Despite the alarming uptick in violent attacks against abortion providers in 2015, MSNBC’S The Rachel Maddow Show was the only evening cable news program to cover the topic prior to the deadly shooting at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood on November 27, according to a new Media Matters study.
Media Matters analyzed 14 months of cable evening news programs from January 1, 2015, through March 6, 2016, looking for segments featuring a substantial discussion of abortion. Within those segments, we examined whether any speaker made a reference to past or present violence, threats, or harassment targeting abortion clinics or providers. Over the course of the study, we found 148 news segments including such a reference, but 94 percent of those segments aired after the November 27 attack on a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood. Of the three networks included -- CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC -- MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show contained the only coverage of recent attacks prior to November 27, airing four reports about incidents of violence directed at clinics or providers.
The attacks in 2015 were far from the first time violence had been directed at an abortion clinic or provider. While the smear campaign the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) instigated against Planned Parenthood was followed by a dramatic increase in the number of direct threats of harm to abortion providers from previous years, the National Abortion Federation (NAF) has been tracking violence and threats directed at abortion providers since 1977. In fact, The Rachel Maddow Show’s first report on an attack on a clinic occurred prior to the release of the Center for Medical Progress’ first video. The March 23, 2015, edition of Maddow included an extensive report on an attack on the security cameras of the only remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi. This coverage was consistent with Maddow’s overall programming, which has consistently taken the violent threats against abortion providers and clinics seriously.
Following the release of CMP’s videos, the FBI reported that there was a marked uptick in violence and threats “directed against reproductive health care providers, their staff and facilities,” and multiple clinics were damaged by arson and vandalism. But a previous study released by Media Matters in October 2015 found that cable news shows and leading newspapers around the country largely did not cover those incidents. The sole exemption Media Matters found on evening cable news at the time was a report during the September 8 edition of MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show.
The Rachel Maddow Show aired another report on attacks on Planned Parenthood on October 22. The report focused on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Claremont, NH, which actually did not provide abortions, where a person broke in and used a hatchet to destroy computers and more, requiring a six-week closure for repairs.
In addition to airing reports on recent incidents of vandalism or arson directed at clinics, just three days prior to the deadly attack on Planned Parenthood, The Rachel Maddow Show presented an extensive report on the connections between an organization called Operation Rescue and incidents of violence directed at abortion providers. The reason for Maddow’s report was that Operation Rescue’s president, Troy Newman, who served on the board of CMP, had endorsed then-presidential candidate Ted Cruz on November 19. Cruz said he was “grateful” to receive the endorsement and that the country “need[s] leaders like Troy Newman.”
Prior to November 27, four other cable news programs had segments that briefly mentioned Operation Rescue’s connections to CMP and violence. Two such segments aired on MSNBC’s All In With Chris Hayes, and two aired on Fox News’ The Kelly File. All those references were made by pro-choice guests on the programs.
The Rachel Maddow Show was the only evening cable news program that aired a report from a network host on the topic of violence, threats or harassment directed against abortion providers prior to November 27.