Whenever criticism is voiced of the mainstream media these days, we are sure to be reminded of its accomplishments. “Don’t forget,” critics are told, “it was the much-maligned media that uncovered Watergate; the media which exposed evils like Abu Ghraib; and the media, in large measure, which forced the Church to acknowledge its own terrible sins.”
All true, and those reporters who worked for those ends deserve full credit and honors. May we produce more journalists like them. But it is only fair to point out—since many media admirers do not—that many reporters within that same media often fall prey to sensational and irresponsible reporting; make unfair and even reckless allegations against innocent people; allow partisanship to overwhelm their objectivity; and, most notoriously, try to rationalize and justify the culture of death.
Rare is the mainstream reporter or columnist who is willing to repudiate the pro-choice outlook for a pro-life stand. But there are exceptions. Among them is Nat Hentoff, whom Mark Judge recently paid tribute to for his remarkable conversion:
“A famous liberal who was a staple at the Village Voice and who had a column in the Washington Post, in the 1980’s Hentoff actually let himself be swayed by evidence about abortion.” “It happened when Hentoff was reporting on the case of Baby Jane Doe, a Long Island infant born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus, which is excess fluid in the cranium. With surgery, spina bifida babies can grow up to be productive adults. Yet Baby Jane’s parents, on their doctor’s advice, had refused both surgery to close her spine and a shunt to drain the fluid from her brain. In resisting the federal government’s attempt to enforce treatment, the parents pleaded privacy.”
As Hentoff told the Washington Times in a 1989 profile, his ‘curiosity was not so much the case itself but the press coverage.’ Everyone on the media was echoing the same talking points about ‘women’s rights’ and ‘privacy.’
“Whenever I see that kind of story, where everybody agrees, I know there’s something wrong,’ Hentoff told the Times.”
Hentoff investigated the case, and the abortion industry in general, and “what he found shocked him,” writes Judge. “He came across the published reports of experiments in what doctors at Yale-New Haven Hospital called ‘early death as a management option’ for infants ‘considered to have little or no hope of achieving meaningful ‘humanhood.’ He talked with handicapped people who could have been killed by abortion.When Hentoff’s pro-choice friends heard about his new pro-life convictions (which, to them, were heresies), they were aghast, but he didn’t back down: “Here were liberals, decent people, fully convinced themselves that they were for individual rights and liberties but willing to send into eternity these infants because they were imperfect, inconvenient, costly. I saw the same attitude on the part of the same kinds of people toward abortion, and I thought it was pretty horrifying.”
For voicing such views, Hentoff has become a solitary man in many liberal circles—even though, as an ardent civil libertarian, he is hardly a political or social conservative. His courage and independence on the issue of life deserves note.
Hentoff’s transformation is recounted in The Debate Since Roe: Making the Case Against Abortion 1975-2010, a powerful collection of essays from the Human Life Review, which has received excellent reviews and which other reporters could learn a great deal from.
William Doino Jr. is a contributor to Inside the Vatican magazine.