| When journalism becomes something more … how LSN and its readers helped save a life When I was hired as LifeSiteNews’s Washington Correspondent in September, I knew I would have my work cut out for me. It was fall of an election year, and a big part of my job would be covering what was happening in U.S. politics. I expected long hours, an avalanche of deadlines, and endless games of phone tag with beleaguered public relations professionals tasked with explaining away their bosses’ latest gaffes. The job delivered as promised. Big issues were debated. Promises were made and broken. Good people said dumb things, and dangerous people told slick lies. We wrote about it all. Our U.S. Bureau Chief Ben Johnson, got the unenviable night shift, staying up all night after the presidential and vice presidential debates to cover every angle. As expected, I spent my days on the phone with all manner of “spokesmen.” Communications Directors, Vice Presidents for Public Relations, Community Liasions, Public Affairs Officers … they go by a dozen titles of varying unwieldiness, but in print, they’re always “spokesmen.” I took notes, and quoted them in stories. I liked my new job a lot. I knew our work was important; getting the truth out always is. Still, the fall of 2012 was shaping up to be just another election season in Washington – important, yes, but probably not life-changing. Then I received a tip that would come to fundamentally change the way I view our work at LSN. |
Let me first say that we get a lot of news tips at LSN. Some of them are worth covering; some of them, not so much. The first and biggest question we have to ask ourselves when considering any news tip, though, is, “Is this true?” So that was the first question I asked myself upon receiving in my inbox what amounted to a cry for help from a lawyer in Reno, Nevada. He told an unbelievable story: a woman in her early thirties, mentally disabled and suffering from epilepsy, had become pregnant under questionable circumstances. Her adoptive parents, still her legal guardians now that she is an adult, had decided with her that she would carry the pregnancy to term and place her baby with an adoptive family. They took her to the doctor to adjust her medications to reduce the risk of harm to the child growing within her. The doctor called adult protective services. The court stepped in.I read on, horrified, as the attorney for the woman’s parents claimed a District Court judge, acting well outside the normal bounds of his judicial authority, was attempting to force the woman to undergo an abortion – against her will, and against the wishes of her family. His reason? He thought it might be “best for her.” When her Catholic parents objected, he told them their religion was “irrelevant” inside his courtroom and that, as court-appointed guardians, they were ultimately subject to his authority. He referred to the parents dismissively as mere “agents of the court.” At this point, I admit I was ready to call bovine scatology on the lawyer’s story. My reaction echoed the ones I saw over and over again in the LSN comment boxes as this story unfolded over the next three weeks: What is this, China? We don’t force people to have abortions in America. Not yet, anyway. I couldn’t believe this was happening. Ben Johnson and I agreed that we had to try and confirm the situation with the Court before taking any action on such a potentially explosive story. Luckily, Washoe County has a searchable database of cases online. That made my initial fact check easy to do. My stomach sank as I entered the details the lawyer had given me into the search function and it came back with the results. The case existed. The facts checked out.
I called the lawyer back.Thus marked the beginning of a three-week journey that ended in tears of joy last week as I hit ‘submit’ on my final story about the case, reporting that the judge had spared the baby’s life. Both the lawyer for the family and the president of Nevada Right to Life partly credited LSN’s coverage with making the difference, the latter saying unequivocally, “New media saved this little baby’s life.” Here, to the best of my recollection, is the way it went down.On the day we broke the story, I spoke for an hour each with Amy Bauer and her attorney Jason Guinasso, who had first given us the tip. I spoke to Dania Reid, the District Attorney representing Washoe County’s public guardian, which had been tasked with investigating Amy’s daughter Elisa’s condition to help the judge decide whether to order an abortion to be performed. I read through old court documents and statements from medical professionals. Then I wrote the story and we posted it online. Our coverage was strong enough to gain the attention of local and national mainstream media. In the following days, my story was referenced in the Washington Times, theLas Vegas Review Journal, and other outlets. Other outlets used and reused quotes, often without citation, until I lost track of how many newspapers I’d done research for un-credited. There’s an old saying President Ronald Reagan was fond of: “There is no limit to what a man can accomplish if he does not care who gets the credit.” Credited or not, LSN’s coverage was having a massive impact.The stories we posted about the case spread like wildfire around Facebook and Twitter. Readers were understandably horrified that something like this could happen in America. They wanted to know what they could do to stop it. Rebekah O’Brien, our social media coordinator, suggested they call the judge’s office and make their voices heard. She provided his contact information. Our readers filled his voicemail box with messages until the system couldn’t store any more. After that, they called the governor. That was about the time the court started changing its tone.It was exhilarating to witness. I kept in close contact with Jason Guinasso as I kept our readers up-to-date on developments in the case. During our first phone call, he sounded overwhelmed and anxious. Everyone involved on the government’s side of the case seemed to want to force Elisa to abort her child. During the first hearing, the court-summoned doctor recommended abortion and sterilization in stark terms, saying,“End this pregnancy and tie her tubes.” By the next week, the heat was on. Petitions were being signed, voicemail boxes were full, and the judge, Egan Walker, banned cameras from the courtroom, although he allowed the press to stay. The government was looking less sure of itself. The doctor who originally reported Elisa’s pregnancy to the court and caused the trial in the first place backpedaled furiously once he was put on the stand and in front of the news media, refusing to recommend an abortion. On the phone that night, Guinasso sounded hopeful. Week three brought a miracle. Judge Walker called everyone in for a private meeting. Behind closed doors, he said he wanted to take abortion off the table. He said he wanted to continue the hearings in a less confrontational manner, focusing on how best to care for Elisa and her baby both before and after the birth. All he needed was for everyone to agree … which they did. Walker announced his decision at the next scheduled hearing, at which point I received an e-mail sent from Jason Guinasso’s cell phone. It began: “Call me! We won!!” Thirty frantic minutes of typing later, I hit “send” on my last news story about the Bauer case and immediately burst into tears. The full import of what we had accomplished hit me in that moment. By shining the light of truth on that courtroom, I wasn’t just covering a shocking story or generating hits for a website. I was giving our readers the information they needed to help save a life. Make no mistake – LSN shaped the national narrative on this story. We covered it for what it was – a forced abortion story in the process of unfolding. Because we were there first, and we were there in-depth, the mainstream media was forced to not only cover the case, but acknowledge the truth of it. It would have been easy for them to contact the district attorney who told me, “This investigation is not designed to force Elisa to have an abortion,” and leave that quote unchallenged. Our coverage didn't leave them room to do so. We kept the pressure on and, in the end, it saved a little baby’s life.Later, Jason Guinasso would write to me: “You and LifeSitenews were a huge part of what we were able to accomplish. We were able to tell our story through you to the public. The result was a national discussion on the power of the judiciary, the rights of the disabled, the rights of parents/guardians, and the rights of the unborn. More importantly, you mobilized an army of people to begin praying for us. I know that the prayers of the saints caused the hearts and minds of the judge and our adversaries to change 180 degrees.” “Suffice to say,” he wrote, “I will forever be grateful for your support. You should know that I especially appreciated how you applied what I recognized as basic standards of journalism to your interviews of me and in your fact gathering generally. It is so incredibly important to maintain your integrity as a journalist. As far as I am concerned, you are a journalist of the highest quality in both work product and character.” I cried again, reading that. But glowing words of praise aside, he’s right. LSN has incredibly high standards of excellence for both our research and our writing. If it’s not the truth, we don’t print it, and we dig deep to make sure we have the facts you won’t find anywhere else. When you read an LSN story, you can share it and act on it with absolute confidence, knowing that everything has been verified. Next time you do, you just might save a life.
Your support saves lives. Help us reach our campaign goal with a donation today.Kirsten Andersen
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Washington D.C. Correspondent