Accuracy in Media

The Washington Post defended Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Thursday after Northam, a Democrat elected in 2017, defended infanticide in a radio interview.

The Post largely overlooked the debate over legislation introduced in the Virginia General Assembly that would have permitted abortions up to the moment of birth, got involved after Northam said on WTOP’s  “Ask the Governor” program that babies could be killed under the proposal even after they were born.

Its story did not directly deal with Northam’s suggestion, but rather was headlined, “Abortion bill draws GOP outrage against Va. Gov. Northam, Democratic legislators.” This was somewhat misleading because the outrage directed against Northam was not about the legislation itself – which was voted down in committee – but about his comments in the radio interview.

Asked about third-trimester abortions, which the legislation would permit with the consent of only one health provider – current law says three – and would remove language that required the danger to the mother to be “substantial and irremediable,” Northam said such abortions occurred only “in cases where there may be severe deformities. There may be a fetus that’s not viable.”

But then Northam, a pediatric neurologist, said, “So in this particular example, I can tell you exactly what would happen. The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired. And then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”

The remarks seemed to imply that if the mother and physicians agreed, the baby – fully born, out of the womb, breathing on its own – could be killed.

This was not the case at all, wrote Gregory Schneider and Laura Vozzella of the Post. Rather, this was a routine political attack. “President Trump, Republican lawmakers in Virginia and conservatives across the country attacked Gov. Ralph Northam and other state Democrats on Wednesday after they defended a failed a bill that sought to reduce restrictions on late-term abortions,” Schneider and Vozzella wrote.

“The furor escalated quickly after Republican circulated a video of Del. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax, acknowledging that her bill, like current law, would allow abortions up to the point of delivery in cases when the mother’s life or health was at serious risk. Northam … was asked about the issue in a radio interview and gave an answer that was later used by Republicans to suggest he favored killing live babies.”

That discussion between the physicians and the mother had nothing to do actually killing a live baby, the Post wrote. His office “made clear the governor was talking about prognosis and medical treatment, not ending the life of a delivered baby,” Schneider and Vozzella wrote. “Northam, whose spokeswoman said his words were taken out of context by Republicans, called the notion that he would approve of killing infants ‘disgusting.’”

The Post seemed simply to accept that explanation without asking what aspect of Northam’s comments were taken out of context or how so. It did offer some political analysis in the news story, though.

“Republicans, clinging to a slim majority in an election year when the entire General Assembly is on the ballot, sought to exploit the moment as part of a campaign to paint Democrats as radicals out of step with the state,” Schneider and Vozzella wrote. “And the uproar played directly into the national partisan divide, fueling outrage at a time when Democrats are launching presidential campaigns on issues far removed from abortion, an intractable issue in American society.”

These attacks didn’t square with the Virginia Way, the Post wrote – the notion, trotted out when Democrats are under attack, that Virginia politics resists nastiness. And it resulted from voters sending more women to Richmond.

“More than half of the bill’s 20 Democratic patrons were elected in 2017 during the surge that nearly erased the GOP majority in the House of Delegates,” the Post wrote.

“’House Republicans would do well to pay Virginia women – and their women colleagues – more respect,” it quoted the state’s Democrat Party spokesperson as saying.

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