Like all but a handful of Ohioans, on the night of Tuesday, December 6, I was busy doing something other than being on the floor of the Ohio House of Representatives’ main chamber. However, unlike too many other Ohioans, I was checking Twitter and Facebook so frequently that I missed marking down the scores for a high school diver while helping out at my youngest son’s swim meet.
The minute the competition ended, I handed in score papers and pencil, found and hugged my son, grabbed my winter gear and rushed to my car. I knew the Ohio House was about to reconvene and consider the dreaded Am. Sub. HB 493. The bill hadn’t started out as dreaded. The Ohio Senate made it that way earlier in the day, when it passed an amendment known as the heartbeat bill. And now the Ohio House, the last possible place where lawmakers might strip out the amendment before voting on the final bill and sending it to Governor John Kasich, would become the center of the debate.
For the next two and a half hours, I watched and listened to the live session via The Ohio Channel on my desktop computer while live-tweeting and offering a couple of Facebook status updates through my smartphone. My reactions as publicized on social media accurately conveyed the fury, sadness, frustration and fear I experienced as more than a dozen Ohio House members rose to address the heartbeat amendment.
Unfortunately, that range of emotions congealed into anger late in the evening of December 11. That’s when I first saw, online, the New York Times article, “Abortion Foes, Emboldened by Trump, Promise ‘Onslaught’ of Tough Restrictions”. I quickly linked to it on Facebook because the content punched me in the gut: Everyone who ever wanted to see Roe v. Wade overturned couldn’t wait to get that ball rolling now that Donald Trump was President-elect. However, in the morning’s print edition, my anger turned toward the New York Times itself when I turned from the page A1 story to inside and saw this:
What did I see? I saw an image inside the Ohio Statehouse with all white men, and an image of the white Republican female legislator who, on the night of December 6, 2016, called the case law made by the Supreme Court of the United States no more than a “judgment made by a group of people”.
I quickly re-read the entire article to check myself but sure enough, every single person quoted, every person whose image was presented in this reporting was white. Now I was floored: How on earth could that be when at least a few of the most riveting, relevant and passionate floor speeches just four nights before were made by four black female legislators? “Goddamnit!” I repeated to myself for several minutes.
I calmed myself down about it to consider the points made by the article. All valid, all true, all important to understand, and all made all too real now by Ohio and its Statehouse’s elected supermajority. Objectively, I could say the article did its job of portraying active danger now that Trump was elected and, in addition, I knew from watching the House session live, that there multiple authentic and pointed floor speeches given by Ohio Democrats on December 6. Even though I remained disappointed by the reporters failure to quote or highlight even one Ohio Statehouse Democrat, let alone one of the several who spoke in the Senate or House specifically against the heartbeat bill, for the time being, I let it go.
Then I saw it again. Late on Monday, December 13, the New York Times posted this editorial, “Rolling Back Abortion Rights After Donald Trump’s Election”. It looks like this online:
All I could think of was, “Again with the white woman?!” Not because of anything having to do with which white woman and especially not this white woman: State Rep. Teresa Fedor’s personal story, the lede in the editorial, is as powerful as it gets. In fact, her willingness to highlight the personal aspects of Ohio’s war on women has been applauded, rightfully so and many times since she first spoke about her abortion publicly in early 2015. She is not the issue here.
What is the issue – and I’m not going to minimize it by saying, “in my opinion” – is the complete lack of coverage of the efforts by and the floor speeches of four black female state representatives: Why isn’t the photo and the lede State Reps. Janine Boyd or Christie Kuhns, both of whom have told personal stories about childbearing, or State Reps. Emilia Sykes or Stephanie Howse, both of whom pleaded that night with their colleagues about the Ohio legislature’s failure to properly take care of the born children of Ohio, let alone the unborn? The content of their remarks was unlike any other content offered that night against the heartbeat bill as they described the likely negative consequences of heartbeat bill legislation and the hypocrisy of the arguments made in support of that legislation. Their language was personal, pointed and powerful, but no one knows it from reading anything in the papers or online. And this angered me and angers me still.
I feel obligated to say that I cannot overemphasize my gratitude for and pride in each and every state legislator who voted against and spoke out against this and other horrific bills that deny Ohioans legally protected rights. However, I also trust that those who I am not mentioning by name know me or at least my work well enough to know, I feel particularly offended and upset when media coverage fails to give voice to all the voices that matter. Black voices matter and it is beyond a shame that no news coverage featured any of Ohio’s black legislators’ remarks made during debate over the heartbeat bill.
Media coverage of any issue does not have to be an either/or. It can be and should be inclusive of as many voices as possible, and certainly as many as reflect the stories going on. Abortion opponents’ emboldened approach now that Trump is elected is one story. But here in Ohio, how we counter that approach and why we must counter that approach is equally deserving of being covered. These black legislators’ speeches demonstrate that beautifully.
You can see for yourself now. While there are no transcripts, I’ve trimmed the full Ohio House session involved to the segments for each of four state representatives whose floor speeches I wish had been covered by the media. They are posted in the order in which they were given. After you watch them, please consider sharing them. I’ll be sending this post to the NYT public editor and will follow up with any response I get.