Too bad the stuff that makes headlines and sound bites sometimes creates stereotypes.
Take the case of Clayton Lee Waagner, the anti-abortion extremist who is believed responsible for mailing white powder — fake anthrax — to 280 abortion clinics in October and November. Waagner bathed in the mainstream media's spotlight after Attorney General John Ashcroft declared him the subject of a national manhunt. Waagner is also accused of threatening workers in clinics via e-mail earlier in 2001. Authorities nabbed Waagner in the parking lot of a Kinko's copy center outside Cincinnati in December, before the fanatic acted upon his alleged threats.
The media often depend on the outrageous behavior of fanatics to bring something new to old stories. And there's no denying that this criminal's capers make great copy.
In February 2001, while awaiting sentencing on firearms and car-theft charges, Waagner escaped from an Illinois prison. The jailbird then zigzagged across the country in fancy stolen cars and lived high on the hog for months. The outlaw allegedly supported himself by robbing banks. This 45-year-old father of nine lodged in upscale hotels while his family, back in Kennerdell, Pa., remained in their one-story ramshackle house at the end of a gravel road. Waagner's midlife on the lam included visits to bars, where Mr. Big Spender splurged on rounds of drinks for everybody. Then the Marlboro man drank whiskey and chewed the fat about the abortion issue under the clouds created by his cigarette habit.
This hypocrite only poses as a poster child for the pro-life movement.
Most anti-abortion activists abhor violence and feel equal aversion toward those who stoop to it in the name of life. When Waagner was arrested, many right-to-lifers found themselves in agreement for the first time ever with Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL), who said she was “immensely relieved.”
Stories about people who have used violence to oppose abortion have been reported for more than 20 years. Pro-abortion activists at NARAL, the influential group that introduced the more digestible term “pro-choice” to the American vocabulary, gladly provide statistics. Seven murders, 17 attempted murders, 41 bombings, 122 assaults and 165 arsons have been committed by extremists at abortion clinics since 1977, according to a list posted on NARAL's Web site.
Conversely, a total count of pro-life activists in the United States, one that publicizes the pacifist majority, has proved difficult to enumerate. The pro-life movement includes many different groups, some highly organized like the National Right to Life Committee and others with grass roots, such as the Pro Life Union Inc. of South Eastern Pennsylvania. The NRLC includes 4,000 Right to Life chapters with varying numbers of members. The Pro Life Union maintains a mailing list of 40,000 people. Some estimates place the total number of pro-life activists nationwide around 1 million.
Whether or not that calculation is correct, it's obvious that “pro-life” troublemakers like Waagner make up a miniscule fraction of all those identifying themselves among the pro-life ranks. Yet the steady flow of news reports about anti-abortion extremists suggests otherwise.
The publicity generated by anti-abortion extremists has energized the media-savvy types who drive the pro-abortion movement: They have used the sensational stories to create a stereotype of what a pro-lifer looks like.
Meanwhile the immensely larger, peaceful portion of the right-to-life movement has puttered along without fanfare — attending prayer vigils, rallies and fund-raisers. Not the kind of activities that excite the imagination of mainstream news producers and editors.
Thousands of these nonviolent demonstrators will gather this year for the 29th March for Life in Washington on Jan. 22. This date marks the anniversary of the legalization of abortion when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade.
If the annual event does not pique mainstream media interest, perhaps its theme, “Truth Uncovers Abortion Evils,” will. For the March for Life's quest for truth focuses on words, the cherished tools of a journalist's trade.
At this year's march, organizers hope to expose the reality behind various popular “code words” — expressions pro-abortionists apply as a way to gloss over the harsh realities of what takes place in an abortion. Carefully selected words like “choice,” “women's rights,” “privacy” and “reproductive health” help them obscure the fact that every aborted embryo or fetus was once a child in his or her earliest stages of development.
Pro-abortion movement leaders choose their deceptive “code words” with the same deliberation that helped them to fabricate the pro-life stereotype. And everybody knows that people who promote stereotypes are people who fear losing their grip on power.
So, as of Jan. 22, let the truth be spoken with new hope that the mainstream media will listen with fresh ears. Lots of little lives are relying upon it.
Marybeth T. Hagan writes from Havertown, Pennsylvania.