Did NBC Misrepresent Thompson as Being Opposed to Overturning Roe?

[see UPDATES at end of post]

Fred Thompson, who is exploring the possibilty of a presidential candidacy, went on Fox News Sunday yesterday, strongly criticized Roe v. Wade and said the answer to it was "good judges." But on this morning's "Today," Andrea Mitchell flatly stated that Thompson doesn't want to overturn Roe. So where does Thompson stand on Roe, and how can we explain Today's depiction of his views?

For answers, let's go to the videotape. The first portion of the clip is from this morning's "Today," the second portion from Thompson's Fox News Sunday appearance yesterday.

On "Today," laying out Thompson's positions on key issues, Andrea Mitchell stated Thompson is "anti-abortion but opposes overturning Roe v. Wade." Where did she get that from? A good clue comes from the fact that just previously she had just played a clip of Thompson's appearance on yesterday's Fox News Sunday. While the clip had nothing to do with abortion [Thompson merely described his rationale for a possible run], it does demonstrate that Mitchell had watched Thompson's appearance and was likely relying on it as the latest, best evidence of his views.

So what did the former Tennessee senator tell Chris Wallace about his views on Roe? Again, have a look at the video.

Chris Wallace: "Do you want to overturn Roe v. Wade?"

Thompson: "I think Roe v. Wade was bad law and bad medical science. And the way to address that is through good judges. I don't think the court ought to wake up one day and make new social policy for the country that's contrary to what it's been for the last 200 years. We have a process in this country to do that. Judges shouldn't be doing that. That's what happened in the that case. I think it was wrong."

Did Thompson say Roe should be overturned? Not in so many words, but that is the clear inference, in my judgement. He called Roe "bad law and bad medical science," and said that what the judges did in Roe "was wrong." His proposed solution is "good judges" who would "address that." The most obvious way they would address the "bad law" of Roe would be to overturn it. Roe. I take Thompson's statement that "we have a process in this country " to create new social policy as an allusion to the process for amending the Constitution as the appropriate process for creating a right to abortion, if that's what people want, rather than using the courts to "discover" a right in the constitution that's palpably not there.

So how could Mitchell possibly have listened to Thompson and come to the diametrically opposite conclusion? I think she focused on Thompson's statement that "I don't think the court ought to wake up one day and make up new social policy for the country." Since Roe is, currently, the country's "social policy" on abortion, and overturning Roe would therefore be making "new social policy," I think it's likely Andrea took that to mean that Thompson opposes overturning Roe.

But Mitchell overlooked the latter part of Thompson's sentence. He said that the court should not make new social policy "that's contrary to what it's been for the last 200 years." That is exactly what the Supreme Court did in Roe. From the time of America's founding until Roe, the individual states had had the right to set laws on abortion. Roe removed that power from the states and discovered a constitutional right to abortion that invalidated any inconsistent state laws. But Roe itself has only been in effect since 1973. So if the Supreme Court were to overturn it now, it would be making "new social policy" contrary to what it's been for 33 years -- not the 200 Thompson mentioned.

Conclusion: on all the evidence, I believe Thompson's statement on Fox strongly suggests he favors overturning Roe. My sense is that Mitchell and NBC didn't intentionally misrepresent his position, but might have heard what they were hoping to hear.

UPDATE AP vs. NBC! AP watched the same Thompson appearance on Fox News Sunday and came to precisely the opposite conclusion as to Thompson's position on overturning Roe. Check this excerpt from an AP article, which ironically I found on MSNBC's website. According to A, appearing on FNC, Thompson said he is "pro-life, and believes federal judges should overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision as "bad law and bad medical science."

UPDATE 3-13: Now it's MSNBC vs. NBC! My MRC colleague Rich Noyes reports that at about 9:13am EDT, interviewing Democratic strategist Dan Gerstein and Republican strategist Phil Musser about Fred Thompson's presidential prospects, MSNBC anchor Amy Robach stated that Thompson: "is in support of overturning Roe v. Wade, he opposes gay marriage, he opposes gun control. He supports the Iraq surge, he favors the Scooter Libby pardon -- this is what we know so far. I mean, Phil, do you think he could be the next Ronald Reagan?" MSNBC also displayed the graphic shown indicating that Thompson supports overturning Roe.  Will NBC and Andrea now correct her claim of yesterday that Thompson opposes overturning Roe?

Mark has law degrees from SUNY Buffalo and Harvard. Contact him at mark@gunhill.net

Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.