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U.S. Papers Inject Anti-Abortion Rhetoric into Omagh Trial Coverage

December 21, 2007

In a Belfast courtroom Thursday, a judge acquitted electrician Sean Hoey, accused of the 1998 bombing that killed 29 people in Omagh, Northern Ireland.  But while coverage of the story in Northern Ireland, Ireland and the UK focused on DNA evidence, police incompetence and the legacy of past terror incidents, many American newspapers had a different agenda altogether.  The Oregonian and other news outlets instead chose to turn the Omagh verdict into anti-abortion propaganda.

In Belfast, Dublin and London, coverage detailed the ruling - and the reaction of devastated families - in the case Justice Reg Weir deemed "one of the worst atrocities of the Troubles."  In the LA Times, William K. Graham and Kim Murphy also reported the judge's disgust with the "slapdash approach" of the police, which led to the acquittal of Hoey.  In their story titled "Suspect Acquitted in N. Ireland Bombing," they wrote:

The defendant was charged with 29 counts of murder in the 1998 bombing of the shopping district in Omagh that left 29 dead, including a woman pregnant with twins, and 370 injured. [emphasis mine]

But that's not how the Oregonian, the San Jose Mercury News and the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette presented the same Graham-Murphy story from the LA Times and Washington Post.  The print edition of the Oregonian (the online version ran only an AP account) ran the same article under the headline "Defendant Acquitted in Blast That Killed 31."  The Oregonian edited the paragraph above to read:

The defendant was charged with 29 counts of murder in the 1998 bombing of the shopping district in Omagh that left 31 dead, including unborn twins, and 370 injured.  [emphasis mine]

While Reuters, AP and another Washington Post piece only referred the 29 killed in the case (and thus the 29 counts against Hoey), the San Jose Mercury News mentioned only that the bombing "left 31 dead and 370 injured."  The Fort Wayne web site used the same language as the Oregonian (left 31 dead, including unborn twins, and 370 injured).

Clearly, the Oregonian and other news outlets made a conscious decision to inject the rhetoric and tactics of the anti-abortion movement into their reporting of Omagh.  Reprising the debate over the murder of Laci Peterson and the Unborn Victims of Violence Act signed into law by President Bush in April 2004, the Oregonian conferred personhood on the fetus where the law - and media - in Northern Ireland did not.  This slippery slope tactic of the opponents of reproductive rights may now be legally codified in many states in the U.S., but it had no place in the coverage of the Omagh trial.

The Omagh tragedy is a story of terrorism, sectarian schism and the legacy of colonialism in a Northern Ireland now finally enjoying the first glimmers of peace and self-rule.  Instead, the Oregonian turned it into an opportunity for pro-life propaganda.

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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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