June 24 was a happy day at Fox News. Roe vs. Wadethe landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision codifying a right to abortion, had been overturned by the court’s decision in the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. During his evening show, Fox host Jesse Watters performed a lap of honor tinged with his signature snark:
“Abortion is an emotional issue, and liberals are furious, and they want you to know that,” said Watters, who also alleged that “Democratic politicians are freaking them out.”
A few weeks later, it is Watters who seems scared. deerThe disappearance of , who threw abortion politics in the United States, had been implicated in the story of a 10-year-old rape victim who was seeking an abortion. It was exactly the kind of scenario that abortion advocates had predicted. Could Fox News handle it?
Details about that came from the Indianapolis Star, which reported on July 1 that a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio traveled to Indiana to have an abortion. Following the Supreme Court ruling in DobbsOhio decided to ban abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. The newspaper attributed the story to Indianapolis obstetrician-gynecologist Caitlin Bernard, who said she was contacted by a child abuse doctor in Ohio.
The double victimization of a 10-year-old child – who could have been pregnant at 9 – shook the shoulders of a country that had lived for half a century under deer‘s protections. “Imagine being that little girl,” President Biden said Friday as he signed an executive order on reproductive rights and care. “Just, I’m serious. Imagine being that little girl.
It was unsettling, so Watters got serious. He said Monday night that his show had “decided to investigate this alleged child rape” and noted that authorities in Ohio had not launched a criminal investigation. “It doesn’t make sense,” said Watters, who referenced a Post Fact-Checker column by Glenn Kessler, which looked at sourcing — and sourcing challenges — for the IndyStar report. which had gone viral. Although Watters raised the possibility that the story was true, he made his leanings clear:
So where are we? If there’s a 10-year-old child molester on the streets of Ohio, he needs to be brought to justice. And if so-called doctors cover up child rape, they must be prosecuted. But if this horrible story isn’t accurate, and the abortion doctor and the Indianapolis Star mislead us, and the mainstream media and the President of the United States seize on another hoax , then this is absolutely shameful and fits a pretty dangerous pattern of politically timed misinformation.
Fox News’ midday roundtable show “Outnumbered” threw all the restraint Watters had sewn into its report. “There’s no shortage of 10-year-old rape victims,” panel member Emily Compagno said on Tuesday’s show. “There are victims, from infants to the elderly – of both sexes. There’s more than you can count. There are so many monsters there. So to me, what I find deeply offensive is that they had to invent a fake one. There are actually so many, countless true ones that I wish they would use as a plea for law and order.
Later Tuesday, Fox News primetime host Tucker Carlson said, “Why did the Biden administration – speaking of lies – just repeat the story of a 10-year-old child? who got pregnant and had an abortion or was not allowed to have an abortion when the story turns out not to be true? »
But there were no lies: The Columbus Dispatch reported Wednesday that a Columbus man — Gerson Fuentes, 27 — had been charged with raping a 10-year-old girl. The newspaper quoted a police official as testifying that the girl had a medical abortion on June 30 in Indianapolis. Ohio bans abortions after pregnancies reach six weeks, and the 10-year-old girl was six weeks and three days pregnant when she was examined.
How did Watters screen the development? By attacking Bernard, the abortion provider at the center of the story.
Carlson (predictably) pivoted on a detail of the Dispatch story – that Fuentes is “supposed to be undocumented”. “RAPIST OF 10-YEAR-OLD BOY IS AN ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT,” read a chyron gracing Carlson’s discussion of the case Wednesday night. There was no “allegedly” in the on-screen graphic to signal that Fuentes was not convicted – a trend Carlson displayed years ago as he promoted accusations of high-profile rape against immigrants in Rockville, Maryland – charges that were later dropped.
Another Fox News talking point came Wednesday night in Watters’ monologue, when he said the girl didn’t need to flee to Indiana to get an abortion. For this little comment, Watters relied on an interview which he aired Monday night with Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost. “Ohio’s heartbeat law has a medical emergency exception, broader than just the mother’s life,” Yost told Watters. “She – this young girl – if she exists, and if this horrible thing actually happened to her, breaks my heart to think about it – she didn’t have to leave Ohio to find treatment.”
Elizabeth Nash, senior policy associate for state issues at the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights, points out that the medical emergency exception (see text here) does not encompass the circumstances of the 10-year-old rape victim. “The medical emergency exception does not include rape and incest,” Nash told blog Erik Wemple on Thursday. “That’s just not the case. It’s really dishonest [Yost] made that comment.
Dishonest, yes, but also condescending and paternalistic: Who are Yost and Watters to question a family’s decisions about medical care for their 10-year-old daughter who was raped?
The tl version; dr of it all: Fox News played an extraordinary defense against this story – first by doubting its veracity, then by turning away to the real problem at play here. It’s as if the network can’t come to terms with the realities behind a sweeping change in legal policy it has long advocated for. Perhaps he had planned a few weeks to celebrate the Dobbs decision and did not expect the grim impact of the decision to take hold so quickly. The panic of Watters, Carlson & Co. suggests they were more inclined to ridicule, rather than listen to, warnings from pro-choice voices about the scenarios that would play out in the absence of deer.
“Even if they’re panicking, it’s for political reasons more than caring about the patient,” says Nash.
As the Erik Wemple Blog noted on Twitterthis national story pivots on the work of regional and local newspapers in red states, which is precisely where nightmarish post-deer stories will continue to emerge. In other words, exposing the ramifications of the Supreme Court’s decision will largely fall to a hollowed-out sector of the American media. And Fox News will be there to throw cold water on the scoops these overworked reporters are spouting.