Did members of the national media do their due diligence with the Todd Akin story?
Akin, challenging Democrat Claire McCaskill this year for her Senate seat in Missouri, gained national notoriety in mid-August by saying in an interview that “legitimate rape” doesn’t end in pregnancy because “the female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down.”
After the national outrage his comments generated, Akin attempted to defend his comments in an Aug. 19 statement: “I misspoke in the interview, and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year.”
But unasked – and unanswered – questions surrounding the issue remain.
Charles Jaco, host of the television show on which Akin made his remarks, told David Taintor of the website talkingpointsmemo.com that he “screwed up” and “dropped the ball” because he didn’t ask any follow-up questions after the congressman uttered his incendiary remarks.
On Aug. 20 Taintor wrote: “In hindsight, Jaco said he should have taken a deep breath and asked the congressman if he believes women’s bodies somehow prevent them from becoming pregnant after a rape. A number of viewers wrote in to express their disappointment that Jaco didn’t follow up. Jaco said he has apologized to each of them.”
Taintor then quoted Jaco as saying: “When you’re not 100 percent fully engaged, and you’ve got anything else on your mind, you’ll miss stuff. We all brain fart sooner or later, and this is mine.”
A “do-over” isn’t possible for Akin or Jaco on this issue, but how might other journalists have handled the situation?
Rob Koenig, Washington correspondent for the online St. Louis Beacon newspaper, said: “First, I would have asked Rep. Akin to clarify his terms, especially the phrase ‘legitimate rape.’ That phrase, possibly misspoken, caused much of the controversy that followed. Did he mean cases that did not involve false claims? Or something else?
“I also would have asked Akin to explain what he believes to be the scientific basis behind his assertion that ‘the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down’ to prevent pregnancies after rape. His qualifying phrase was, ‘From what I understand from doctors … ’ My questions: Which doctors? Which scientific studies back up that claim?”
When asked if he thought Akin misspoke, Koenig replied, “Judging by Rep. Akin’s later ‘apology,’ I have the impression that he misspoke only in using the adjective ‘legitimate’ before the word ‘rape.’ What he seemed to mean by ‘legitimate,’ according to an interview he gave to former Arkansas Gov. [Mike] Huckabee later that week, was cases that did not involve false claims of rape. Otherwise, what Rep. Akin said seems to be more or less in line with what he had said in the past about claims by some anti-abortion groups that a woman who is raped is less likely to become pregnant. The best-known advocate for that theory, from what I have read, is a general practitioner, Dr. John C. Willke, who was president of the National Right to Life Committee for about a decade.”
A Washington Post story, titled “Story: Rape victims have a higher pregnancy rates than other women,” contradicts both Akin and Willke. It cites a 2003 study that found that “a single act of rape was more than twice as likely to result in pregnancy than an act of consensual sex.”
It’s not as if Akin has reversed course on the issue of abortion in his political career. In fact, his anti-abortion stance can be traced back more than 20 years:
○ In 1991, as a state legislator, Akin voted in favor of an anti-marital-rape law, but only after questioning if it could somehow be misused “in a real messy divorce as a tool and a legal weapon to beat up on the husband.” His quote about the law appeared in the May 1, 1991, edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
○ More recently, in 2011, he was one of the original co-sponsors of a bill in the House of Representatives to narrow the definition of rape to “forcible rape.” That piece of legislation, the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” also was co-sponsored by vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and more than 200 other GOP House members.
William Saletan, writing for the daily Web magazine Slate, said in an Aug. 22 column that these incidents, taken together, show that Akin didn’t “misspeak” anything.
“When you look at the three episodes side by side – the 1991 comment about marital rape, the 2011 specification of ‘forcible rape,’ the 2012 reference to ‘legitimate rape’ – it’s hard to explain away the pattern,” Saletan wrote, adding: “Nobody uses the wrong words accidentally three times in a row. But if you watch Akin’s whole interview on KTVI, you’ll see that the pattern is actually larger. He trusts some people more than others. Women who report rape are among the people he doesn’t quite trust.”
Akin’s words have also caused headaches in Twitter for a former Springfield, Mo.-based television reporter. According to a story written Sept. 14 by Thomas Gounley on the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader’s website, Dave Catanese “caught some heat for a series of controversial tweets about Todd Akin he sent last month.”
Catanese, who worked at KYTV and is now a national reporter for Politico, discussed the flap over his Twitter messages at a talk at Springfield’s Drury University. He said he “didn’t use precise language” in his Aug. 20 tweets and was not trying to support what Akin had said, Gounley reported. Catanese’s tweets said Akin had used “poor phrasing,” and that the congressman was trying to say “that there’s less chance of getting pregnant if raped. So perhaps some can agree that all rapes that are reported are not actually rapes? Or are we gonna really deny that for PC (politically correct) sake?”
Twitter messages are limited to 140 characters.
“I learned that Twitter is not the best place to litigate an argument,” Gounley reported Catanese as saying.
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