The Capitolist “Media Check” is back for the second time in a week, this time to debunk the false narrative that a “Texas-style” anti-abortion bill is coming to Florida.
National media outlets, including the New York Times, Washington Post and equally unreliable outlets like Vanity Fair have their knickers in a knot over the idea that Florida’s Republican leaders are “already working on” bringing a “Texas-style anti-abortion bill” to the Sunshine State. But they only get half the blame this time, because rather than doing a bit of fact-checking on their own, they took the lazy way out and based their misleading reporting on the same misleading reporting of Florida-based media outlets.
The false narrative that has emerged relies specifically on a very brief excerpt of a longer interview with Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson. The edited clip, which aired during a 4pm television news broadcast, omitted key context because the news outlet was pressed for time in the short, 2-minute segment. The longer, full-context quote from Simpson was aired in later news broadcasts by the station that same day, in which he and the television station made it perfectly clear that Simpson opposes one of the most controversial provisions of the Texas law.
But the full Simpson quote is much less divisive, which means if other media outlets relied on that, it wouldn’t have generated as many website clicks, newspaper subscriptions, and donations to Democratic political campaigns for 2022. That is one reason why virtually every media story on the matter seizes on Simpson’s comments from the shorter 4pm broadcast and ignores the rest.
Before we go any further, some quick background on what is meant by a “Texas-style abortion bill” is in order.
The key provisions of the Texas abortion bill
First and foremost, the new Texas law restricts abortions to the first six weeks of pregnancy, only allowing exceptions for medical emergencies. But the real clincher with the Texas bill is the novel way in which it is implemented and enforced, taking power out of the hands of state officials and instead relying on citizens to file lawsuits to enforce the law.
It is that novel approach that has pulled the rug out from under many of the usual legal obstacles that would normally stand in the way of implementing abortion restrictions. Keep in mind that the infamous 1972 Roe v. Wade decision made it illegal to ban abortions outright, so the Texas law, which removed enforcement authority from Texas officials completely, cannot be challenged on those grounds.
What really has Democrats and abortion rights supporters concerned, however, is a $10,000 payment that the Texas law offers to citizens who successfully file and win lawsuits seeking to enforce the law when violations are discovered. Those potential payments have opponents claiming it will result in anti-abortion “bounty hunters” who will gum up the courts with lawsuits in the hopes of either a lucrative payoff, or at the very least, an expensive legal battle for abortion providers who would ostensibly be forced to defend themselves in court.
No matter where you stand on the abortion issue, the Texas law is going to make its mark on both the abortion industry and the courts. Keep that in mind as we unpack this media check a bit further.
Florida leaders weigh in; Florida media outlets jump to conclusions
Hours after the United States Supreme Court declined to issue an injunction against the law, media outlets across the nation cranked into high gear, churning out stories and getting elected officials to go on the record with their own reactions and views about the law.
In Florida, the key leaders who have the power to bring the Texas law to Florida are Governor Ron DeSantis, House Speaker Chris Sprowls, and Senate President Wilton Simpson.
Not a single one of the three have ever said they were personally “working to bring the Texas law to Florida,” (or any similar statement) but you wouldn’t know it from reading the news over the past week.
Several Florida media outlets reported that Simpson said, “There is no question” that a similar bill will be coming to Florida. But note that only part of the preceding sentence is actually in quotes – the rest is cleverly paraphrased. Look no further than Vanity Fair to see that exact sentence in the subheadline of their story.
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel carried the same quote, but took it even further, also quoting Simpson saying “it’s something we’re already working on.” Again, the quote is taken out of context. What Simpson means when he says they are “working on” a bill is simply that some lawmakers are studying the potential ramifications of the bill.
To be fair to other media outlets, there are Florida Republicans in the House and Senate who would like to see the Texas bill implemented here, and the Sun Sentinel wastes no time conflating the promises of one of those lawmakers with the more measured words of Simpson. Still, DeSantis, Sprowls and Simpson are very much pro-life. And all three of the Florida leaders have made it clear that they intend to “take a look” at the language of the Texas bill and decide which parts, if any, might be worth considering for adoption in Florida.
But there’s a mile of room between “taking a look” at a bill versus passing a duplicate of the Texas law in Florida.
Simpson’s exact words and full comments were ignored
Consider Simpson’s thoughtfully chosen words during a recent television interview on Tampa’s NBC affiliate, WFLA last week:
“When the Supreme Court goes out and makes a decision like this, it clearly is going to send a signal to all the states that are interested in banning abortions or making it more restrictive to have an abortion in their state. It’s certainly going to make us take a look at those issues.”
In short, it’s a lawmaker’s job to look at issues like this.
But that quote from Simpson is a short excerpt from a longer interview. Simpson went much further than that. WFLA’s 5pm broadcast included an intro and voice-over by correspondent Evan Donovan who carefully explained that Simpson made it clear that the enforcement part of the Texas law “may not be coming to Florida.” He then paraphrased Simpson, pointing out that Simpson made it clear that while the Texas-style law doesn’t include exceptions for rape and incest, Florida lawmakers have always included those exceptions.
Simpson made it very clear he doesn’t support the “Texas-style” enforcement provisions
Critically, the WFLA reporter then helped clarify Simpson’s position even further, saying “he does not support the incentives for citizens to bring a lawsuit.”
For any viewers (and partisan political reporters) who might be tempted to ignore all that, WFLA then aired Simpson himself:
“Certainly that’s is not something I would support, neighbor telling on neighbor, or calling in and things of that nature,” Simpson says plainly on the video. “We have privacy in the state for a reason.”
Despite all that additional context, media outlets across the state and nation ignored it and reported what they wanted to report, because it was juicier, more divisive, and for some, it was more lucrative for their allies in the Democratic Party to include in their fundraising campaigns.