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Todd Akin media coverage 'unconscionable?' Hardly

August 22, 2012|By James Rainey

A conservative media watchdog organization fumed Wednesday that Rep. Todd Akin’s theory about “legitimate rape” and pregnancy drew four times the number of network news stories as Vice President Joe Biden’s rant that Republican banking policy would “put y’all back in chains.”

The Media Research Center called it “unconscionable” that ABC, NBC and CBS had aired 89 minutes of coverage of Akin’s lame-brained statement, compared with 20 minutes of what it called Biden’s “indefensibly racist gaffe.”

Let’s assume the MRC got its numbers right — the networks dwelled on Akin, while giving the vice president a relative pass. The Alexandria, Va.-based group assumed, as it often does, that this must be the result of some Big Media Plot. Network news producers flog the poor Missouri congressman for days on end so they won’t report that the economy is strolling and that President Obama is to blame.

PHOTOS: "Legitimate rape" and other disastrous quotes

The MRC got this one a little bit wrong — first in suggesting that Biden’s remark to a crowd including many African Americans was a gaffe and that it was racist, second in thinking that a candidate playing clumsy identity politics is just as big (maybe bigger!) than a story about another candidate playing clumsy politics on one of the most divisive issues on the national agenda.

As we noted before at Politics Now, Biden undoubtedly knew or should have known that his words to a racially mixed crowd last week would have particular resonance for the African Americans in attendance.  One would have to be a middle-school history failure to fail to grasp the significance of telling a group of black people they could be put back in chains.

Democrats have appealed to voters for decades at least partly on class and race lines: We understand and care for you more, the pitch goes, than the fat cats of the Republican Party. Vote for us (and, in Biden’s recent construction, for our more stringent regulation of said fat-cat bankers) and we will make sure your interests, not the moneyed elite’s, are protected.

The conservative media critic calls Biden’s words a “gaffe” when they clearly seem to be quite intentional. They call the comment “racist.” If condescension and a overweening familiarity fit within that term, then count Biden guilty.

But was there anything “shocking” about Biden’s “back in chains” remark. Hardly. Is anyone really stunned that a Democrat signaled a group of African Americans that be believed his party’s policies would help them more? Given that the appeal is usually delivered more subtlety. But isn’t it an identity contention that has gained some acceptance? Few political observers expect President Obama to draw less than 90% of the votes of African Americans on Nov. 6.

In the case of Akin, we also heard a politician speaking to a core belief of many in his party. In expressing opposition to abortion, even in cases of rape, the Missourian outlined a position he shares with many Republicans, including presumptive vice presidential nominee Paul D. Ryan.

Akin blundered by trying to lay some scientific groundwork for his belief. He suggested that in “legitimate rape” — Akin seems to be saying there are some rapes that women don’t really resist — "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

It’s a thought so monumentally misguided that it causes a jolt of renewed disbelief, even on a 10threading. Making it clear he had not misspoken, Akin then told his TV interviewer: “But let's assume maybe that [“that” being the mystical rape-pregnancy-defying power] didn't work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist."

Akin’s position — requiring women who have been raped to bear their rapists’ children — doesn’t strike most Americans as very humane. A Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation Poll completed this month found that just 17% of Americans agreed that abortion should be banned in all cases.

I’m not sure what is so shocking about the media’s interest in this story. It is about the real-life words of a sitting congressman, one who wants to become a member of the Senate, the most exclusive club in the world, so that he can persuade others to views that are well outside the mainstream.

That seems like a pretty important story — one that could have a real impact on national policy if many like-minded politicians manage to get elected. The networks gave four times as much coverage to Akingate as to Bidengate? One wonders why the gap wasn’t even larger.

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james.rainey@latimes.com

twitter.com/@latimesrainey

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