In April, President Obama’s Department of Homeland Security issued a report warning that “right-wing extremism” was on the rise across America. The report singled out “disgruntled military veterans” as especially prone to joining militias, anti-government groups, and survivalist cadres.
Predictably, one particular veteran— convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh—was cited as an example of this phenomenon. Pro-life activists were also held up as potential threats to national security in the controversial report.
The report ignored the fact that McVeigh committed his atrocity 14 years ago and is now safely deceased, that the myth of the “crazy Vietnam veteran” has been definitively debunked by B.G. Burkett’s research in the book Stolen Valor, and that a total of four abortion doctors have been murdered since Roe v. Wade.
It clearly didn’t occur to Obama’s Department of Homeland Security that a pro-life activist and Vietnam veteran might become the victim of violence. Yet that’s exactly what happened on September 11, 2009.
That day, Jim Pouillon, a 63-year-old disabled Vietnam veteran, was shot to death outside a Flint, Michigan high school. Known as “the Sign Guy,” Pouillon was a familiar local figure who, for 20 years, held lone sidewalk vigils against abortion, complete with homemade signs pasted with graphic photographs of aborted babies.
Pouillon’s activities didn’t make him very popular with his neighbors. Or so it seemed until he died.
“He has made a bigger impact in going than he ever would have thought possible,” his daughter told a reporter at her father’s memorial service. “I always thought that when my dad died that I wouldn’t have anybody coming to the services because he was hated so much in town. But here I had to deal with a larger crowd than I ever would have expected.”
But conservative media watchers quickly predicted that Pouillon’s violent death would be more or less ignored by the dominant media. And they were right. The general media silence that accompanied Pouillon’s death stood in stark contrast to the media attention lavished upon Dr. George Tiller after he was shot to death on the steps of his church a few months earlier.
Tiller had a nickname, too: “Tiller the Baby Killer.” The physician was the most notorious late-term abortionist in America, and had survived previous attempts on his life. Tiller’s murder was treated as a secular martyrdom by the media.
The gory details of Tiller’s work were ignored in this coverage. But reports made sure to include quotes from prominent pro-abortion activists that blamed the entire pro-life movement for Tiller’s death, even though there is some dispute over whether or not his murderer was even a member of a prolife group.
At the end of these stories, reporters felt obliged to add that Tiller’s murder had been condemned immediately by every major pro-life organization. Planned Parenthood, of course, also issued a statement after Tiller’s murder, lauding him as “an integral part” of their community, who practiced “highquality medical care underscored by deep compassion for his patients.” But Planned Parenthood didn’t issue any statement condemning the murder of Jim Pouillon.
Newsbusters.org, a conservative media watchdog website, contrasted the different kinds of coverage both murders received. Katie Couric’s CBS Evening News didn’t mention Pouillon’s murder on her broadcast, while her program reported on Tiller’s death four times (calling it a “hate crime” on June 10).
On ABC’s World News with Charles Gibson, the correspondent cited Pouillon’s murder as representing a kind of moral equivalency: “the flip side of the troubling violence surrounding the abortion debate.” The reporter added: “George Tiller and Jim Pouillon, [were] on opposite sides of the abortion divide, but [were] both victims of the hate that too often surrounds it.”
Janet Levy at the American Thinker website also offered an in-depth analysis of the media responses to Tiller’s and Pouillon’s murders, noting in particular the “thinly veiled disdain” expressed regarding Pouillon’s highly public and often controversial protests.
“The minimal coverage of the Pouillon murder,” Levy noted, “included references to Pouillon as an ‘anti-abortion protestor’ who practiced ‘in-your-face’ protests against abortion and carried photographs of bloody fetuses.”
By contrast, when late-term abortionist Dr. George Tiller was shot to death in Wichita, media coverage was extensive and liberal political groups used the death as an opportunity for conservative bashing. The media onslaught included every major network, newspaper, and talk show and continued for several days. References were made to “anti-abortion terrorism” and “harassment.” Although Tiller’s assailant was not associated with them, all mainstream pro-life organizations immediately condemned the murder. Within a few hours, President Barack Obama issued a public statement registering his shock and outrage at the incident. Feminists worried about the meaning of the tragedy for women around the country “who need this service.”
After Tiller’s murder, many activist groups issued calls for a “second look” at that DHS report about “right-wing extremists,” while US Attorney General Eric Holder pledged to dispatch US Marshals to protect abortion clinics around the country, as if abortion clinics were now the moral equivalent of those desegregated schools in the South that required federalized National Guard protection in the 1950s and 1960s.
A few media reports on the Tiller and Pouillon murders also referenced another shooting earlier this year: the murder of a security guard at the Washington, DC Holocaust Museum in June. In fact, that terrible incident offers a fine case study in the ways journalists misreport the news, then quickly drop stories that don’t fit “the narrative” of their preconceived and unexamined liberal worldview.
The media announced immediately that the Holocaust Museum assassin, James W. von Brunn, was a “rightwinger” who posted frequently at anti- Semitic websites. Indeed, von Brunn’s repellent anti-Semitism is the first thing one notices when visiting these bizarre websites. But a closer look reveals that von Brunn’s political views tracked “left” rather than “right.”
For example, von Brunn harbored a hatred of both Presidents Bush and “neo-conservatives.” After conservative bloggers and writers began pointing out these and other inconvenient facts, the dominant media dropped the story.
Under the pressure of deadlines (not to mention falling revenues, budgets, and readerships), journalists don’t do a lot of that old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting anymore, the kind that took everything one was told by “experts” and “witnesses” with a grain of salt. As was the case with von Brunn, almost everything we think we know about the “Columbine Killers,” for example, turns out to be wrong, too.
Like an elaborate game of “telephone,” one early reporter’s factual errors were simply reprinted ad infinitum, until a studious book about the school shooting debunked virtually all the urban legends and “common knowledge.” The killers weren’t fans of freakish goth singer Marilyn Manson, for instance, nor were they particularly singled out by school bullies.
Likewise, the media tried and convicted hapless security guard Richard Jewell for the Summer Olympics bombing in 1996, because he supposedly “fit the profile” of a “lone nut” terrorist. Jewell—who’d actually spotted the bomb, alerted authorities, and helped evacuate dozens of people from the area—spent the rest of his short life trying to rebuild his shattered reputation, even after Eric Rudolph was convicted of the crime. Jewell died of natural causes in 2007, aged 44.
And when an incarcerated Rudolph revealed that he “prefer[ed] Nietzsche to the Bible” and loathed “born-again Christians,” media disappointment was palpable. Rudolph’s name didn’t make it into that Homeland Security report, either.
Examples of media malpractice such as these abound. It is no wonder that newspapers are struggling to retain their shrinking subscriber base, or that radio host Rush Limbaugh’s ratings are higher than those of the three network evening news broadcasts combined. Increasingly, ordinary citizens sense that when they aren’t printing outright lies, the big media gatekeepers are spinning the news to fit a political agenda, or to create a more exciting, “cinematic,” and didactic narrative.
So the shooting of Jim Pouillon wasn’t treated as a human tragedy or a terrible crime. But considering the way so many incidents are misreported, and how many individuals are misrepresented or outright slandered by the media, perhaps the dearth of reporting on Pouillon’s death is a blessing in disguise. While we shake our heads, Pouillon was and is remembered by those who actually matter: his family, his compatriots, and God.
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