Published April 27, 2020
Anyone who regularly reads my work is likely aware of my opinions about abortion. In my commentary, I strive to be forthright about those views: I believe it’s clear, judging from scientific evidence, that abortion intentionally kills a distinct, living human being. And based on my understanding of human nature, ethics, and morality, I believe that it is always evil to intentionally kill innocent human beings.
Here at National Review, I have the privilege of including those views in my writing. We’re a commentary journal, and I’m employed in large part to share my opinion, to analyze the news rather than to report it, and to provide thoughts on subjects that interest me and our readers. I don’t smuggle my beliefs into my writing, and I work for a magazine that has always been direct about its advocacy on behalf of unborn human life.
Then there’s Kate Smith.
Smith, a correspondent at CBS News, claims to be a reporter. She is employed not by an opinion journal but by CBS News, one of the “Big Three” broadcast television networks and a prominent mainstream journalistic outfit. You could be forgiven for believing that CBS might employ a reporter to cover abortion policy. After all, it’s a topic that requires journalistic skill and nuance. It’s one of the most hotly debated political issues in American public life, a question on which Americans have been harshly split for decades. It deserves reporting that reflects both this intense, deeply rooted polarization and the complexity and moral gravity of the subject.
But if you believe that’s what CBS is doing in employing Smith, you’d be wrong. Kate Smith is not a reporter at all. She is an advocate for abortion rights who exploits her perch at CBS to disguise as fact the opinions of the country’s most radical abortion-rights activists. She is Planned Parenthood’s ambassador to CBS, posing as a reporter and constructing articles that more closely resemble press releases for the nation’s most powerful abortion-rights advocacy groups. She has traded her objectivity for access to these organizations, offering them the kid-glove treatment so they will permit her to be the first to publicize their PR campaigns, interview their leaders, and scoop their briefs in court cases.
Let’s review Smith’s most recent work, starting with her verbal virtuosity. She tends to hide her liberal beliefs about abortion in devious language, referring to herself, for instance, as a reporter covering “abortion access” — a euphemism wielded exclusively by the most vigorous activists for unlimited legal abortion.
Earlier this month, she was the first to report that a “coalition of abortion rights groups” had responded to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling in favor of Texas’s COVID-19 abortion restrictions. Her article noted that Texas was restricting “abortion access” and exclusively quoted pro-abortion activists, one from the Center for Reproductive Rights and one from NARAL Pro-Choice Texas.
When Alexis McGill-Johnson became acting president of Planned Parenthood last summer, her first public interview went to — who else? — Kate Smith, who opened their conversation with a broad smile and a hearty, “Congratulations on the new job!” Smith went on to pose such probing questions as “How did you first get involved with Planned Parenthood?” and “There are a lot of different ways that you can get involved with health-care access, especially for women of color, and especially low-income women. Why Planned Parenthood?”
It is hard to imagine how the interview would have gone any differently had it been a PR video crafted by Planned Parenthood itself to give its supporters a polished, inside look at the glamor and gloss of the nation’s largest abortion provider.
More recently, Smith offered the same treatment in an exclusive, uncritical interview with Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, providing her with a platform to expound on her organization’s lawsuits against states that are attempting to limit unnecessary procedures, including elective abortion, during the coronavirus outbreak.
Perhaps the best example of Smith’s inability to cover abortion with anything approximating neutrality has been her effort to report on the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. The GOP-led legislation would require doctors to provide the same level of medical care to any infant who survives an abortion procedure as they would to any other infant delivered at the same gestational age.
Though the bill doesn’t restrict abortion procedures in any way, it draws attention to the fact that botched abortions produce living infants, a reality that is particularly challenging to the narrative of abortion advocates. Naturally, Smith was on the scene to help them spin away the more unpleasant aspects of opposing the bill, chiefly by promoting falsehoods about the bill itself and the motivations of its sponsors.
In February 2019, she produced perhaps the best example of the media’s disinformation campaign against the born-alive bill. Her headline inexplicably placed both “born-alive” and “late-term” [abortion] in scare quotes — a practice Smith adopts every time she uses these phrases — and somehow devolved from there. She alleged that the bill “echoed existing laws and medical practices” and “mirror[ed] previously passed legislation from 2002” when in fact there is no existing federal legislation, including the 2002 bill, that mandates medical care for infants born alive after attempted abortion procedures.
Smith attempted to frame the bill as evidence of “a push by the conservative right to reframe the reproductive rights debate toward third-trimester abortions.” (Note her use of “reproductive rights,” another phrase that, like “abortion access,” is used only by those who champion unlimited legal abortion.) Later in the article Smith repeated herself: “The push for the legislation is part of an ongoing attempt by Republicans to shift the debate on reproductive rights to focus on so-called late-term abortions.”
But the push for the legislation began, as its sponsor Ben Sasse clearly articulated, in response to comments from Virginia governor Ralph Northam, who had said in January 2019 that he favored allowing doctors and mothers decide whether or not to care for infants born alive after an attempted abortion, at least in some circumstances. The born-alive bill, then, was not an example of GOP debate-shifting but a response to Democratic extremism; Smith, of course, had little choice but to ignore that fact entirely.
Her latest projects have been on such challenging topics as hosting a chat with the makers of the documentary film glorifying Jackson, Mississippi’s last abortion clinic and repeatedly tweeting updates about which states are facing lawsuits for limiting abortion during COVID-19.
Smith’s Twitter account routinely hosts insinuations masquerading as facts — “Restrictions on abortion always disproportionately impact people of color” — and solicitations of sources who will substantiate the pro-abortion argument she’s already decided to make: “Are you a patient in Texas seeking an abortion but can’t get one because of the state’s ban? Please reach out to me, I would love to speak with you. State officials in Texas have told me that people **aren’t** traveling out-of-state to get abortions, but I know that’s not true.”
Imagine for a moment that CBS — or NBC or ABC or CNN — employed a reporter who described her beat as covering “the killing of unborn children,” who openly shared her pro-life convictions while treating statements from pro-choice groups and lawmakers as automatically dubious. Imagine a mainstream reporter who spent the bulk of her time interviewing the president of the March for Life or taking thinly veiled shots at the blue-state lawmakers who seek to remove any possible restrictions on abortion. Such a journalist would be laughed out of the room — by the very same people who treat Smith’s work as objective reporting.
Earlier this month, Smith tweeted this gem: “Writing up the new Texas abortion news and watching Little Fires Everywhere and of course there’s an abortion subplot. I can’t escape this beat!”
But dressing up pro-choice pabulum as hard-nosed reporting isn’t a “beat” at all. It’s a lie, a smokescreen concocted by those who embrace legal abortion and believe their moral rectitude gives them the right to mislead their readers by presenting the ill-formed opinions of their “reporters” as facts. If the media want to know why their reputation is at an all-time low, Kate Smith is Exhibit A.
Alexandra DeSanctis is a staff writer for National Review and a visiting fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.