Conservatives tend to dislike Wendy Davis. Her defenders, meanwhile, tend to write psychoanalytic discourses on the real reason why conservatives don’t like her. (Hint: Because they’re are a bunch of anti-women, anti-wife, anti-mom, anti-choice freaks. I could go on.)
MSNBC’s Zachary Roth, for example, writes that in the eyes of conservatives, Davis’s “real sin” was “making life choices they disagree with—including the decision, as a mother, to prioritize her career.” And just to be clear, “it’s hard to imagine those choices generating criticism were Wendy Davis a man.”
Rebecca Traister at The New Republic writes that Davis’s “real mistake” was thinking she could run for governor on the national stage “without getting audited in a big and gruesome way” – just as male politicians George W. Bush and Mitt “Scissorhands” Romney avoided significant scrutiny of their backgrounds.
Davis’s defenders – on the left and in the media – may want to consider the possibility that they are primarily responsible for making Wendy Davis so easy to dislike. In fact, no other politician in recent memory has done more to demonstrate the unthinkingly biased nature of the media’s coverage of certain issues – in this case, abortion.
It happens when “serious journalists” like ABC’s Jeff Zeleny interview Davis several days after her June 2013 filibuster of a late-term abortion ban in the Texas state senate, and don’t ask a single question about abortion. Zeleny, who could hardly contain his giddiness, was far more interested in Davis’s iconic pink running shoes.
Zeleny began the interview thusly: “Why did you decide to wear your running shoes?” “Wow.” “Is this a pink?” “I mean, these are legitimate running shoes.”
CNN’s Anderson Cooper also interviewed Davis after her filibuster, asking just six questions, including: “How are you even awake today?” “What was it like standing for that long?” and “Will you filibuster again?”
But the inability or unwillingness of serious journalists to ask Democrats tough questions about abortion is hardly limited to Wendy Davis. A few days earlier, NBC’s David Gregory sat down with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) on Meet the Press, and served up a couple of softballs about Davis’s filibuster.
“Do you see what’s happening in the states as laying the groundwork for the potential to undermine abortion rights?” he asked Pelosi. “Do you feel that pressure?”
She did. But Gregory wasn’t satisfied, and followed up by asking the same question in slightly more hyperbolic terms: “Do you fear that we’re at a new age of the erosion of abortion rights?”
She did. “Women’s’ health” was “in danger” due to the “assault” being waged in Congress and throughout the country, Pelosi said. Republicans are attacking “an important part of who women are.”
When it comes to abortion, Republicans are seldom given the same leeway to regurgitate talking points. They are constantly pressured to articulate their positions on the issue, which for many is relatively easy to do – they oppose it in almost every case.
Obviously, Republicans don’t do themselves any favors when lawmakers like Todd Akin say stupid things. (And when that does happen, the media stands ready to ask every single Republican lawmaker for a response.) But you don’t have to be an abortion hardliner to acknowledge the lopsided nature of the “national conversation” about the controversial issue.
Democrats are rarely forced to stake out a position on abortion – somewhere in the vast middle ground between opposing it without exception and supporting it without exception. The latter position is, according to a 2013 Gallup poll, one that only 26 percent of Americans agree with. For most Democrats, describing oneself as “pro-choice” is sufficient. Asking them to elaborate is waging the “war on women.”
This disparity is particularly egregious with respect to Wendy Davis, who rose to national prominence by filibustering an abortion ban supported by a majority of both men and women in her state. According to a Huffington Post poll, 59 percent of Americans said they would support a federal law similar to the one Davis tried to block.
The media’s refusal to challenge Democratic politicians on the issue is exposed in those rare instances when they are confronted with hard questions. For example, the Weekly Standard’s John McCormack asked Davis to explain the difference between legal late-term abortion and the grisly abortions performed by Dr. Kermit Gosnell, which a Washington Post reporter infamously described as “local crime” story.
“I don’t know what happened in the Gosnell case,” Davis replied, before going on to demonstrate her lack of understanding by misconstruing basic facts about the case. When McCormack asked Nancy Pelosi the same question at a Capitol Hill press conference, she couldn’t answer either, and the press corps actually burst out laughing when Pelosi berated the Weekly Standard reporter.
In January, when Fusion’s Jorge Ramos asked Davis a familiar question – “When does life begin?” – she responded with a blatant dodge: “You know, the Supreme Court of course has answered this decision, in terms of what our protections are.” As Tom Bevan of Real Clear Politics observed, Davis’s answer was reminiscent of then-candidate Barack Obama’s response to a similar question in 2008 – that “answering that question with specificity, uh, is above my pay grade.” Some Democrats, such as Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas, prefer to simply ignore reporters’ questions about abortion-related issues.
The bizarre upshot to all this is Davis’s admission last week that she “could support” an abortion ban after 20 weeks, the central provision of the bill she filibustered almost eight months ago. The Daily Beast’s Keli Goff argued that Davis’s “nuanced” flip-flop was simply a “small gaffe” that nonetheless revealed her to be speaking for the vast majority of Americans, and, according to the headline of Goff’s article, epitomizing the nation’s “conscience on abortion.”
The piece might as well have been titled, “Why conservatives don’t like Wendy Davis.” The reason isn’t Wendy. It’s her fans.