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

Jodi Jacobson

Rachel Maddow's documentary on the assassination of Dr. George Tiller was ground-breaking, but to me also a bit disappointing. What were your reactions?

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.

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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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