During the presidential election season — which, in case you haven’t noticed, has already begun — it’s up to reporters to link major state-based political events to positions of the presidential candidates.

One such event of late was Mississippi voters’ defeat of a constitutional measure known as a “personhood” amendment.

It would have given the legal rights of a person to a human egg immediately upon conception, thereby making not only abortion illegal, but everything else that might threaten a fertilized human egg.


This includes common forms of birth control, the morning after pill, and potentially anything a woman does to her body if it somehow damages a zygote, which is the scientific name for a fertilized egg.

Mississippi’s vote on “personhood” occurred Nov. 3, and the event was widely covered both before and after it was defeated by a 58-to-42 margin.

But reporters did a woefully inadequate job of writing about personhood as it relates to the national political scene, particularly the presidential campaign.

The issue is of critical importance to many Republican activists in states like Iowa, where anti-choice evangelical Christians have played a decisive role in their state’s caucuses, which can make or break GOP presidential nominees.

And, hello, the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses are only a few weeks away.

So you’d expect a newspaper like The New York Times and other national media outlets to dive into an issue like personhood, particularly after Fox News’ Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas and 2008 GOP presidential contender, asked Mitt Romney in October if he would have supported “a constitutional amendment that would have established the definition of life at conception.”

“Absolutely,” Romney told Huckabee, a darling of Christian conservatives and winner of the 2008 Iowa GOP caucuses.

But unfortunately, there was no mention of Romney’s position, or that of any other GOP or Democratic presidential candidate, in the news pages of the Times’ print edition, even on the day the measure went down in Mississippi.

The issue was left to a Times blogger, who wrote on Nov. 3 that Romney has made no explicit statement about his opinion of a “personhood” amendment, only stating his view to Huckabee that life begins at conception.

But the blogger, as well reporters across the country, failed to mention that back in 2006, Romney explicitly endorsed the federal equivalent of the “personhood amendment.”

On ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Romney was asked if he supported a portion of the GOP platform stating that the “14th Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.”

His answer: “You know, I do support the Republican platform, and I support that being part of the Republican platform, and I’m pro-life.”

If you’re Romney and you define life as beginning at conception, then this statement is the equivalent of an endorsement of a personhood amendment at the federal level.

Not only was this absent from the Times’ coverage, but similar positions by GOP candidates Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich were also omitted.

You hear all the time that the next presidential election could be the most important since, well, the last one.

Reporters, particularly those at The New York Times, need to treat it that way and provide readers with the full positions of candidates as they relate to the hot-button issues of the day.

A former media critic for the Rocky Mountain News, Jason Salzman is board chair of Rocky Mountain Media Watch and author of Making the News: A Guide for Activists and Nonprofits. www.bigmedia.org
Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)

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