Although expected, the Supreme Court’s decision curtailing women’s rights on Friday still came as a shock, as it ought. The country has crossed a line, and everything is different now. It’s absolutely crushing.
“Today, the Supreme Court of the United States expressly took away a constitutional right from the American people that it already recognized,” President Joe Biden said, getting it exactly right. “They didn’t limit it. They simply took it away. That’s never been done… but they did it.”
As far as the media is concerned, it’s time to call a meeting.
I realize that may sound glib, but I actually think it’s urgent that newsroom leaders get together with their reporters, take stock, think things through, and decide how this should change the way they cover politics. Because it should.
For decades, the American story has been one of expanding civil rights. Now, those hard-won rights are being rolled back. This country is headed straight toward Christian theocracy, unless the people rise up.
At earlier key moments in this slide – Trump’s victory in the 2016 election, his attempt to steal the one in 2020 — editors had the excuse that they were taken by surprise. They refused to abandon their neutral, above-the-fray tone. Then inertia and defensiveness set in.
They have no excuses this time.
Their most immediate task is to fully acknowledge the cost to women. I’ve been horrified at how long it takes some reporters writing about this decision before they even use the word woman, not to mention quote one.
But even more crucially, our top newsrooms must redirect their election coverage.
They can do it. When gas prices shot up, the narrative shifted dramatically. Inflation became the central trope of midterm coverage.
This is so much more important than gas prices.
As Biden put it, “This fall, Roe is on the ballot. Personal freedoms are on the ballot. The right to privacy, liberty, equality, they’re all on the ballot.”
And given the way voting is already skewed to favor Republicans – through gerrymandering, voter suppression, and the existence of the Senate – a majority won’t be enough. Only a supermajority will do it.
As I wrote recently about the New York Times in particular, “The goal of a responsible news organization is not to get people to vote a specific way. But it is to make sure that everyone understands what’s at stake.”
This whole blessed website of mine is all about how political journalism needs a reset because of its inadequate response to the spread of disinformation and the asymmetry between the two political parties. That asymmetry now extends to whether Americans keep their rights.
It is way past time for political journalists to recognize basic truths, to stop hemming and hawing and trying to split the difference. Maybe now they have finally gotten the message.
Fundamentally, they need to be more honest than journalists have historically been about what’s going on. So, for instance, this was not simply the work of “conservative justices.” It is deeply, profoundly abnormal that six extremist, reactionary, far-right justices can destroy more than half a century of progress for women’s rights, health care, and justice.
The people who said the last three justices in particular were flat-out lying during their confirmation hearings were right. It’s important to make clear that lying has now become requisite for GOP judicial nominees. And it’s time to quote the people who were right more often than the people who were wrong.
Journalists need to remind people that this would never have happened were it not for Republican trickery.
They need to distinguish between the principled opposition to abortion by those who truly believe life begins at conception; the shameless political pandering to that group; and the twisted misogyny that wants to see women punished for having sex, even when they are victims of rape or incest.
They need to read Jia Tolentino in the New Yorker, who writes:
We have entered an era not of unsafe abortion but of widespread state surveillance and criminalization—of pregnant women, certainly, but also of doctors and pharmacists and clinic staffers and volunteers and friends and family members, of anyone who comes into meaningful contact with a pregnancy that does not end in a healthy birth. Those who argue that this decision won’t actually change things much—an instinct you’ll find on both sides of the political divide—are blind to the ways in which state-level anti-abortion crusades have already turned pregnancy into punishment, and the ways in which the situation is poised to become much worse.
They need to read lots of other women, too.
They need to put things in perspective. Gas prices are high, inflation is a problem, Biden is flawed, a few very whiny people are getting “canceled” – those are all valid news stories (well, not that last one.) But they’re not what these upcoming elections are going to be about.
They need to follow the money.
They need to not get distracted.
They need to recognize that the idea of a white Christian authoritarian government is no longer abstract, it is upon us.
And should Republicans win Congress and the White House, there is no indication that they will ever give them back.
If you work in a newsroom, ask your colleagues and your bosses: Do you disagree with any of that? And if not, why are we continuing to do the same things that got us here?