There's been a lot of flap in the press since last Tuesday, when Gov. Tom Corbett was asked whether women should be forced to watch fetal images during pre-abortion ultrasounds that would be mandated by a bill pending in the Pennsylvania Legislature.
The Associated Press quoted the governor as saying "I don't know how you make anybody watch, OK? Because you just have to close your eyes."
The governor's reply ignited a firestorm of criticism from pro-choice and abortion rights groups, and became instant fodder for the news media to generate headlines.
The flames were fanned even more last Friday, when Corbett's spokesman defended the governor's remark by saying it was taken out of context. That defense was quickly met by numerous editors and talking heads leaping into the pulpit to pontificate on the virtue of what is and isn't proper "context."
A recent editorial published by the (Chambersburg) Public Opinion read, in part:
"The context for Corbett was women being emotionally oppressed and forced to watch an image of the fetus they intend to abort. The answer was 'you just have to close your eyes.'
"Simple. Direct. Unbelievable. Especially when you consider that the legislation mandates that the ultrasound technician make a note of whether or not the woman watches. How's that for context?"
We believe editorials like that one, as well as the overall news coverage of the issue as presented by the AP and other media outlets, have indeed taken the governor's remark completely out of context. They have repeatedly published and broadcast only the "Just close your eyes" portion of the quote in their headlines and story ledes, without revealing the full quote until the fifth paragraph - or later - in the story. By doing so, they not only have presented the remark out of context -they have done a disservice to their readers and viewers.
We feel this is a prime example of the media abusing its privilege by placing a deliberate spin on a story - in this case, painting the governor as some sort of heartless Neanderthal who cares nothing for women's reproductive rights or health. Whatever his actual thoughts on that issue may be, we feel Corbett's remark was simply an honest observation that regardless of legislation, women can't physically be forced to keep their eyes open and view an ultrasound - nor should they be.
Granted, it was an off-the-cuff remark, and one that perhaps should have been more carefully weighed by the governor before the words were uttered. But we feel the public -and the media - would be better served by allowing those words to fully speak for themselves.