Leading abortion journalists on the abortion news landscape
Brandeis Journalism department hosted Josh Prager and Margaret Talbot to discuss the culture of abortion journalism and more.
On Wednesday, Nov. 16, the University hosted panelists Josh Prager and Margaret Talbot to discuss the current political climate surrounding the issue of abortion access in the United States. The event, sponsored by the Journalism program and co-sponsored by the Co-Curricular Fund of Arts and Sciences and the Women’s Studies Research Center, was moderated by program Profs. Neil Swidey and Ann Silvio (JOUR).
The panelists, Prager and Talbot, are two of the nation’s leading journalists on the subject. Prager authored the Pulitzer Prize finalist book “The Family Roe” and was formerly a senior writer for The Wall Street Journal. Talbot is a staff writer for the New Yorker and has written extensively about abortion, in addition to her recent profile of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. Swidey and Silvio are both journalists themselves. Their questions mainly focused on the past and future of abortion, as well as Prager and Talbot’s own journalistic approach to the topic of abortion in its current political standing. Silvio asked, “What consideration do you give to the readers who don’t agree with you?” Prager responded that at times he found it painful to uncover uncomfortable truths about his ‘‘own side.’’ Talbot explained that her “responsibility is to be as accurate in the facts and evidence … to make an argument from [her] point of view.” After answering questions from Swidey and Silvio, Prager and Talbot responded to questions from audience members.
The panelists shared insight into how journalists covering abortion ahead of the midterm elections affected the election’s outcome. Although many political commentators were surprised that abortion was a critical issue for voters, Talbot was not. She mentioned The New York Times’s prediction that abortion would not be consequential in the midterms and how their theory affected other news outlets’ reporting. Talbot immediately debunked this theory by sharing polling data that showed voters citing inflation as their most critical issue, and abortion as their second most critical issue.
Talbot also mentioned a piece written by Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) of Vermont that ran in The Guardian, which also doubted the impact abortion would have on the election results. Prager then noted that journalists could, at times, be wrong. Still, the calculated moves of candidates, especially conservatives and “all sorts of Republican politicians starting to backtrack on their very draconian statements and stances on abortion,” should have been indicative to the media that the issue of abortion would be central in the midterms.
Speaking about the increase in women sharing their own abortion stories, Prager and Talbot commented on the secrecy and shame surrounding the topic. Talbot cited Columbia University Professor Carol Sanger, saying, “Privacy is something that people often choose. Secrecy is often something imposed upon them. And abortion has been something that has been shrouded more in secrecy than privacy in many ways.” Prager noted that the subject’s obvious ties to sex add a layer of discomfort for those less comfortable engaging in conversation relating to sex and sexuality.
Nearing the end of the program, Prager declared, “I want everyone to hear me say this. [The pro-choice leaders in Washington and New York City] don’t treat poor people the same as rich people. How’s that? They just don’t, and they haven’t for 50 freaking years.” Prager emphasized the need for East Coast movement leaders to empathize with those in southern states and reject elitism in the pro-choice movement.
It is estimated that one in four women will have an abortion in their lifetime, according to the American Journal of Public Health. Countless individuals are affected by legislation protecting and eliminating access to reproductive healthcare. Prager reminded audience members to consider the stories of individuals affected by abortion laws on both sides of the aisle, instructing students to “write about people on both sides with empathy” in order to foster a better, kinder, and more accurate abortion journalism environment.