- The Washington Times - Friday, June 5, 2009

Two apparent politically motivated slayings within 24 hours resulted in some very uneven news coverage. The press paid far more attention to the killing of late-term abortion provider Dr. George Tiller than it did to Army recruiter Pvt. William Andrew Long.

Some critics say journalists displayed clear pro-choice bias in their heavy Tiller coverage; others point to the doctor being a longtime controversial media figure.

Both stories were dramatic.

The Wichita, Kan., physician was shot while attending church Sunday. Authorities have charged Scott Roeder, who had a history of pro-life and anti-government writings. Pvt. Long was gunned down in a suburban Arkansas recruiting center a day later, and Muslim convert Abdulhakim Muhammad has been arrested. Authorities say he confessed to targeting soldiers to avenge U.S. military actions against Muslims.

A Google News search for “George Tiller” produced more than 10,000 hits Thursday afternoon, while a similar search for “William Long” yielded fewer than 1,400. A selective LexisNexis search by The Washington Times on Wednesday, based on the neutral words “recruiter” and “abortion doctor” and the respective locales turned up 98 newspaper stories on Dr. Tiller and six on Pvt. Long.

Every day from Sunday to Wednesday, the Associated Press moved three to six different-bylined stories mentioning the Tiller slaying. On no day has it moved more than one separate story on the Long killing.

The Washington Post had 28 news articles on the Tiller death through Thursday’s editions, against just five on the Long slaying. A telephone call and an e-mail to Post ombudsman Andy Alexander were not returned.

“Our preliminary data does point to the fact that Dr. Tiller got more coverage,” said Mark Jurkowitz of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, which offers a weekly tally of the nation’s most important news stories.

Both quantity and content concerned some.

“Big media, which is doing its best to link the killing of George Tiller to the mainstream pro-life movement, is going out of its way to assert that there is no evidence that Abdulhakim Muhammad had any connection to Muslim groups,” said Gary Bauer, president of American Values. “The few exceptions where there is coverage only prove the rule. For the mainstream media, this is a nonstory.”

“The press has a lot vested in labeling the pro-life movement as violent. There’s saturation coverage when they get evidence of that.” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life advocacy group.

However, Mr. Jurkowitz had other explanations.

“Tiller is already a well-known figure in the media, and his shooting sheds light on a highly polarizing social issue in America - abortion. The media finds such conflict stories very attractive. This one immediately sparked a debate, and many reactions from pro-choice and pro-life sides.” he said.

“It became the bigger story. The Long shooting does not come with big political arguments. It is not a wedge issue. The country is of one mind when confronting the nature of that crime,” he added.

Some conservative media critics weren’t buying that argument.

“The killing of an Army private by a Muslim convert is at least as dramatic a story as the abortionist shooting, and its victim is seen by most Americans as a much more sympathetic figure than an abortionist. But the network stars have barely touched this story,” said Tim Graham, director of media analysis at the Media Research Center (MRC).

“The contrast demonstrates that the national media have a greater ardor for abortionists then they do for the Army, and it demonstrates they have a great aversion to stories that would upset Muslim media activists or inflame ‘Islamophobia,’ ” Mr. Graham said.

An MRC analysis found that among the broadcast networks, only NBC gave “a few seconds” mention of the Long murder by Monday night. The other two networks were not far behind, however. ABC offered a “full story” on the Long killing during “Good Morning America” on Tuesday, according to a network source. A CBS News source also said the story was covered by the network Tuesday morning.

Calls to NARAL Pro-choice America and Planned Parenthood for comments on press coverage were not returned.

The two killings also provided a forum for press rivalries. Fox News host Bill O’Reilly was particularly vexed at NBC for airing a story that suggested his frequent criticisms of Dr. Tiller had endangered the physician. Air America, Salon, Daily Kos and Media Matters also cited Mr. O’Reilly’s comments.

“It is clear that the far left is exploiting the death of the doctor,” Mr. O’Reilly said. “Those vicious individuals want to stifle any criticism of people like Tiller. That and hating Fox News is the real agenda here.”

Opportunity also knocked for the publicity-conscious. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals announced Thursday that it would erect billboards in Kansas City, urging pro-life and pro-choice advocates to become vegetarians.

“People who are pro-choice shouldn’t choose cruelly produced foods, just as pro-life folks shouldn’t support deadly slaughterhouses,” spokesman Bruce Friedrich said.

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