Traditional media ignored Texas abortion filibuster

perryUPDATED: In May, Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) added sweeping anti-abortion legislation to the agenda of a special session. The bills had been blocked during the regular session; in the special session, Republicans suspended the rules that facilitated the block. All bets were on successful passage.

Matters came to a head in the state House on Thursday, June 20, when at least 700 people signed up to testify on HB60. This unprecedented response caused the hearing to run well into the wee hours of the next day. It also succeeded in delaying a vote in the House until Monday morning. On Sunday there was even more citizen participation; the capitol building was overflowing with bodies, with some estimates at 1,500.

Each delay made it more likely that the Democrats in the Senate could successfully filibuster the bill. On Monday, Senate Democrats blocked an effort to begin early discussion on the bill after GOP leaders unsuccessfully attempted to suspend a rule that requires a 24-hour wait period after a bill is delivered from the House.

And State Senator Wendy Davis (D) vowed to filibuster the bill. To succeed, she would need to speak on the topic for about 13 hours. During this time Senate rules required that she remain standing at her desk, unassisted; have no food or drink; and not leave the her desk for any reason. No bathroom time-out. No passing the floor to a peer. No reading off-topic material.

The Texas Tribune provides a livestream of House and Senate activities. I was drawn into the drama with Thursday’s outpouring of opposition. About 11 pm Central time on Tuesday, I checked the live feed and saw that Davis was no longer speaking — her filibuster had been broken although she was still standing. Instead, procedural volleys were flying.

And then the clock-strikes-midnight drama. A vote taken after the witching hour, watched by almost 200,000 but denied by the party in power. A change in the website record of the vote, from Wednesday June 26 (after the session officially ended) to Tuesday June 25. Two hours of suspense.

And no national news organization was covering the event live.

The media behavior is in stark contrast with the focus on US Senator Rand Paul’s filibuster back in March. That filibuster began at the end of the day, about 5 pm and yet “Paul was featured in at least 20 news segments Wednesday: 9 on CNN, 6 on Fox News, 4 on MSNBC, and 1 on NBC.”

This attention occurred despite the fact that Paul’s rationale for the filibuster had evaporated before he spoke word one.

In Texas, the filibuster was needed to prevent the closure of 37 of 42 abortion clinics. A real, not imaginary, consequence.

Digital provided the news

Today’s increasingly connected and mobile-device saturated world provided the reporting, via YouTube streaming, Twitter and Vine, Facebook and Instagram. Riffing off of the Rand filibuster, supporters used the #StandWithWendy hashtag.

The momentum that began on Thursday came to a crescendo on Tuesday. Some estimate that there were 2,000 people at the Capitol in support of the filibuster, an absolutely unheard of level of citizen engagement. There were about 180,000 people glued to the live video stream as though this were the “Who Shot JR?” episode of Dallas.

A made-for-cable drama; total TV indifference, not even a shrug.

The media postmortems have questionable moments as well.

Salon led with When Twitter does what journalism can’t.


Not can’t; wouldn’t.

Twitter did what media organizations would not to do, not what they could not do.

Twitter and other digital tools can also connect the likeminded across space and time. Those barriers of physics fade away with asynchronous tweets delivered to your own device, regardless of where you’re sitting or standing. Short bursts of video shared on Vine and Instagram provided the vicarious experience of “being there.”


I got goosebumps.

In addition, these tools can help organize. Can help create a sense of community.

Sea change?

Something intangible (magic?) happened in Texas over the course of the past week, and it reached far beyond the borders of the Lone Star State. Fred Clark of southeast Pennsylvania writes about “[getting] caught up in the drama unfolding in Austin.”

And so did Mandy Mazurk from Wisconsin. Robert Harris from Florida. Michelle Gamboa from Washington. Darla Krusee from Oregon.

And so did a Canadian, posting on Facebook as Karsten School:

Last night something very important happened down in Texas, something that if you weren’t following as it happened, you’re probably not going to hear the whole truth about. I was one of the people who was in the right place to watch, and so I’m now going to try to pass on the word as best I can…

So no wonder that on Thursday the bill number was trending globally on Twitter — the first of many times Austin was trending over the course of the next six days. 

At different points Tuesday various hashtags were trending: #standwithwendy, #SB5, #texlege “Wendy Davis,” “Texas,” “Robert’s Rules of Order” and “Midnight in Texas.” According to Twitter, the #standwithwendy hashtag was mentioned 400,000 times on Tuesday.

There was no comparison between the filibuster and the Supreme Court decision on the voting rights act; Austin trumped the Beltway. With the gallery in an uproar, tweets peaked at 11.58 pm at 5,776 tweets per minute.

Davis was a social media rock star.


What is it about this set of bills at this point in time that seems to have galvanized public sentiment? Because this chipping away at Roe v Wade is nothing new.

Fetal pain laws with the 20-week gestation ban (22 weeks pregnant by medical definition) have been passed in 11 states; only Idaho’s has been rejected by the courts.

I reject the Washington Post assertion that this was orchestrated, that the groundswell happened only because “politicians and interest groups … positioned Davis’ marathon speech to go viral.”


Did organizations do a good job of getting their message out? Sure. But to do a Kony2012-type orchestration? Not even close to enough time. And even then, there’s no guarantee of virility.

Suggestions like this further alienate “us” (your viewers and readers!) from traditional media. Perhaps even more than CNN’s inexplicable programming choice:


He said, she said

My last observation: he said/she said journalism needs a nail its coffin. How can any journalist continue to print official statements from public figures that directly contrast with informal but public statements?

Contrast these statements. And the datestamps.

Opponents of abortion, including Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and other Republican leaders, said the legislation was aimed at protecting women’s health and unborn children.
NY Times, June 24, 2013

“An unruly mob using Occupy Wall Street tactics has tried all day to derail legislation that has been intended to protect the lives and the safety of women and babies.” – Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst
Dallas Morning News, June 25, 2013

Twice in the first six hours, anti-abortion lawmakers questioned Davis about the bill, presenting their arguments that it would protect women or that abortions were wrong. Davis answered their questions but did not give up control of the floor.
CBS, June 25, 2013


Media attention at 3 am

At 1.01 am Pacific (3.01 am Central), I began taking screen captures of the home pages of major news sites. I was curious: how many were covering the drama in Austin? When I started, the Lt. Governor had not yet capitulated, so the news was the chaos in Austin, but he did so concurrent with my screen caps.

Here they are; they speak for themselves. Note that Yahoo! still has AP’s erroneous story that ran a few minutes after midnight, Austin time — almost 3.5 hours earlier than this screen capture. You have to ask yourself, why did AP not push out a retraction in the same story? Or, if they did, why the Yahoo! system didn’t pull the correction.



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Updated at 10 am Pacific to add Karsten School – I finally found the original.

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

5 replies on “Traditional media ignored Texas abortion filibuster”

Thanks, Tammy and cbriantx — In addition to the revolution being tweeted, it will be live-streamed! I agree about the edge of the seat excitement, as one who was on the edge of her seat. I never imagined I’d be sitting at my desk until the wee hours of the morning watching procedural volleys on the floor of the Texas state legislature!

Being here in Austin, it was hard for us to miss the filibuster. We even watched it live on our Time Warner Cable local news channel, Your News Now. It was the same live stream that the Texas Tribune was broadcasting. This does show that the news companies knew it was going on but, outside of Austin, must have made a decision not to cover the events. I had friends up at the Capital and they were sending me text reports. I also had my laptop on the Tribune feed. I was watching other shows until I looked over and saw that Wendy wasn’t speaking any longer. Once the filibuster was broken by Dewhurst, I started watching it live. I don’t think you can understand the drama and excitement/adrenaline that we experienced if you didn’t see it unfold live. It was like watching the Texas Longhorns when we used to be able to come from behind and win football games.
I’m glad we have social media and alternatives to traditional news outlets so we can choose what we want to see and what is important to us. If we hadn’t been watching Dewhurst would have LIED and said the vote happened before midnight.

Thanks, Andrew. Remember – new data suggests that 50% of Americans who own cellphones own a smartphone. I say this not because everyone will become a journalist but because it is an alternate information retrieval system. (Third screen and all of that.)

I think that it’s not the mass audience that matters but the engaged one. In other words, we can make the cable networks irrelevant for any given issue — and maybe the traditional networks, too.

Cable disrupted networks.

The Internet disrupts them both.

Great analysis Kathy. Indeed, legacy media did fail here, sadly, it wasn’t the first time. I too agree that the power of connection via social media can make waves, but with still a limited amount of users in the U.S. (i.e. on Twitter), will it be enough to pressure legacy media to cover the stories “we” care about?

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