NPR's Monday Reports on Tiller Murder Shut Out Pro-Lifers
National Public Radio’s reporting on the George Tiller murder was perfect on Monday – in shutting out pro-life voices wanting to express regret. Reports on Morning Edition and on All Things Considered from Kansas City-based reporter Frank Morris lined up Tiller’s friends, lawyers, and customers to praise him. Pro-lifers were dismissed in one sentence in the morning report: "Many of Tiller's most vociferous critics said of his death, only that they denounced the murder and were praying for his family." That doesn’t sound very vociferous.
The evening story blurred together peaceful protesters in Wichita with those who bombed the clinic and shot Tiller. The only anti-Tiller commentary was the Internet ravings of the accused murderer.
Here's a look at the Morning Edition transcript:
STEVE INSKEEP, host: Next we'll report on a personal tragedy that reflects a very public debate. On Sunday morning, George Tiller was serving as an usher in church in Wichita, Kansas. And it was in that church that he was shot to death. George Tiller was a doctor. He ran one of the nation's few clinics that offered late-term abortions. And we have more this morning from Frank Morris of member station KCUR.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Then why do you have a sign that says "God Save the Shooter"?
MORRIS: But mourners here in the center of Wichita outnumbered protestors by about 100 to one. Jim Stanford, Connie Pace-Adair, and Deborah Bounds were among those moved to speak.
Ms. CONNIE PACE-ADAIR: And he was a kind, compassionate, wonderful man, above and beyond the services he provided. And I just wanted to say something about his compassion and his kindness toward his patients. (Applause)
Ms. DEBORAH BOUNDS: I had been victimized and abused and Dr. Tiller helped me. Thank God. (Applause)
This vague reference to "services" provided is as close as NPR gets to explaining these women had abortions. Going any deeper into their need for abortion would only ruin the mood these applause-decorated tributes provide.
MORRIS: George Tiller went back a long way here. He took over his father's family medical practice in the early 1970s and began doing abortions not long after the Supreme Court ruled to protect them in 1973. He'd done thousands, maybe tens of thousands since then, and become a central figure in the abortion debate.
DAN MONNAT: He's a hero in the pro-choice movement. He's one of the few doctors in the United States who is willing to withstand the threats of physical violence and the threats of prosecution in order to afford women their constitutional right to choose a late-term abortion.
MORRIS: Dan Monnat, one of Tiller's lawyers, says Tiller paid a steep price for his stand. Anti-abortion activists bombed his clinic in 1986, once shot him in both arms seven years later. Anti-abortion protestors from across the country converged on his clinic in the summer of 1991 and triggered more than 2,000 arrests as they tried to stop women from going in. Another one of his attorneys, Laura Shaneyfelt, says the Wichita native didn't pick the fight.
LAURA SHANEYFELT: They targeted him and came here to protest him and to try and put him out of business.
MORRIS: Then, Shaneyfelt says, opponents seemed to take the fight from the street into the courtroom. Tiller's lawyers successfully fought back multiple criminal charges in recent years, including a case brought by a former Kansas attorney general [Phill Kline], who'd been elected on an anti-abortion platform. Many of Tiller's most vociferous critics said of his death, only that they denounced the murder and were praying for his family.
Tiller was killed by a single shot from a handgun. Police arrested a 51-year- old suburban Kansas City man named Scott Roeder. They picked up Roeder yesterday, about 180 miles up the interstate from Wichita. He was driving normally and pulled over right away, and then six officers leapt from their cars, guns drawn, to make the arrest.
Lieutenant Mike Pfannenstiel with the Johnson County Sheriff's Office says the suspect got out of the car silently.
MIKE PFANNENSTIEL: He didn't ask why, you know, several officers were at the scene trying to get him or anything. So, I think he knew what was going on, but we didn't interview him on that.
MORRIS: Roeder's in custody in Wichita now. The man he's accused of killing, George Tiller, leaves a wife of 45 years, four children, ten grandchildren and a controversial clinic struggling to find the way forward. For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris in Wichita, Kansas.
The evening report on All Things Considered blurred together violent and nonviolent protesters, and then focused sympathetically at the shocked community at Tiller's church:
MELISSA BLOCK, host: Family, friends and supporters are grieving today, after the murder of Dr. George Tiller. He was one of the most well-known doctors in the country to perform late-term abortions. A gunman killed Dr. Tiller yesterday, as he attended church in Wichita, Kansas. Frank Morris of member station KCUR begins our story, where Tiller started his career at a clinic he inherited from his father.
FRANK MORRIS: Standing in front of Dr. Tiller's clinic, it's a fairly large nondescript one-story building. This is where Dr. Tiller got started in 1970. After Roe v. Wade in '73, he began doing abortions here and did tens of thousands of them. Recently, this place was the only - one of only three in the country that did late-term abortions. And that attracted women from all over the country -- and anti-abortion activists.
In 1986, they bombed this building. Seven years later, Dr. Tiller was shot on these grounds. And in 1991, this site became ground zero of the abortion debate, when Operation Rescue set up its Summer of Mercy protests here.
Unidentified Group: (Singing) Hallelujah.
Ms. CONNIE PACE-ADAIR: I was disturbed by it.
MORRIS: Connie Pace-Adair never saw those protests 18 years ago. In fact, the last time she stood at this clinic before today was more than 30 years ago.
Ms. PACE-ADAIR: I was very frightened. I was alone. I was a single mother. I was in a abusive relationship.
Again, Morris was incredibly vague on the story of Pace-Adair's abortion. This reference was so tangential that a dimmer listener might not even understand an abortion took place. From there, it was straight to Tiller's church:
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I've even got two symbols.
MORRIS: This morning, the blanket-makers group, older women who meet on alternate Mondays, is busy sewing for charity in the Reformation Lutheran Church. This is the church where Dr. Tiller was killed by a single shot. Reverend Lowell Michelson says he heard it from the other end of the church, as he was starting the service.
Reverend LOWELL MICHELSON (Reformation Lutheran Church): Something that sounded like maybe a child dropping a hymnal on a tile floor, kind of a pop.
MORRIS: Now, sitting today in the foyer, where yesterday's shooting took place, Michelson says the congregation is stunned.
Rev. MICHELSON: So many of us here don't have words, almost don't even have emotions right now because of the shock of this moment.
MORRIS: Sheriff's deputies arrested Scott Roeder three hours after the shooting yesterday. He was driving toward his home in suburban Kansas City. Roeder's 51 years old and pretty well-known around Kansas, at least on the frontlines of the abortion issue. Some of his fellow anti-abortion activists say Roeder believes in justifiable homicide. The Wichita Eagle found a Web site posting where he called Tiller the concentration camp Mengele of our day, arguing that Tiller, quote, "needs to be stopped."
Back at the clinic, a car will drive by every so often and a woman will get out and put flowers up by the fence. There are a few dozen bouquets there now. A lot of people don't want to talk, but one who did says that while she didn't agree with Dr. Tiller's stance on abortion, she respected him for making a stand, and that no one should die the way he did. For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris in Wichita, Kansas.