A week after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Jezebel’s Kylie Cheung aggregated a local news story about a 10-year-old girl in Ohio who had to travel to Indiana for abortion care because Ohio’s new law bans abortions without exceptions for rape. Indiana-based abortion provider Dr. Caitlin Bernard had told The Indianapolis Star that she received a call from a child abuse doctor in Ohio asking if Bernard could see their 10-year-old patient, who was six weeks and three days pregnant, and provide the child with abortion care. President Joe Biden mentioned the case in a speech last week, emphasizing the importance of abortion rights.
Shortly after Biden’s speech, mainstream media outlets started to cast doubt on the story. The 10-year-old had not been identified (again—she’s 10 years old and shouldn’t be doxxed by the media for what’s hopefully the most traumatizing experience of her life to date); there had been no police report filed (rape survivors, especially children, are afraid to report rapes for obvious reasons); and the story only had “one source,” who was the Indiana doctor who went on the record about the case.
Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler ran with the headline: “A one-source story about a 10-year-old and an abortion goes viral,” concluding that “If a rapist is ever charged, the fact finally would have more solid grounding.” The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial with the disgusting headline, “An Abortion Story Too Good to Confirm,” suggesting the child’s story was a “fanciful” figure of the Left’s imagination. And FOX’s Tucker Carlson stated as fact on his primetime show: “Turns out the story was not true.”
Then on Wednesday, the world learned that the story was, in fact, true. A 27-year-old man was arrested for the rape of the 10-year-old girl—the evidence that the world’s most respected media outlets apparently needed in order to believe that child rape happens and sometimes begets pregnancy. It’s a story that anti-abortion folks don’t want to believe because it’s really tough to defend a Supreme Court decision and subsequent state law that would force a 10-year-old girl to give birth to her rapist’s child, but these things nonetheless happen. And they will happen more now that states have been given the green light to impose their leaders’ religious beliefs on people’s basic health care.
No one is expecting Carlson to go on his show Wednesday night to set the record straight. The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal both acknowledged, in a negligible way, that they’d been wrong about the story, but their updates left much to be desired. Both kept their original headlines casting doubt on the story. WSJ added the editor’s note:
Editor’s note: The Columbus Dispatch reported Wednesday, a day after this editorial was published, that a Columbus, Ohio, man has been charged with the rape of a 10-year-old Ohio girl who traveled to Indiana for an abortion. The Dispatch reports that Columbus police were made aware of the pregnancy through a referral to local child services by the girl’s mother on June 22. An editorial correcting the record on the case was published Wednesday evening.
WaPo added a short update near the top—“An arrest has been made in this case, providing additional confirmation. More details below”—and loaded the new information at the bottom, and Kessler defended himself thusly:
The irony here, of course, is that two of the most prestigious newspapers in the world were so eager to undermine this story by claiming it wasn’t confirmed, that they didn’t confirm their own work. What is the likelihood that a medical doctor would simply make up a story about a child needing an abortion on the record, using her full name? Why would these outlets feel the need to rely on police records, knowing that police regularly lie and that the justice system in this country is a massive failure in every regard, to give the benefit of the doubt to an abortion provider risking her whole life and reputation to share this story?
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) noted what WaPo and WSJ should already understand about the reality of rape and abortion reporting:
It’s OK to be skeptical about media reports. It’s not OK to signal to the public that they’re false, because the police have not yet confirmed them and because they’re uncomfortable to believe, when a reputable source is on the record speaking truth to power.