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Photo Drudges Up Cries of Doubles Standard   


Anti-abortion campaigners have long complained that media outlets circumscribe their arguments by refusing to show images of what it is they want to outlaw. Many television stations refuse to show jarring images of aborted fetuses on grounds of taste, but some also make decisions on editorial content.

What you are looking at should be designated ‘Picture of the Year,’ or, perhaps, ‘The Picture of the Decade.’ It won’t be. Most people will never get an opportunity to see it.

The photo depicts a 21-week-old pre-born baby, who was being operated on by a surgeon names Joseph Bruner (It is his finger in the photo). The baby had been diagnosed with spina bifida, which leaves the spinal cord exposed after it fails to develop properly. Unless the gap was closed to protect his nervous system, serious brain damage would likely have occurred before birth. There was no time to lose. Unfortunately, the baby was too immature to survive outside the womb, and corrective surgery had never been performed on a baby this young. However, the parents, Julie and Alex Armas have a deep faith. She is an obstetrics nurse in Atlanta, who had heard through the Internet of Dr. Bruner’s work at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. He and his team pioneered these delicate operations. Despite the fact that the procedure has not yet been endorsed in medical journals, the decision was made to attempt it on behalf of little Samuel.

To operate on such a tiny baby required special miniature instruments to be created. The sutures used, for example, were less than the thickness of a human hair. A Caesarean section was then performed to lift the uterus gently from Julie’s body, permitting the surgeon to make a small incision through which the operation would be performed. Then, it happened! As Dr. Bruner was probing the opening, the baby’s fully-developed hand wrapped itself around the finger of the surgeon. The photograph captures that amazing moment with perfect clarity.

This picture should be shown on every newscast and run in every newspaper in America. Every teenager should also see it. Why? Because it is an unmistakable reminder that growing in the womb of each mother is a baby. It is not a ‘blob of tissue,’ or a ‘product of conception.’ A pre-born baby is fully human from the moment of conception. What we see in the photograph expresses that understanding better than a thousand words.

Little Samuel’s mother was quoted as saying she and her husband ‘wept for days’ when they saw the picture. She said, “This photo reminds us (that) my pregnancy wasn’t about disability or illness. It was about a little person.”

That’s what human pregnancy and birth re about a tiny human being with an eternal soul being formed in the ‘image of God.’ And that’s what the media elite fails to comprehend. That’s also why they don’t want people to see the incredible picture of this precious baby grasping the hand of his physician. I pray that it will not be hidden forever.”

The network maintains Drudge’s plan would have misrepresented the photo as having something to do with abortion when it actually shows a new treatment for spina bifida.

Spina bifida, known formally as myelomeningocele, is a congenital birth defect in which the backbone and spinal canal do not close before birth, allowing the spinal cord and the membranes covering it to protrude out the child’s back. Fairly common, the defect can cause paralysis, corresponding lack of sensation, and loss of bladder or bowel control, and can lead to infections.

The neurologic, damage, caused by spina bifida is usually irreversible, but doctors have recently reported finding a treatment, by means of operating on the fetus while still in the womb.

Drudge wanted to use a photo of such an operation to make an analogy to partial-birth abortion, by pointing out that it is legal in the United States to terminate a fetus at the same age at which doctors are now treating spina bifida.

Fox News spokesman Robert Zimmerman, in an interview with the Register, said the network made a straight editorial decision not to allow Drudge to show the photo in connection with abortion.

The problem was not with the photo, Zimmerman said, but with how Drudge intended to use it, he said.

The Fox News Channel broadcast the same photo Nov. 17, during a piece by reporter Eric Shawn on The Fox Report, an evening news show. The difference, Zimmerman said, is that story was about spina bifida, not about abortion.

Had drudge wanted to make his case about abortion, Zimmerman said, “There would have been a different photo used of a fetus of the same time period.”

Brit Hume, Fox’s Washington managing editor, also showed the spina bifida photo on his show, Special Report, on Nov. 18, during a roundtable discussion of the Drudge dispute.

Drudge, whom Hume described as an “Internet pamphleteer,” publishes The Drudge Report on the World Wide Web ( and also hosts an ABC radio show.

In the days following his walk-off, Drudge castigated Fox News officials for what he called their censorship of him, even calling the “overgrown fetuses,” according to a Nov. 18 Reuters story by Steve Gorman.

Fox News fired off a letter claiming breach of contract and threatened a lawsuit. Beneath the surface of the dispute, Drudge was apparently tired of doing the show, and Fox was disenchanted with his ratings, which dropped off markedly since the end of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

On Nov. 18, the two sides agreed to part ways. Drudge issued a statement that was termed an apology, and Fox officials issued statements praising Drudge’s past work and calling the separation amicable.

Drudge, who could not be reached for comment, has turned down interview requests in recent days, according to a source close to his former television show.


Anti-abortion campaigners have long complained that media outlets circumscribe their arguments by refusing to show images of what it is they want to outlaw.

Many television stations refuse to show jarring images of aborted fetuses on grounds of taste, but some also make decisions on editorial content, according to abortion opponents.

In Maine, where voters recently rejected a partial-birth abortion ban, the Diocese of Portland had trouble placing three television ads, according to Teresa McCann-Tumidajsski, manager of the diocese’s Respect Life program.

“We wanted to be able to communicate in a civil manner what the procedure was, without getting too graphic,” she said.

All the television stations in central and southern Maine, where the vast majority of the state’s residents live, rejected the proposed script for an ad showing a newborn baby in a nursery with a woman’s voice-over stating that it is legal in Maine to abort fetuses of roughly the same age, she said.

The reasons given, she said, were that “it was too combative, it was too inflammatory, it would upset too many people.”

One television station in Portland, the state’s largest city, rejected an ad showing a mother and newborn baby with a voice-over pointing out that just a few days before birth, the child could have been aborted.

Another station rejected an ad showing a woman who favors legal abortion saying she opposes late-term abortion in part because “it’s never medically necessary.”

The station rejected the ad on the grounds the manager didn’t believe the claim was true, even though the diocese backed it up with literature from the American Medical Association, McCann-Tumidajski said.

She said the diocese spent about $800,000 in its campaign for the referendum. Though the campaign failed, she said the 10-point loss was a good showing in Maine, which she said is, strongly pro-abortion.


“Photo Drudges Up Cries of Doubles Standard.” National Catholic Register. (Dec. 4, 1999).

Reprinted by permission of the National Catholic Register. To subscribe to the National Catholic Register call 1-800-421-3230.

Copyright © 1999 National Catholic Register



Copyright © 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved