NYT Misleads on Pouillon Murder and Clinic Violence

Laura MacCleery

The New York Times’ coverage of Pouillon's murder obfuscates police reports that abortion was not a central factor, romanticizes anti-choice protesters, and ignores the history of anti-choice violence.

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.


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

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

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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

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."

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


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
. 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.


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.

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.

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


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