The Washington Post

Politico reporter ventures defense of Todd Akin

UPDATE 10:43: Perhaps with the aid of a night’s sleep, Catanese has renounced his thought experiment. Here’s the tweet:

Re last night: Bad idea trying to have nuanced conversation on highly charged issue on here. Did not intend to take a side. Lesson learned.

— davecatanese (@davecatanese) August 20, 2012

Don’t like the tone here. Catanese appears to be blaming Twitter for his misguided thought experiment. Though Twitter challenges writers to put their thoughts in brief spurts, there’s nothing in its guidelines that bars someone from conveying nuance. That’s possible; it happens all the time. In fact, those who responded to Catanese’s tweets in many instances deployed nuance themselves.

The problem was not Twitter; it wasn’t the fact that he was wading into a highly charged issue; it was that he was attempting to defend something that didn’t merit defending.


Missouri Rep. Todd Akin, who’s seeking a Senate seat in this year’s elections, sat down with a St. Louis Fox affiliate and said the following when asked whether abortion should be legal in instances of rape:

People always want to try and make that as one of those things, well, how do you slice this particularly tough sort of ethical question. It seems to me first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. You know, I think there should to be some punishment. But the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not on attacking the child.

The sheer idiocy of that statement — scientific, political, factual, commonsensical — made Akin defenders a precious commodity on Sunday afternoon. Yet one person out there wanted to give it a try. Dave Catanese, a reporter for Politico, started out the experiment this way:

Ok, I’m gonna (ask for it) & defend @toddakin for argument’s sake.We all know what he was trying to say . . .

— davecatanese (@davecatanese) August 20, 2012

Then this:

Poor phrasing, but if you watch the intv @toddakin meant to convey that there’s less chance of getting pregnant if raped.

— davecatanese (@davecatanese) August 20, 2012

And this:

Poor phrasing, but if you watch the intv @

There’s one thing Catanese was right about: He was asking for it. Twitter rained down upon him:

Why did Catanese feel compelled to jump in, even experimentally, on the side of Akin? There’s no telling. After all, the congressman himself said the following after America jumped on his case: “In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year.” So Catanese was sticking up for a guy who wasn’t really sticking up for himself.

Catanese’s open-air riffing appears to stem from a sense that everything in the political realm welcomes a point-counterpoint exchange. That perhaps some more expertly chosen words would resolve this mess.

No, not this one. A 1996 study on rape-related pregnancies by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology — and cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — produced these results:

The national rape-related pregnancy rate is 5.0% per rape among victims of reproductive age (aged 12 to 45); among adult women an estimated 32,101 pregnancies result from rape each year. Among 34 cases of rape-related pregnancy, the majority occurred among adolescents and resulted from assault by a known, often related perpetrator. Only 11.7% of these victims received immediate medical attention after the assault, and 47.1% received no medical attention related to the rape. A total 32.4% of these victims did not discover they were pregnant until they had already entered the second trimester; 32.2% opted to keep the infant whereas 50% underwent abortion and 5.9% placed the infant for adoption; an additional 11.8% had spontaneous abortion.

So, let’s apply those findings to what Akin said: 1) Rape-related pregnancies not so rare, no matter what the “doctors” tell Akin; 2) Those anti-rape-conception mechanisms that so impress Akin appear a touch unreliable. And that whole “legitimate rape” term: Can this be the last time we hear that term?

Wrong guy, wrong set of facts, wrong situation for a thought experiment.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.


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