Fred Thompson on Abortion

Ramesh Ponnuru links to this item he wrote about Thompson in 2000:

The latest issue of NR includes a rundown of possible Bush running mates. In passing, it mentions that Senator Fred Thompson, the Tennessee Republican, has the drawback of being pro-choice. His office called today to say that Thompson is actually pro-life.

Thompson has certainly voted with pro-lifers almost all the time. The National Right to Life Committee counts votes for John McCain-style campaign-finance reform, which Thompson supports, as anti-pro-life votes, but otherwise he’s been solid. The senator voted against the Harkin amendment, which put the Senate on record favoring Roe v. Wade. But when Thompson ran for Senate in 1994, he did so as a supporter of legal abortion, as several press clips from the time pointed out. NR has also obtained a copy of a letter Thompson sent to a constituent in 1997, which notes that Thompson supports various restrictions on abortion but also includes the line, “I believe that government should not interfere with individual convictions and actions in this area.”

The upshot: Thompson is an ally of pro-lifers in all the actual fights that come up, but he’s not one of them on the core issue. Unless, that is, he has changed his mind, as suggested by his current self-description as a pro-lifer. In that case, NR would be more than happy to print a correction – and welcome him aboard.

Pence on the Dems

“Here are some examples of what the Democrats consider ‘urgent’ needs that require ‘prompt action:’

— $25 million for payments to spinach producers
— $120 million to the shrimp industry
— $74 million for peanut storage
— $5 million for shellfish, oyster and clam producers

“Spinach, shrimp, peanuts and shellfish? That’s not a war funding bill, that’s the salad bar at Denny’s.”

More here.

Re: Birth Pangs of a New Media

Even if the source were a Don Evans type, Smith still should have gotten a second source, and/or sought official comment, and emphasized any comment/no comment toward the top of his post. The fact that the story turned out to be wrong proves this.

Re: Birth Pangs of a New Media

John and Wlady, I have to wholehardedly disagree with you about the Politico getting it wrong. I think this is a major deal. It would be one thing if the post had a headline that was softer, or if the story had a lot of qualifications, but it didn’t. Furthermore, it ended up on the front of the Politico webpage, which is supposed to be a more formal news site, and not just a blog, so it carries more authority. The headline emphatically stated “Edwards To Suspend Campaign” and the post began:

John Edwards is suspending his campaign for President, and may drop out completely, because his wife has suffered a recurrence of the cancer that sickened her in 2004, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, an Edwards friend told The Politico.

“At a minimum he’s going to suspend” the campaign, the source said. “Nobody knows precisely how serious her recurrence is. It’ll be another couple of days before there’s complete clarity.”

If Smith wanted to get this information out there, the headline should have read, “Friend Says Edwards To Suspend Campaign.” The blog post should have cautioned that the truth won’t be known until the noon press conference, but, for what it’s worth, a friend said that he’s suspending the campaign. The very next sentence should have been that the Edwards campaign was not confirming this. But according to Smith’s narrative, he didn’t even seek comment from the Edwards campaign before going with the story. That’s absolutely unacceptable. If he did seek comment and they never responded, he should have made that clear. A reporter should not rely on updating the story to report official comment (or no comment). This is basic journalism. Also, Smith says, “A little after 10 a.m., I put out feelers to people in Edwards’ circle who weren’t holed up in Chapel Hill, people I thought might be willing to speak freely.” They may be able to speak more freely, but presumably, if they weren’t “holed up in Chapel Hill,” they would be in less of a position to know the truth.

It’s one thing when bloggers were just pajama-clad hobbyists, but now that we’ve moved into an era when they are speaking with the authority of regular journalists, they need to be held to the same standards. Smith is a solid reporter who has done a lot of excellent work, but he blew it this time, as even he acknowledged. It happens to the best of them. What’s important now is to recognize the error and use this as a moment to impose the same journalistic standards on blogger/reporters. This Edwards debacle should be the exception, not the rule.

The Birth Pangs of a New Media

Yesterday, the new Politico made news when reporter Ben Smith, citing a single source, falsely reported that John Edwards was suspending his campaign due to a recurrence of Elizabeth’s cancer. The false story spread like wildfire over the Internet and then was picked up by the major news channels. Smith, who has been an excellent reporter, graciously explained why he blew the story. The interesting part of this whole debacle is that it demonstrates the rocky road we’re on as the new media and old media converge. Smith broke the story as a blog post, and blogs are an informal medium where people often speculate and pass on rumors, but typically qualify them as such. However, as blogs more and more become a source of breaking news, and the line between news reporting and blogging blurs, entries tend to be written in a more formal style, with a certainty and authority that would normally be reserved for news stories, even if it’s unjustified by the sourcing. It’s doubtful that any major news organization would have run such a big news story based on a single source, but as a blogger, Smith felt his information was good enough for a short little, harmless, blog post. But when Drudge headlined it with a siren, all hell broke loose. This may end up as a watershed moment for a medium that is struggling to grow beyond its infancy.

National Right to Life Committee on Thompson

This morning, I cited reports being promoted by the pro-Romney blog Evangelicals for Mitt suggesting that Fred Thompson ran his two campaigns for Senate in Tennessee as a pro-choicer. Not so, National Right to Life executive co-director Darla St. Martin just told me.

St. Martin said that she went down to Tennessee in 1994 to speak with Thompson personally when he first ran for Senate, and that she determined he was against abortion.

"I interviewed him and on all of the questions I asked him, he opposed abortion," St. Martin said. She told me that the group went on to support him in that election, and his record reinforced for her that their determination was correct.

"He has a consistent voting record that is pro-life," she said.

On the NRLC website, they archive their congressional ratings back to 1997, so they include six of his eight years in the Senate. Thompson took the pro-life position on every vote he cast on the abortion issue. The only reason he didn't have a 100% rating is that, as Jim pointed out, the ratings also include votes on campaign finance reform, which he supported.

I specifically pressed her on the 1994 National Review story that read: "On abortion, both Thompson and Cooper are pro-choice. But Thompson favors parental notification, Cooper voted against it." I also asked her about the 1996 AP story mentioning Thompson's opposition to a constitutional amendment banning abortion.

St. Martin said she was skeptical of such media reports, because they can be wrong as was her experience with stories in 2000 that George W. Bush had been pro-choice. She reiterated the fact that she knows Thompson opposed abortion because of her conversation with him, and that was reinforced by his subsequent voting record.

No doubt, there will be new articles and video clips to come out should Thompson decide to run, publicizing any  past pro-choice statements, and clearly Romney supporters have a vested interest in pointing to Thompson as another recent convert to the pro-life cause.  However, it seems that Thompson's voting record is consistent enough, and dates back far enough, to  satisfy the pro-life community.  

r r

Re: Cute But Annoying

Even more ridiculous, in a blog post announcing his interview with Romney yesterday, Hewitt included a link to an online contribution form to the Romney campaign. So now he’s a campaign fundraiser too. I wonder if that’s a violation of McCain-Feingold?