Saturday, August 15, 2009

Esquire's John H. Richardson Bumbles "The Last Abortion Doctor" Story

Is it possible that Esquire's John H. Richardson was a tad high when he cobbled together "The Last Abortion Doctor"? Read Mr. Richardson's embarrassing attempt at a profile piece on Dr. Warren Hern, a Boulder, Colorado Ob/Gyn, and judge for yourselves.

For example, take this rather elephantine factual inaccuracy in "The Last Abortion Doctor":

For thirty-six years, Warren Hern has been one of the few doctors in America to specialize in late abortions. George Tiller was another. And when Dr. Tiller was murdered that Sunday in church, Warren Hern became the only one left.


Granted, Dr. LeRoy Carhart is on a death watch and the U.S. Department of Justice has just removed his protection detail but let's wait until he's actually assassinated before we pretend he doesn't even exist. Especially in light of the fact that Dr. Carhart plans to open a clinic in, you know, Kansas.

And what about the Ob/Gyns attached to hospital clinics? They certainly aren't as high profile as Drs. Tiller, Carhart, and Hern but they do exist.

It's unprofessional for a reporter to get facts wrong under the best of circumstances. In light of the current open season on Ob/Gyn and their patients it's irresponsible to mislead readers about the availability of needed medical care.

Moving on, John H. Richardson throws a bizarre temper tantrum. Like an aggrieved 2 yo Mr. Richardson figuratively holds his breath and refuses to refer to Dr. Hern, and only Dr. Hern, as "doctor" because:

By the way, he hates the word abortionist. Though it is a simple descriptive term like "podiatrist".... All the same, it is the right word, an accurate word, and our discomfort with it is but a measure of how poisoned the language of abortion has become.


Throughout the article John H. Richardson calls Dr. Hern the "abortionist" 28 times, and giddily, even in his oxygen-deprived state, refers to Dr. Hern's family as [t]he abortionist's mother, [t]he abortionist's wife.

Mind you, don't take my word for how many times "abortionist" appears in the piece. Feel free to doublecheck as I, a deliveryist, was in a bit of a rush when I did the math on account of having to catch a ride with a bladder suspensionist to see our friend, the root canalist.

Next, we have:

But let's face it, abortion is the lowest-status activity in medicine. That's why they always call their clinics Family Planning Centers or Women's Wellness Facilities or some crap like that. Not his place. It's had the same name since 1975. Because I felt that performing abortions was the most important thing I could do in medicine.


and

The abortionist is very caring with all [his staff], she says. Like all doctors, he wants things done exactly his way. But he doesn't tolerate them being treated poorly. He pays them well. He gives them insurance and 401(k)'s, which is not routine in the abortion trade.


Well, duh! Not only is providing specialized, much needed and appreciated, safe, effective medical care to, you know, that lowliest, most disgusting, pariah of patients, the pregnant female, the lowest status activity in the whole of medicine and a filthy trade, but the pregnant uterus isn't even part of the reproductive tract and plays no role in a woman's reproductive function or her health status.

Last, but not least, what's with the "It rubs the lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose again" vibe? When your job is to convey information and you're not very good at it, the last thing you should do is to employ a pretentious reporting style. Unless, of course, your goal is to have the image of John H. Richardson twirling around in a silk cape gently interrogating poor post-op patients in the recovery room, making little old ladies cry, and shouting "abortionist" at random intervals embedded in your poor readers' heads.

Bottom line: It's a shame Esquire couldn't find a professional reporter to tell the story of Dr. Warren Hern.

ETA: Via righteousrevolution, here is what a professional profile piece on an Ob/Gyn, Dr. LeRoy Carhart in this case, looks like.

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10 Comments:

At 9:44 PM, Blogger Carolyn Marie Fugit said...

Yes! I stopped reading because I couldn't stand seeing "abortionist" all the time. If I thought it was appropriate, I would read anti-choice columns. What was the goal of this column? To feed into right-wing lies? Because that's what it felt like: a right-winger trying to write an "objective" piece and failing.

 
At 10:33 PM, Blogger ema said...

What was the goal of this column?

Heh, mostly to expose us to the great sophisticate and knowledgeable judge of all things Ob/Gyn, John H. Richardson.

 
At 11:18 PM, Blogger Jen said...

Yes yes yes. THANK YOU for being so on with your criticisms of this article. I've seen it so well-loved in so many places, when really? It made me crazy. It was a terrible article about a great doctor.
I mean, really. C'mon, now, fellow pro-choicers. Can we please not conflate an article with a doctor? We're smarter than that, right?

 
At 12:04 AM, Blogger ema said...

Jen,

I guess the propaganda from those who oppose proper care for pregnant women has been so successful that, as long as an Ob/Gyn isn't shot in the head or physically or verbally abused all that much, it's all good and should be, you know, celebrated.

 
At 6:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the first point-- Richardson says "one of the few who specialializes" in late term abortions. Now he is the last who specializes. Period. That is accurate. Carhart has refused in recent years. Look it up dumb ass.

As to the use of the term:
The guy is an abortionist. The point was to use the term accurately. It is a medical procedure. Legal and safe. call it what it is. Again, read Richardson on this subject-- in THE ARTICLE itself. The ones who make it a dirty word are the ones who sanctify the term with their outrage. Read the article more thoroughly. It's utterly sympathetic.

 
At 10:14 PM, Blogger ema said...

Anon @ 6:15 PM:

No need to get all defensive and project; I won't consider you a dumb ass because of your lack of reading comprehension.

Mr. Richardson's statement is inaccurate. Dr. Carhart has his own practice *and* he's been covering Dr. Tiller for years, and there are Ob/Gyns attached to hospital clinics who specialize in late-term abortions.

The guy is an abortionist. The point was to use the term accurately.

Dr. Hern is an Ob/Gyn. The term "abortionist" is a propaganda term and, as such, has no accurate use in a medical, reality-based discussion.

It is a medical procedure. Legal and safe. call it what it is.

The legal and safe medical procedure is called an abortion. The physician who performs abortions is called an Ob/Gyn

Again, read Richardson on this subject-- in THE ARTICLE itself.

According to Mr. Richardson:

All the same, it is the right word, an accurate word, and our discomfort with it is but a measure of how poisoned the language of abortion has become.

He decrees the word to be accurate and he misinterprets its significance, and his pronouncement is to be considered correct because, why?

The ones who make it a dirty word are the ones who sanctify the term with their outrage.

Who says it's a dirty word? It's just a run-of-the-mill propaganda term. One that has no place in a reality-based article.

 
At 3:16 PM, Blogger placenta sandwich said...

Thanks for writing this - I and several of my colleagues had lots of problems with it too. Newsweek ran a short piece entitled "Why Esquire's Abortion Story Got It Wrong", which I thought was appropriate and not especially aggressive or anything, and then Richardson posted a long overblown defensive comment on it - here: http://www.newsweek.com/id/212254

 
At 3:17 PM, Blogger placenta sandwich said...

Oh sorry, one thing to add though, Dr, Hern's first name is Warren (not Walter).

 
At 6:13 PM, Blogger ema said...

Placenta sandwich,

First, great handle! Second, thank you, fixed. Third, I wasn't aware of either pieces. Let me go read them and I'll comment.

 
At 7:23 PM, Blogger R said...

Haha, thanks! Oh and PS, the best part about that Newsweek factcheck was that they got a response from Dr. Hern himself taking issue with the "Abortionist" article, which they then posted at the top of the factcheck. Heh.

 

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