Utahns had a rare chance to see themselves on the network news Friday evening - and to see how they are perceived by the national media.
The occasion, of course, was Gov. Norm Bangerter's signing of the most restrictive abortion law in the nation. That brought reporters from ABC and CBS to Salt Lake City.The fact that the story made it on the air at all in a time when the networks are spending almost all their time on the gulf war speaks to the importance ABC and CBS place on the abortion issue and Utah's part in it. ABC devoted a minute and 20 seconds of "World News Tonight" to the story, while at the "CBS Evening News" it was a minute and 50 seconds.
NBC did not send staffers to Utah, and the story was not included in that network's Friday newscast.
ABC sent Brian Rooney (yes, he's Andy's son) to cover the story, and his report looked pretty much like it could have come from anywhere - an interview with the bill's sponsor, interviews with anti-abortion and pro-life activists. About the only distinctive bit was a shot of skiers swooshing down the slopes as an illustration of pro-choice groups' promise to boycott Utah's skiing and tourism industry and to shoot down Salt Lake City's bid for the Winter Olympics.
It was ABC anchorman Peter Jenning's introduction to the segment that gave the biggest clue to how the network perceived the issue. He said " . . . 90 percent of the Legislature and 70 percent of the population belong to the Mormon Church, which considers abortion a sin. The law went through the state Legislature in a week."
CBS, on the other hand, led into the story with a relatively bland introduction from anchorman Dan Rather. It was correspondent John Blackstone who gave us his slant on Utah.
After telling viewers how the bill sailed through the Legislature "with almost no debate," Blackstone resorted to the visuals almost everyone uses when reporting from the Beehive State - the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and exteriors of the Salt Lake LDS temple.
And - without attribution - he stated, "The law owes much to the dominance of the Mormon Church in Utah. The church considers abortion a grievous sin, and the law allows abortion only to save the mother's life or to prevent grave damage to her health, or if the fetus has serious defects.
"Nine out of 10 state lawmakers are Mormon."
But, happily, neither network portrayed Utah or Utahns in a bad light. For a change, it didn't make us look like nuts, loons or crazed polygamists - and that was a pleasant surprise.