maddow and other journalists, but also each other to engage our friends, co-workers, and neighbors in dialogue about this difficult issue and urge compassion for real people not murderous rhetoric.

  • scottistoxic

    I think I agree with you completely. I do wish there would be a deeper investigation into the connections between the organizations and the assassins (and would-be assassins, such as Justin Moose in NC and the local Christian fascist movements). But I think that for the purposes of getting the questions and the basic connections out there broadly, Maddow’s piece is a damn fine start. I don’t think that the connections between Roeder and OR were well-known outside of the circles of people who pay close attention to such things.


    I hope this documentary goes a long way toward getting more people to demand answers to those questions, and more importantly, in bringing them to see the need for mass political intervention involving the way-too-many people who are sitting on the sidelines on behalf of embattled and endangered clinics in particular, and full reproductive rights and liberation for women in general. I’m doing my best to promote this documentary online so that more people see it and talk about it.

  • lindsey-roeder

    scottistoxic-I am glad you brought up Moose.  I would really like to have heard more about this guy.  Arrested in September in North Carolina-suspected of planning clinic bombings.  I wanted to see the possible connections between this person and the recent wanted posters depicting the clinics of North Carolina.  Moose claims to be a member of the Army of God.  Members of the AOG have been very vocal about their support of Scott. 


  • lauren-sabina-kneisly

    Friends have encouraged me to add my criticism of the Maddow Film to this thread. I wrote most of it the night the film aired, but I firmly stand by my intial disgust and anger.



    “The Assassination of Doctor Tiller” – Validating Domestic Terrorists


    In it, I begin to tackle the gratitude aspect head on:


    I think we have to look beyond merely being “grateful” anytime the media picks up on the story and move on, into a careful analysis of the story they’re actually telling and the methodologies they are using to tell it.

    We all know there IS a critically important story to be told here, but Maddow’s piece was remarkably disappointing.


    In the article, I also do a brief deconstruction of the lead up to and utilization of the sonogram footage as part of my criticism as to why this was a propaganda film that ultimately served as validations for those who support the compulsory pregnancy position, not the reproductive autonomy stance.

  • forced-birth-rape

    ~ Thank you Lauren for taking initiative. I grew up with people like this, they are fixated on female submission, they do not care if women are beaten or raped, they do not care if little girls are raped, they become infuriated if women or little girls complain or cry about being beaten and raped, and tell them they are acting like feminist. The fathers and grandfathers in my family did not care at all if their daughters or granddaughters were raped and beaten. They use pregnancy and birth as a way to subjugate women and girls. They are huge liars, they keep so much of their wants for America and women in the closet because it would scare the hell out of women and send more to the voting booth. Every time I see them on the news acting like they care about muslim women and they themselves are so much better then muslim men I want to scream at the hypocrisy. I had a fundamentalist Aunt tell me when I was a teenager I needed to have a baby, I was not married and had no money. I think these people are perverts, women included. ~

  • truth

    Hero for the unborn! Chris Kobach will hopefully follow suit where Kline was forced to leave off… Kansas has a lot of corruption – look at Kathleen Sebelius – need I say more… Tiller was a criminal.

  • plume-assassine

    Um, No, the only criminal is Scott Roeder (along with anyone who supports him and incites violence)

  • ahunt

    Phil Kline is a panty-sniffing, obsessed perv who violated women’s rights to medical privacy and who contributed to the “assasination mentality” leading to the murder of Dr. Tiller.

  • truth

    How come you feminists are not outraged by this:




  • forced-birth-rape

    ~ We are horrified for Iran women and little girls. And fox news does not give a damn about women, neither does republicans, catholics, or the southren baptist christians. ~

  • beenthere72

    Fox is just trying to give the impression they give 2 shits about women’s rights.   They don’t.  


    Iraq is a current member of the commission.   There are a lot of countries on the membership list that are not exactly especially safe, wonderful places to live if you’re a woman.


    Maybe Iran will learn something. 


    Now get back on topic or go away.  Actually, just go away.



  • arekushieru

    Fetus worshippers and demonizers of women can be heros?  Really???

  • ahunt

    A) Because we do not watch Faux News…and

    B) We do not play the “if feminists were really concerned about women, they would____________________(fill-in the blank) game on threads devoted to a different issue.


  • prochoiceferret

    B) We do not play the “if feminists were really concerned about women, they would____________________(fill-in the blank) game on threads devoted to a different issue.


    Especially since the anti-choicers never seem to like it when we play the “if ‘pro-lifers’ were really concerned about human being-persons dying, they would ____________” game.