Two sides of the same coin

In the ‘80s, Dr. Chris Simopoulos was indicted in Norfolk, Virginia, for having performed spurious abortions on women who were not actually pregnant. This came shortly after a sting operation in which he wanted to do an abortion procedure on an undercover policewoman who had falsely been told by Simopoulos that she was pregnant.

The interesting thing, though, is that the police probably wouldn’t have ever gotten involved, at least not until significantly later, had Ellen Whitford, a reporter for “The Virginia-Pilot” and “The Ledger-Star,” not looked into the suspicious number of complications women were experiencing after the procedure. She soon discovered what was going on, and the papers made repeated calls to the police, who were initially not conducting an investigation nor were they willing to. Knowing the egregious actions that had been done and that there was potential for more women to be harmed, the papers eventually conducted their own investigation.

Before the editors published their story, they contacted the district attorney to determine the legality of what they were doing. The attorney asked if they could delay publication until the police could make arrests, and the papers complied. In the end, the police apprehended Simopoulos and his accomplice and they published their article with a report about the arrests.

As a result, the papers received sharp criticism for allowing the police to interfere with their publishing schedule and for putting other women at risk who might have gone to the clinic before the arrests were made, not to mention taking it upon themselves to carry out this undercover operation. Now, there are three things I’d say to that.

First, while I don’t think the press should feel that they have the right to assume the role of the police whenever they choose, sometimes there isn’t any other way to get at the truth if the police either won’t do their duty or are limited for some reason. Historically, I think this fact is quite established: from the two reporters who investigated the Watergate Scandal to Jonathan Franklin’s undercover work during the Gulf War, it’s evidently necessary for the press to sometimes be duplicitous.

Second, some critics argued that delaying publication was wrong because in the time it took for the authorities to make arrests, other women could’ve been harmed. Unfortunately, that may have been the case. Nonetheless, it’s undeniable that the prospect of this clinic simply relocating and countless other women being harmed if they had gone ahead and published, justifies their cooperation with the police.

And on that note, yet more people criticized the simple fact that they deigned to work with the police because it seemed, to them, as though the press was only the puppet of the police. Apparently, in their mind, these two entities are immensely disparate and it’s questionable at best for them to work together. I find that nonsensical. Both the police and the press exist to serve the public – to champion truth and justice – so if working together can achieve the greater good, what’s the issue? To me, they are two sides of the same coin.