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Journalist's lapse during Todd Akin interview reveals how far right our political discourse has shifted



jaco-akin-8-20-12-cropped-proto-custom_28.jpgAs a media critic, what fascinates me most about the controversy swirling around Missouri GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin, is that the journalist whose interview produced the incendiary remark about rape and abortion didn't notice that Akin had said anything so bombastic.

Akin made the rounds of the network TV morning shows today, explaining his decision to shrug off pleas from just about every major figure in the Republican party asking him to step down from his candidacy against Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill.

During those interviews, he admitted that vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan asked him to leave the race and that he would abide by RNC chair Reince Priebus' wish that he not attend the GOP convention in Tampa.

But even while explaining that he was "standing on principle" while staying in the race, Akin mostly apologized just for the "misuse" of one word, saying he should not have put the word "legitimate" next to the word "rape."

He had told a St. Louis TV reporter asking if he opposed abortion for pregnancies resulting from rape, "from what I understand from doctors...If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Charles Jaco, a reporter for St. Louis Fox affiliate KTVI, asked that question, and admitted he "screwed up" by not following up with the candidate on the controversy and inaccuracy of that remark (media outlets have since noted the chance of pregnancy from rape is the same as the chance of pregnancy from unprotected, consensual sex).

What struck me, was Jaco's explanation to the website Talking Points Memo on why he missed the news value in Akin's answer.

He said Akin had already expressed opposition to federal money for student loans and said the Voting Rights Act of 1965 deserves another look. "“At this point, I don’t know if I was inoculated to odd things that might have been said,” Jaco told TPM.

At the risk of over-analyzing what may have been a simple mistake, this, to me, seems one of the dangers of covering politics without heeding the way in which increasingly extreme views are being retooled for mainstream acceptance.

Akin has doubled down on his problems in some ways, issuing a letter of support from a leader in the anti-abortion movement, Dr. Jack Wilke, who defended the candidate's inaccurate statements about rape. Wilke, who endorsed current GOP nominee Mitt Romney back in 2007, wrote a book in 1971 asserting a woman's body reacts in ways to limit the possibility of conception by rape, according to the Los Angeles Times.

These ideas, once considered on the fringe of political thought even by some conservatives, are increasingly entering the public sphere -- in the same way former presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann asserted HPV virus vaccinations could cause mental retardation.

Seems to me that journalists shouldn't get used to candidates slipping such ideas into the rhetoric, but should be prepared to probe where candidates are getting these ideas, and whether they are based on science or pandering to what some people wish to be true.   

[Last modified: Saturday, August 25, 2012 3:28pm]


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