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BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith on why Roe V. Wade’s 40th anniversary isn’t newsy

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HH: I go to Ben Smith, editor-in-chief of Hello, Ben, Happy New Year to you.

BS: Happy New Year to you, thanks for having me on.

HH: It’s the 40th anniversary of Roe V. Wade. Is BuzzFeed doing anything about that particular anniversary?

BS: No, we’re not big on anniversaries. It was all we could do to cover the inauguration.

HH: Now normally in America…

BS: They’re not exactly news events.

HH: Normally in America, 40th anniversaries like Pearl Harbor or D-Day, good or bad, Nagasaki, they get a lot of press. Why isn’t new media interested in a big anniversary?

BS: I disagree. Anniversaries are notoriously the least newsy things ever. I mean, like, it’s the opposite of news. But anyway, why aren’t we covering the anniversary of Roe?

HH: It may be the opposite of news, but they get…

BS: I actually think we had a really fascinating piece today on how, on the fight over counting abortions, which is the new thing.

HH: Tell me what that’s about.

BS: Well, there’s the head of the Susan B. Anthony list, an anti-abortion group, has an op-ed in the Times today with what sounds like a quite easy to agree with proposal, that we should have better record keeping on abortions. But I didn’t actually know this, the abortion rights movement is very leery of this in part because they don’t buy the premise that a high number of abortions is a bad thing, per se.

HH: Well, I can understand that premise, but it’s interesting that you’re covering that as news, because that’s in the New York Times today, because it’s the 40th anniversary of Roe, and we’ve got the Right To Life march coming up on the 25th. Will BuzFeed cover that?

BS: I suspect we will, actually, yeah.

HH: Because that is news, right, in your definition of news?

BS: Not really news. I mean, I don’t know, if you already know it’s coming, then it’s in some ways not news.

HH: Like the inauguration?

BS: Oh, God, yes, exactly like the inauguration. It was a difficult event to cover.

HH: Well I mean, if you know it’s coming, and it doesn’t really…what is the definition of news, Ben? I’m curious.

BS: To tell you something you didn’t know. Tell me something I didn’t know. You know, that’s the definition of news.

HH: And so what didn’t we know about yesterday except the content of the speech?

BS: That Beyonce’ was lip synching. Biggest story of the whole thing.

HH: That is on right now. And so is Beyonce’s lip synching actually more newsy than the 40th anniversary of Roe?

BS: It is in fact news. Like I know the 40th anniversary of Roe is coming. I bet it will get more traffic. You write a story saying that the 40th anniversary of Roe is a week away, and you know, it’s just, ideally, you’re telling people things they don’t know.

HH: But I’m wondering if new media especially…

BS: But I’m not actually, I’m sorry, I feel like I’m king of being sophistic here. No, you think it’s undercovered?

HH: Yes, I do. I think it’s the least covered 40th anniversary for political reasons. I think BuzzFeed probably has very few, if any, pro-life reporters. I know you’ve got at least one. And so you might have two or three.

BS: Which one?

HH: Andrew. Andrew is a good St. Ignatius grad. I’m quite certain he’s pro-life.

BS: Interesting.

HH: Yeah, and so but I’m curious as to given that now the number of pro-life people self-identified by Gallup today is over 50%, pro-choice people are falling to 40%, it’s actually a filter that’s been put on by elite media on this discussion that might otherwise drive the public opinion dramatically in what is obviously a life-changing decision, no matter what one considers no matter what one considers the status of the fetus?

BS: So you think it’s news to people that abortion is legal?

HH: I think it’s news to people that it is changing dramatically that the numbers, especially among your generation, Ben, are so much more pro-life than they were among mine. People who are 50 tended to support Roe. People who are 30 tend to oppose Roe. I think that’s very interesting. But again, I think elite media doesn’t want to cover it, because it’s not really covering news. It’s covering agendas, like BuzzFeed agenda journalism.

BS: You know, I guess, I mean, I think the polling is split on it. I do think the polling’s interesting. I was Tweeting this morning that the polling I saw this morning was the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that says for the first time, that for the first time, a majority want abortion to be legal. I do think the trend toward pro-life views is something, I don’t know, most of us have certainly written about in the past, and most people have. It’s certainly a major trend of the last decade. I’m not sure that’s a continuing trend, though. I mean, according to this Journal poll this morning, it’s actually the reverse.

HH: Well, Gallup has, and this is from May of last year. 41% of Americans identify themselves as pro-choice.

BS: So wait, I’m going to go, on the news front, I’m going to go with the poll from today rather than May of last year.

HH: No, but I’m just comparing what you’re saying, it’s newsy that people want it to be legal. So we might have actually the interesting comparison. Those who call themselves pro-life who are also pro-legal abortions might be the new dominant paradigm in the United States, but we wouldn’t know, because it’s not covered.

BS: That is really interesting. I mean, I do think that’s where Clinton managed for a minute to succeed politically on safe, legal and rare, that there’s certainly a majority who wants less abortion, but probably also a majority who don’t want to outlaw it in every case.

HH: But here’s what’s really interesting. Yesterday, the President appealed to the spirit of Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall, great civil rights movements, but not a word about this issue, which he, too, used to consider was important enough to declare that it should be rare, right, in the Rick Warren interview?

BS: Yeah, no, I mean, I think that’s been the Democrats’ sort of way around this issue for a long time.

HH: It’s not sincere, is it? They don’t care about rarity.

BS: You know, I think they’re split. I mean, I actually had thought there was more of a consensus on rarity than I think there actually is, talking to my reporter, Anna North, about this, this morning, that actually the abortion rights movement still feels that it should not be rare, that it should be exactly as common as women want it to be.

HH: You see, there’s a lot of news there. Maybe BuzzFeed will cover the March On Life on the weekend. We’ll see. BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith, thank you.

End of interview.


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