Roe v Wade overturned: How the media covered the landmark Supreme Court decision

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The Roe v. Wade decision protecting the right to abortion was officially overturned by the Supreme Court Friday, a ruling with far-reaching political and cultural implications for the country, and the media’s feverish coverage reflected that reality.

MSNBC went without a commercial break for nearly four hours, an unusual move even in busy news cycles. It, CNN and Fox News all kept the same banner, “Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade,” for nearly the entire morning and afternoon, with live footage outside the Supreme Court building and rapid-response commentary. 

ABC, CBS and NBC News all broke out of regularly scheduled programming for special reports anchored by their nightly news hosts Friday morning, respectively David Muir, Norah O’Donnell, and Lester Holt, when the decision came out. CBS “Face The Nation” host Margaret Brennan might have summed up the momentousness of the day when she said, “I literally have goosebumps.”

“This is such a huge moment, and this will have so many effects that we can’t even fully appreciate today,” Brennan said. 

Roe v Wade overturned: How the media covered the landmark Supreme Court decision

Crowds outside the Supreme Court reacting to the Dobbs ruling.
(Joshua Comins/Fox News)

SUPREME COURT OVERTURNS ROE V. WADE IN LANDMARK OPINION

Every major news site had gigantic banners stretched across their homepages, from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal, from the Washington Post to the Los Angeles Times. Stories flooded the internet with reactions on how this could reset the midterms that congressional Republicans have long been favored to win, what steps some states will now to take to ban abortion, and the joyous response of pro-lifers, as well as the anguished ones of pro-choicers. 

Figures like the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List’s Marjorie Dannenfelser and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s Kelley Robinson appeared on networks within the hour, but the tone of the day in coverage was largely sober and even alarmed. Not surprisingly, there were tense and emotional moments as well.

CNN’s Alisyn Camerota had a testy interaction with March for Life President Jeanne Mancini, repeatedly accusing her of not answering her question about what would happen if states eliminated exceptions for mothers whose lives would be endangered if they didn’t have abortions.

“I think that there’s a lot of fear-mongering that’s going on, and especially media, your role is to be neutral in reporting. Abortion has not been outlawed. Abortion has been returned to the people today,” Mancini said, later telling Camerota they seemed to disagree on the idea that there are “two people” in question during their talk about abortion.

Roe v Wade overturned: How the media covered the landmark Supreme Court decision

Anti-abortion demonstrators outside the US Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., after the ruling on Roe v. Wade on Friday, June 24, 2022, transposed with images of major media networks. 
(Valerie Plesch/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

As the two talked over one another, Camerota eventually ended the interview and thanked her for coming on. Mancini said nothing, pursing her lips as the exchange came to an awkward .

Besides Camerota, hosts and reporters for left-leaning channels at times struggled to restrain their frustrations with the decision. 

“Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd fretted that the Supreme Court’s judges had “blue and red” robes, not black ones, and repeated critics’ claims it seemed the court was “rigged,” while NBC’s Holt noted correspondent Pete Williams’s words a day earlier that the conservative supermajority was “flexing its muscles.” 

ABC’s Terry Moran called it an “activist court,” and analysts at CNN and MSNBC wondered if a form of “civil war” was on the horizon. On CNN, Poppy Harlow blanched as Jim Sciutto read out the breaking news shortly after 10 a.m.

Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., a vocal advocate for abortion access, cried upon hearing the news, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported, and raged against the “far-right, racist” Supreme Court on MSNBC. MSNBC also featured a parade of other Democrats who fumed over the decision, including Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. 

MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace, who worked as communications director in the George W. Bush White House, ironically castigated the majority opinion delivered by Samuel Alito, whom Bush appointed during Wallace’s tenure. An unabashed supporter of President Biden, she praised his words Friday that criticized the ruling.

Roe v Wade overturned: How the media covered the landmark Supreme Court decision

“President Joe Biden’s words were echoed by the court’s three liberal justices, who issued a fiery dissent for the history books, speaking not just of the lasting damage to the institution in which they serve, but also making it clear that the conservative majority on the Supreme Court has completely transformed, for the worse, the lives of all American women,” she said.

ROE V. WADE OVERTURNED: LIBERAL JOURNALISTS RAGE AT RUTH BADER GINSBURG FOR NOT RETIRING

Online, CNN’s legal analyst Joan Biskupic wrote the “breathtaking” decision and “audacious tone” was a product of right-wing justices seizing the moment.

“That majority opinion emphasized, rather than a women’s right to choose what happens to her pregnancy, the interests of the fetus,” she wrote.

Roe v Wade overturned: How the media covered the landmark Supreme Court decision

(Fox News)

The ruling was expected after the shocking leak of the majority draft opinion in May published by Politico that showed Roe v. Wade was in jeopardy, prompting left-wing protests outside the homes of conservative justices, including Brett Kavanaugh. 

Earlier in June, a 26-year-old California man traveled to Kavanaugh’s house with plans to kill him before changing his mind, telling authorities he was upset in part over his opinions on abortion. Polling has tended to show most Americans don’t support a full overturning of Roe v. Wade, but it also isn’t atop their list of priorities in voting.

ROE V. WADE RULING SEES MSNBC, CNN, AND MORE GO FULL SCORCHED EARTH: ‘CIVIL WAR’

“But the public response doesn’t appear to have swayed the six conservative justices’ minds — and certainly not that of the opinion’s author, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr,” the Washington Post’s Amber Phillips wrote ruefully in an analysis piece.

Roe v Wade overturned: How the media covered the landmark Supreme Court decision

On the right, conservative site coverage included the Daily Caller’s “Roe No Moe” as its banner. National Review’s editors released an editorial headlined “A Stain Erased,” rejoicing in the overturning of a ruling they said lacked any constitutional base.

The Washington Free Beacon (“Life Wins: Supreme Court strikes down Roe v. Wade”), Breitbart (Prayers Answered: Life Wins!”), and The Federalist (“Justice At Last: Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade”) didn’t bother to contain their glee.

Roe v Wade overturned: How the media covered the landmark Supreme Court decision

President Joe Biden arrives to speak at the White House in Washington, Friday, June 24, 2022, after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. 
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Individual journalists with an ideological bent tweeted as well to mark the day, with left-wing reporters and pundits raging over the Supreme Court as illegitimate and hijacked by ideological extremists, while right-wing ones delighted in the day.

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No matter who you were, June 24, 2022, will truly go down in history.

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