A few weeks ago a couple of young yuppies on maternity leave described their new routines in exchanges published in Slate magazine. Or as one noted, it's hard to speak of routines, given that her baby has only been "alive" for 30 days. A curious slip. Later she ran a correction about her erroneous claim that there were penguins on the Alaskan shelf that Bush & Co. want opened to oil exploration. But she never did correct the impression she'd left that her baby hadn't been alive in her womb before birth. In smart circles that's just not done.
So by now it maybe shouldn't come as a shock that today's reports on yesterday's annual March for Life in Washington play down both the size of the march or its straightforward championing of life. The New York Times, in fact, can't bring itself even to use the word. Always and everywhere in its coverage, pro-lifers are called "opponents of legal abortion" or "opponents of legalized abortion" or "opponents of abortions" or "opponents of abortion" or "abortion opponents" or "abortion foes" or simply "anti-abortion." Never ever are they to be known as pro-lifers. If not for a reference to the name of yesterday's march ("the 'March for Life,' an annual ritual here") in today's Times report or the use of two quotes from speakers at the event, the notion of "life" would not have appeared in its coverage.
As it was, the two speakers cited by the Times mentioned "the culture of life" and the "sanctity of life." But neither was allowed to used that hate term, "pro-life." The Washington Post, by contrast, though it too officially refers to pro-lifers as opponents of abortion, at least permitted ample references to life in the quotes it ran, including a reference to "pro-life" at the top of the story (a banner read: "Michigan Loves Our Pro-Life President").
But like the Times, the Post gave inside treatment to the march, and neither paper bothered to run photos that might have conveyed the scope of the event. The most the Post could say is that "tens of thousands" participated. Meaning what? That maybe ten, twenty, thirty thousand marched? Hiding behind the U.S. Park Service, which no longer provides estimates of Washington protest crowds, the Times made no effort to offer a best guess. The closest it came was a reference to organizers saying "they were delighted by the healthy size of the crowd this year." The Post let on that the march itself from the Washington Monument to the Supreme Court, "which took about 35 minutes last year, took 1 1/2 hours yesterday."
What no one seemed to want to say is that the crowd probably ran into the hundred thousands. Midway through the march I stood at the intersection of Constitution and Pennsylvania avenues. Looking to my left I saw nothing but teaming humanity well beyond where Constitution meets First Street, on which the Supreme Court is located. Looking to my right I saw the similarly thick crowds well past 9th street.
Sheer size aside, there were plenty of possible stories. The Times noted the significant Catholic presence. Does that mean the hated religious right doesn't participate? (Some Missouri Right to Life pennants had pro-Ashcroft sentiments written in by hand on their flip side.) How important is politics to marchers? Obviously President Bush's announcement that the U.S. would no longer fund international pro-abortion efforts scored big. But did any reporter pick up on an organizer's declaration that tax cuts aren't the top priority that the fight for life is, or that a partial-birth abortion ban is no substitute for a real ban on abortion?
Finally, there's the wholesome quality of the participants. Nice, quiet Americans, young, old, and in between, from near and far away, doing the right thing without reward or fanfare. Tocqueville would have been immensely moved. And he would have enjoyed the occasional wit displayed along the way. (One hand-made sign along Constitution Avenue read: "If You're Catholic and Voted for Gore, Confess and Sin No More.") And let's hope that like the new president he would have been asleep by time the 11 o'clock news came on. Washington's NBC and CBS affiliates gave passing coverage to the event, which they more than "balanced" by shots of a candlelight protest in front of the Supreme Court last night by maybe no more than 50 NOW activists angered by President Bush's announcement.
So it goes. In the abortion debate, tens of tens beat tens of thousands every time.