Monday, December 22, 2008

The Most Lied-About Judicial Decision in our History

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Today's News & Views
December 22, 2008

The Most Lied-About Judicial Decision in our History

Like many people, I do most of my Christmas shopping online. But in my one-time-for-the-season jaunt to the local Mall yesterday, I made a beeline for the "Books a Million" discount bookstore.

Near the entry to the coffee shop [a prime location], I spied an attractive display for a massive and fascinating, book, "The New York Times: The Complete Front Pages: 1851-2008." It is exactly what the title says: a reproduction of every Times' front page for over a century and a half.

The book happened to be opened to the page that discussed the contested 2000 presidential election. During that unprecedented recount my wife and I watched cable television for massive numbers of hours, so that front page brought back a flood of memories.

A moment later, I turned to January 23, 1973, the day where the Times covered the historic Roe v. Wade decision rendered the prior day. The lead story was the death of former president Lyndon Johnson, but almost the entirety of the remainder of the front page dealt with the decision.

In those days the Times often produced an almost unreadable page one. The paper itself was nothing like the current version; it was very tall and very wide, and jam-packed with stories that jumped all over the paper. It looked very much like something a junior high school staff would produce, assuming the advisor was out to lunch. There were something like 14 or 15 stories that began on page one.

I had never actually seen the January 23 edition before. I took a second to count and found that the newspaper started 11 stories about the Roe decision on page one. Naturally one of the subheads suggested that decision legalized abortion "in the first trimester." The Big Lie was established early and reverberates to this day.

If more objective chroniclers were handling the front page, how would some of the headlines have read? "Roe Dismantles All State Laws in Sweeping Decision Legalizing Abortion on Demand"; "Decision Extends Right to Abortion to Unprecedented Lengths"; "Religious Communities Shocked by Supreme Court Decision"; or "Planned Parenthood Welcomes 7-2 Decision, Vows to Monitor State Compliance."

But we are now nearly 36 years out, and we have witnessed the massive damage Roe hath wrought. What kinds of headlines would we write?

"Over 51 Million Unborn Babies Lost to Abortion"; "Studies Mount Showing Abortion's Negative Impact on Women"; "Young People: the New Face of the Pro-Life Movement"; "Minorities Abort in Vastly Disproportionate Numbers"; or "Pro-Life Movement Retools and Rebuilds to Thwart Obama's Abortion Agenda."

The Times likes to think of itself as the "newspaper of record." But before considering whether there was any justification for that self-aggrandizing description, the Times would have to change course and begin telling the truth about the most lied-about judicial decision in our history.

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