The date was Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. That’s when the Supreme Court signaled that it would hear its “first major abortion case since 2007,” in the words of the New York Times. In Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, the court would be weighing the constitutionality of a Texas law placing tight limits on the operation of abortion clinics. Whereas Texas officials claim the regulations protect women’s health, abortion providers respond that their purpose is close them down. The decision in the case, which was argued last week, would be “the term’s most consequential and legally significant decision,” contended the New York Times.
Again, for emphasis, the high court announced on Nov. 13, 2015, its intent to hear a major abortion case.
Since that date, there have been six Democratic presidential debates, on CBS News, ABC News, NBC News, MSNBC, PBS and CNN. In recent weeks, too, there’s been a smattering of Democratic town hall events on MSNBC and CNN. Border security, the Islamic State, Donald Trump, taxes, guns, INCOME INEQUALITY, heroin, “Bill Clinton’s past transgressions” and many, many other topics.
Last night, Bret Baier parachuted into the race in a first of-the-cycle Fox News town hall event with Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). It was a newsworthy event in itself, considering that Clinton had been stiffing the network on interview requests and initially begged off of the town hall. The showdown advanced on the newsworthiness scale when Baier quizzed the candidates on a new topic.
It took @FoxNews to ask the first question about abortion at a Democratic town hall or debate. #DemTownHall— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) March 7, 2016
The question posed by Baier to Sanders (and to Clinton, with some slight wording changes) was this: “Can you name a single circumstance at any point in a pregnancy in which you would be okay with abortion being illegal?” As The Post’s Justin Wm. Moyer noted, the candidates gave definitive answers. “I have been on record in favor of a late pregnancy regulation that would have exceptions for the life and health of the mother,” said Clinton. “I object to the recent effort in Congress to pass a law saying after 20 weeks, you know, no such exceptions, because although these are rare, Bret, they sometimes arise in the most complex, difficult medical situation.” Media Matters ripped Baier for the wording of the question.
Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, tweeted a concern about the question:
.@FoxNews 1st to #AskAboutAbortion in #DemTownHall but focused on teeny minority of cases, not crisis affecting most women.— Ilyse Hogue (@ilyseh) March 8, 2016
Fair enough, but: Fox News did end an inquiry drought of sorts for these Democratic candidates. James Owens, states communications director for NARAL Pro-Choice America, confirms that Baier’s inquiry was the first time the Democratic candidates have been asked about abortion in a debate or forum. And considering that TV networks behave like lemmings — constantly seeking to follow up on the reporting of their competitors — there’s a good chance that the candidates will face more abortion-related questions at upcoming events.
Does all this mean that Fox News has a monopoly on good debate questions? Heck no. Just look at the its record since August on climate change inquiries. Network host Bill Hemmer, for instance, posed this dud in the Aug. 6 undercard debate: “Senator Lindsey Graham, you worked with Democrats and President Obama when it came to climate change, something you know is extremely unpopular with conservative Republicans. How can they trust you based on that record?” In fairness to Fox News, its peers haven’t infused the debate schedule with searing climate-related repartee, either.
A vast place, the world kicks up a lot of issues for the networks to address. When a bunch of them overlook a key matter, leave it to a competitor to fill the void. Fox News and Baier have been campaigning to host a full-on Democratic debate. Face it, Debbie Wasserman Schultz: Last night’s proceedings — vigorous, expertly produced and topically robust — undercut all the excuses for continuing to sideline the No. 1 cable news outfit.