WashPost Contrast: Celebrating Kate Michelman, Scorning Rick Santorum

Today's Washington Post "Style" section carries a front-page article by Linton Weeks (normally on the book beat) headlined "Kate Michelman, The Public Face Of a Woman's Right to Privacy." Weeks finds no critics of Michelman, only "friends and well-wishers" at a Women's National Democratic Club event. It comes to a bizarre close with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's tribute: "Albright told everyone that Michelman had provided 'a voice for those who didn't have a voice and a brain for those who didn't have a brain.'" Isn't it just a wee bit perverse to hail the doyenne of the right-to-kill-the-unborn lobby as speaking for the "voiceless"?

By contrast, the same Post "Style" section carried a profile of staunch pro-life Senator Rick Santorum on April 18, 2005, which found plenty of critics of Santorum. Writer Mark Leibovich seemingly designed the profile to wig out liberals. He began by telling the story of Santorum's stillborn son Gabriel, how the Santorums took the deceased baby to be held by his siblings. (Coded message: those Catholic freaks!) But there's also a heavy dose of the message that Santorum is too harsh and ideological, as Leibovich recounted Santorum's request to have a five-year-old in the visitors' gallery for an abortion debate:

Sen. Barbara Boxer objected, saying it would be "rather exploitive to have a child present in the gallery" during such a debate. Santorum relented, bemoaning Boxer's objection as proof that "bemoaning Boxer's objection as proof that "we have coarsened the comity of this place."

The same has been said of Santorum. In so many words, or facial gestures.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, the Louisiana Democrat, grimaces. "You couldn't quote what I'd have to say about him," she says.

Boxer (D-Calif.) says he has a knack for "becoming remarkably harsh and personal during debates."

Former Democratic senator Bob Kerrey once wondered whether Santorum is "Latin for [anus]." Teresa Heinz Kerry called him "Forrest Gump with an attitude." Howard Dean called him a liar. Then there are the crude Web sites and protesters outside his office, all of which Santorum takes with a measure of pride.

Leibovich's profile routinely judged Santorum with disdain: "Santorum's voice acquires an exaggerated whine," anti-Clinton antics on the Senate floor show an "egregious informality," he has the "careening manner of a hyperactive boy."

The Post's main point comes through:  

Santorum's voice assumes a taunting edge when he discusses how Washington renders people in caricature. The Santorum caricature: A "sort of nasty, mean, ideological kind of guy," he says, shaking his head. "Not liked by his colleagues." He disputes this avidly.

But the point of the Post article was to underline it, not dispute it.

By contrast, the Weeks article today recounted Michelman's standard story of spousal abandonment and how it inspired her hard-left career: "The abandonment and the circumstances surrounding her abortion were the low points of her life, she said. Eventually she went to work, remarried and became the political force that now wants to take her zealousness for privacy rights beyond the women's movement."

Weeks blandly passes on Michelman's hobbies (cooking "authentically," and she loves doing the dishes!) and her great compassion: "She said she has always been a serious person. As a teenager in Ohio, she listened to news and Senate hearings on a shortwave radio. Her idea of fun, she said, was organizing a Christmas tree sale to benefit Mexican farmworkers in her community."

The contrast here illustrates how the Post and other liberal media outlets sees Michelman not on the hard left, but thoroughly in the compassionate mainstream with them.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis