A 10-year-old girl in Ohio has become a flashpoint in the abortion debate
For nearly two weeks, the story of a 10-year-old girl from Ohio who was raped and crossed state lines to have an abortion has become a flashpoint in the national debate over the ‘abortion. President Biden and other Democrats have argued that this shows the harm resulting from the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.
But facts were scarce, with reporters struggling to confirm a report in The Indianapolis Star that relied on a single named source.
Conservative media wondered if the girl existed. Jesse Watters, a Fox News host, suggested the story could be a “hoax” intended to buttress the abortion rights position. The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed on Tuesday titled, “An abortion story too good to be confirmed.”
People on the left were quick to jump on it and criticize any media report that highlighted how little was known about the girl and the circumstances of the crime. On Saturday, Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler wrote that he could not confirm any of the details. “This is a very difficult story to verify,” he wrote, a conclusion that led to a flurry of furious comments on The Post’s website. The case has become an example of how, with a highly partisan issue, a single article can become the center of heated debate.
The facts became clearer on Wednesday, when the Columbus Dispatch reported that an Ohio man had been charged with rape.
But by then, the debate over the case had placed mainstream publications in an uncomfortable position. A politicized narrative had moved faster than journalists could accumulate information and was fueling its own news cycle apart from the facts.
“It was extreme enough that questions about it were logical questions to ask,” said Kelly McBride, media ethics expert at the Poynter Institute. But, she added, reporters had to do the reporting to answer questions and “not just come up with more opinions without more additional facts.”
A Fox News spokeswoman declined to comment on statements by Watters or other hosts, but pointed to information from the network on Tuesday that corroborated the case. A Wall Street Journal spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.
The Indianapolis Star first brought the case to public attention in a July 1 article that examined abortion restrictions in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling. The article referred to a case of Dr. Caitlin Bernard. Dr. Bernard, an Indianapolis obstetrician-gynecologist, treated a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio who had traveled to Indiana for abortion care because she was over the limit of newly imposed six-week abortion in her home state.
The horrific story drew international attention. A week later, Mr Biden quoted him in a speech at the White House in which he criticized the Supreme Court’s decision as “so totally wrong”.
But conservative politicians have cast doubts on the reality of the victim. They pointed out that the report was based on a single source, a doctor who treated the patient. They noted that Dr. Bernard would not respond to questions from other news outlets about the case and that there did not appear to be any public records to confirm this. Some called it “fake news”.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost stoked doubts about the case this week when he said in a Fox News interview that he found no evidence of such a victim and told the USA Today Network Ohio office: “Shame on the Indianapolis newspaper that published this thing on a single source that has an obvious ax to grind.
Steve Krakauer, writing a media bulletin called The Fourth Watch, which is owned by The First, a conservative outlet that counts former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly as a host, was among those who tweeted their skepticism, wondering if there would be any soul-searching in the media ‘when the 10-year-old abortion story turns out to be this year’s Jussie Smollett’, a reference to the actor convicted of a hate crime hoax.
In an interview, Mr. Krakauer said he regretted the wording of his tweet. He said everyone would benefit from slowing down and not jumping to conclusions.
“There’s a rush to the right, especially now in this post-Trump world where the media has become a cultural conversation on top of the people who cover the news, to show that this is just another example of the media getting wrong,” he said. said.
He added that left-leaning media often displayed a similar rush to find and amplify certain stories.
In its report on the case on Wednesday, The Columbus Dispatch reported that Gerson Fuentes, 27, was arrested and charged in Franklin County Municipal Court in Columbus with the rape of a child under 13 after confessed to the police. Mr. Fuentes has not yet entered a plea.
During the hearing, a police detective said Columbus police were notified of the crime in late June and confirmed the victim had an abortion in Indianapolis on June 30.
Amalie Nash, who oversees local news for the USA Today Network, which operates both The Indianapolis Star and The Columbus Dispatch, said in an interview that newsrooms in both states worked together to confirm details of the case, including searching for records that may be publicly reported.
“I don’t think it’s a huge surprise that when a story of this nature comes out and it can be used by both sides of the political spectrum to advance their causes, that something like this happens, that it going to be interviewed,” Ms Nash said.
Ms Nash said Wednesday’s scoop had so far received around 1.5 million views from readers – a lot for a local newspaper.
“Our reporter was the only one who was in the courtroom at the arraignment, and he’s someone who’s in the community, who has the supply, who’s able to make it happen a lot more faster than someone could nationwide,” she said. said.
Some publications that had weighed in on the case updated their articles with the new information. The Washington Post’s Mr Kessler wrote on Twitter: “Now a rapist has been charged and the story has been updated. I get a lot of angry emails, but journalism is an accumulation of facts. »
The Wall Street Journal noted the new facts in an op-ed Thursday. But he argued that the way to help the country find consensus on abortion is to “ensure that the stories about abortion, on both sides of the debate, can be easily confirmed.”
Conservative news media were less contrite, focusing on Mr. Fuentes’ status as an undocumented immigrant. Mr Watters, the Fox News host who had raised questions about the case, said on Wednesday night that his TV program had “put the pressure on and now we are happy that justice has been served”.
Mr. Yost, the Ohio attorney general, who had suggested the story was fabricated, released a statement on Wednesday saying, “My heart aches for the pain this young child has suffered.”
Others focused on Dr. Bernard. Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, a Republican, said Wednesday night on Fox News that he would investigate whether the doctor failed to report the assault and the abortion, and suggested that Dr. Bernard not had not done so in other cases.
A document obtained by The New York Times on Thursday showed Dr Bernard made the required reports. The Indianapolis Star was the first to report on the document. Kathleen DeLaney, an attorney for Dr. Bernard, said in a statement that Dr. Bernard was considering legal action against those who “smeared” him, including Mr. Rokita. Mr. Rokita replied: “As we said, we are collecting evidence from several sources and agencies related to these allegations. Our legal review remains open.