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GOP Rape Discussion Has Cincinnati Roots

By Ben L. Kaufman · September 5th, 2012 · On Second Thought
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As surely as the sun revolves around Earth, the gaffe that keeps giving has its origins in Cincinnati. I’m talking about Republican Todd Akin, the Missouri anti-abortion senatorial candidate who stupidly asserted that some rapes are “legitimate.” 

He wasn’t talking about the ways that Akin and fellow congressmen screw us daily, so I accept his stumbling excuses and craven apologies.

It’s another reminder: Don’t fuck up in August. You’ll be the only story in a boring month. Yes, UC’s president quit and Neil Armstrong died, but they’re blips compared to Akin’s Golgotha.

But Akin and Republicans didn’t stop there. 

He told the same CNN TV interviewer that rape rarely results in pregnancy. “From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare.” That’s as close to the medical consensus has he got.

Akin continued, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down.”

That disinformation is the real scandal, but when frenzied reporters focused on the misogyny of his “legitimate” assertion, journalists initially missed the stunning evil of Akin’s typically Republican rejection of scientific/medical evidence.
An exception was CNN. Dan Horn’s Sunday Enquirer page 1 story quickly caught up. Both linked Akin and Cincinnati Right to Life pioneer Dr. John Willke. 

CNN was among the first to jump on this: “Akin’s supporters say he was given misinformation that appears to stem from a 1999 article by … Willke, the former president of the National Right to Life Committee. Willke wrote that rape pregnancies are ‘extremely rare’ and that the stress of rape helps prevent pregnancy.”

Willke wrote, in part: “To get and stay pregnant a woman’s body must produce a very sophisticated mix of hormones. … Hormone production is controlled by a part of the brain that is easily influenced by emotions. There’s no greater emotional trauma that can be experienced by a woman than an assault rape. This can radically upset her possibility of ovulation, fertilization, implantation and even nurturing of a pregnancy.”

Humbug, according to experts, including Dr. David Grimes. He’s clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina. He also serves on publication editorial boards including Obstetrics and Gynecology, Obstetrical and Gynecological Survey and the journal Contraception.

“No evidence at all supports Dr. Willke’s bizarre theories,” Grimes told CNN, and Willke, a general practitioner, “has no scientific credentials.”

Grimes said Akin’s remarks are “part of the broad theme here of misogyny — that women are responsible for being raped; they brought it on themselves through their provocative behavior or clothing. … Then, on top of that, should they be raped — and if they get pregnant — that, too, is their fault.”

Dr. Sharon Phelan, a fellow at the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of New Mexico, agreed. She told CNN: “What we know is that chronic stress can decrease fertility.” Emotional, medical or nutritional stress are examples of  chronic stress. Acute stress — as in rape — “does not have the same impact.”

A 1996 study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology estimated 32,101 pregnancies in the United States each year result from rape.

Phalen told CNN that ACOG figures report generally that a single act of a rape has about a 5 percent chance of resulting in pregnancy among victims aged 12 to 45 who are not on birth control.

But Phalen cautioned that that percentage fluctuates greatly, depending on a woman’s ovulation cycle at the time of intercourse. Three days prior to ovulation, a woman has a 15 percent chance of pregnancy after a sexual encounter; one to two days prior to ovulation, the odds double to 30 percent; they plummet to 12 percent on the day of ovulation.
“Since a rape would likely happen at any point in the cycle, the overall risk — without considering day of cycle — would be close to a 16 percent chance of occurring on a fertile day and then there is, at maximum, a 30 percent chance of conception,” Phelan said.

Phalen said also said rapists often do not ejaculate, thereby decreasing their victims’ risk of pregnancy.

Not content to let Akin suffer censure even from anti-abortion allies, Tom Smith, the Pennsylvania GOP senate candidate and anti-abortion absolutist, dismissively likened a pregnancy resulting from rape “to having a baby out of wedlock.”
And the GOP national convention adopted an abortion ban without exceptions for rape or incest.

Curmudgeon Notes

• If you skipped it, go back and read Tuesday’s page 1 Enquirer story about the Kentucky widower who shot and killed an intruder. Reporter Mark Curnutte caught the old man’s spirit perfectly with wonderful quotes. 

Enquirer editor Carolyn Washburn told WVXU’s Maryanne Zeleznik that the paper remains committed to “watchdog” journalism. We should be so lucky. I was night editor of one tabloid-size daily and photojournalist for another. The Enquirer is going to shrink its pages again sometime this year: 10-1/2 by 14-2/3 inches. That format will accommodate longer stories only when the type performs the dreaded jump from page to page. Check out prototypes at public libraries. You’ll see how little there is to read on each page after space is dedicated to ads, photos, headlines and graphics. That’s the nature of tabloids meant to attract younger buyers who are more viewers than readers. It’s a path The Enquirer has been following since it shrank its traditional broadsheet page a few years ago to its current measurements.

The Enquirer’s Washburn also acknowledged (see above) her audiences’ growing preference for reading news on mobile devices. At least they still want news, whatever that means to younger readers who don’t look at today’s print editions. (My journalism students didn’t read print editions …) So how does anyone read promised investigative pieces on a smart phone or tablet? And will readers accustomed to texting brevity be wired to read anything longer than a tweet? Some studies suggest they might. If Washburn finds the right mix of content and format, The Enquirer could win a Gannett award for the Best Investigative Paragraph.

• In case you haven’t appreciated it, CityBeat is adding reporters and increasingly is reporting public issues in long-form cover stories. We’re not abandoning food, drink, music, theater and art, but “alternative” increasingly means tackling news in ways other local media haven’t.

• Other guests on Zeleznik’s Impact Cincinnati were Mary Carmen Cupito, NKU journalism program director and associate professor, and Elissa Yancey, associate professor in the University of Cincinnati’s Department of Journalism and managing editor of Soapbox Media. They agreed that gloom about American journalism fails to appreciate the new formats and new media job opportunities. Their students use these media and are being prepared to work in them. Meanwhile, Americans increasingly want news, but we’re not ready to wait for TV evening news, the daily paper or even NPR morning and evening programs. Americans want news when and where we choose to read, watch and listen. That’s the one of the biggest changes that the professors and editor Washburn (above) agreed is driving the industry.

• Meanwhile, Cincinnatians won two victories for free speech. One involved the loathsome UC violation of constitutionally-protected campus activism. As Enquirer reporter Dan Horn wrote, “It just got easier to protest, collect signatures and hold rallies at the University of Cincinnati. A federal judge … rejected UC’s practice of confining student demonstrations to a ‘free speech zone’ near McMicken Commons on the university’s west campus. U.S. District Judge Timothy Black said the policy is too vague, too restrictive and a clear violation of students’ free speech rights.”

The other victory was Cincinnati’s admission that its cop should not have confiscated cameras from two activists recording a Chabot presentation at a public meeting. Officer Tyrone Hill seized the cameras after Chabot’s representatives told the officer that David Little and Liz Ping were not permitted to film the town hall meeting. WCPO’s Tom McKee said that, “In its apology, the city said it regrets violating Little’s and Ping’s constitutional rights, apologizes for any inconvenience, annoyance, injury or damage and assures them that the rights of citizens to film such public events won’t be interfered with by the police or any city department.”

WCPO quoted Paul DeMarco, the activists’ attorney, saying, “I think it’s extremely rare and extremely laudable for the city to step up and say what happened here violated the United States Constitution.” DeMarco could have added that free speech violations by Cincinnati have provided a cottage industry for First Amendment advocates for decades.

Enquirer reporter Cliff Peale mentions that publisher Margaret Buchanan sits on the UC board when he writes about board action. But he didn’t tell me what Buchanan, on the board by virtue of her clout as publisher of the city’s Sole Surviving Daily, had to say about UC president Greg Williams’ surprise and unexplained resignation. I didn’t see even that she “declined” to comment. This lapse drew national attention on the respected jimromenesko.com journalism website under the headline: “DEAR CINCY ENQUIRER: HAVE YOU TRIED INTERVIEWING YOUR PUBLISHER?”

• Todd Akin’s views on rape and pregnancy aren’t the only gift that keeps giving to critics and the news media. Fraternities and sororities at Miami University can be counted on to flaunt their sense of entitlement with tasteless gusto. If it’s not projectile drunken vomiting, it’s bottle rockets fired at each other’s houses.

• Did anyone really watch or listen to the Republican convention from Tampa, Fla.? It overwhelmed my gag reflex. Republicans hate unions and poor people, love fetuses and deadly penalties, hate Medicaid and love insurance companies that want to take over Medicare. I don’t expect better from the Democrats, only a different love/hate list. My condolences to reporters who have to produce daily stories from those mutual masturbation exercises. At least in the Good Old Days, conventions chose candidates and there always was the chance of a lively police riot and tear gas to spice the night.

The Atlantic’s James Fallows says we’re entering a “post-truth politics” world where candidates and others take what the AP diplomatically calls “factual shortcuts.” The question is whether reporters will surrender access to campaign sources to fact-check assertions and publish what they learn. Poynter Online adds to the discussion, saying, “When significant political players are willing to say things that flat-out are not true — and when they’re not slowed down by demonstrations of their claims’ falseness — then reporters who stick to he-said, she-said become accessories to deception.” The AP and others acted swiftly to nail the falsehoods in Paul Ryan’s acceptance speech at the Republican convention. The Enquirer published the AP’s findings and, later, Rob Portman’s mistaken assertion at the GOP convention that Obama never worked in business. The paper quoted the Plain Dealer’s fact checking and listed Obama’s former jobs. Whether Portman spent as much or more time as Obama in the private sector is unclear, but it apparently was as a lobbyist and lawyer.

• A new poll finds that local TV is the favored news source for most registered voters. At 58 percent, it is the only medium to which a majority turns every day. That’s scary. Think of how little time is devoted to public affairs after ads, weather, sports and happy talk. Local newspapers drew 39 percent daily. The survey was by the Los Angeles Times and Annenberg journalism school at the University of Southern California.

• Cliches, like stereotypes, are handy journalistic shorthand. Most media quoted sources or attributed recent beheading of 17 young Afghans to Taliban who objected to a party with mixed dancing. That fit with what we’ve reported about Taliban morality. Now, London’s Independent questions that conventional wisdom. Other stories are coming out, according to the Independent: The dead were accused of being government spies; the killings were part of a Taliban fight over women when witnesses had to die, or the victims were part of an imminent anti-Taliban tribal uprising. the Independent’s reporter asks where the party goers got an electronic keyboard found in the ruins, why children were among the dead and how any group of young people would have been stupid enough to violate village/tribal morality by openly mixed dancing with loud electronic music. Blaming it on the Taliban was the simple explanation of a fatally complex situation.

CONTACT BEN L. KAUFMAN: letters@citybeat.com



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