Fox News was uncharacteristically quiet about abortion after Rep. Steve King (R-IA) made comments on Wednesday criticizing rape and incest exceptions to abortion bans. Although CNN and MSNBC covered the topic more, both networks prioritized the inaccurate narrative that King's position is an aberration from the Republican Party’s stance on abortion access.
On August 14, King defended eliminating rape and incest exceptions from abortion bans, suggesting that there wouldn’t be “any population of the world left” if abortions were allowed in these instances. Media Matters analyzed coverage of King’s comments on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox from the time the story broke around 2 p.m. on August 14 through 9 a.m. the next day. We found that CNN covered the topic for 54 minutes and 28 seconds, followed by MSNBC reporting on it for 40 minutes and 28 seconds. Meanwhile, Fox News discussed King’s remarks for a meager one minute and 22 seconds.
This silence from Fox News is uncharacteristic, as the network typically dominates abortion-related conversations with sensationalized misinformation. CNN’s and MSNBC’s coverage, however, repeated a right-wing media framing of the story.
After King made his comments, several right-wing media outlets attempted to downplay his stance as unrepresentative of the Republican Party or the anti-abortion movement. Although right-wing media and the GOP have an interest in casting King as an outlier, this is not the case. In 2019, there have been an unprecedented number of anti-abortion laws proposed or passed at the state level, including several total or early abortion bans with no exceptions for rape, incest, or health. Emboldened by a Supreme Court that appears increasingly hostile to abortion rights, anti-choice lawmakers, groups, and media have openly advocated for outlawing or even criminalizing abortion.
Although CNN and MSNBC both covered King’s comments more than Fox, each network also aired segments presenting his stance as “extreme” for the Republican Party. For example, former Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) claimed on CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper that King “does not speak for Republicans.” CNN political commentator Alice Stewart defended King on CNN Tonight with Don Lemon, claiming King “was trying to say … that we can't hold the child responsible if someone is the victim of rape or incest,” and adding that while she may personally “agree with the principle of supporting life,” she did “not agree with the way he went about saying it.” On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, MSNBC political analyst Elise Jordan and BBC’s Katty Kay downplayed King’s comments by suggesting he was merely a “weirdo.”
Some segments on MSNBC better contextualized King’s comments as being in line with the Republican Party and the anti-abortion movement. For example, journalist Laura Bassett mentioned on All In with Chris Hayes that many Republicans have expressed “opposition to rape and incest exceptions” and explained that King was “not some fringe Republican,” but instead “a guy that’s been embraced by very mainstream members of the party.” On The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, MSNBC legal analyst Maya Wiley talked about the impact of King’s rhetoric on people who “have survived rape” who were being told “they don’t actually get to have agency over their own body, that other people can tell them what they do with it. No matter how they’ve been violated. That’s an extreme position.” Wiley went on to connect King’s views with policies and positions of President Donald Trump’s administration.
King’s comments were not merely an aberration from anti-choice lawmakers’ views -- rather, they represent an emboldened right-wing and anti-abortion movement that increasingly promotes the elimination or criminalization of all abortion. With abortion rights in an increasingly perilous position nationwide, it is more important than ever for networks to clearly contextualize anti-choice comments like King’s.
Media Matters searched the SnapStream video database for mentions of Rep. Steve King’s (R-IA) comments on Fox News Channel, CNN, and MSNBC between 2 p.m. August 14 and 9 a.m. August 15 and timed conversations and references pertaining to King. Reruns of previously aired episodes were excluded from the analysis.