Gosnell story raises questions about when national media should cover local stories

The media question of the day is why the Philadelphia trial of Kermit Gosnell is not garnering national media attention.

Gosnell is a Philadelphia doctor on trial for murder for performing late-term abortions that resulted in living babies that he then executed by snipping their spinal cords.

Kirsten Powers wrote an OpEd for USA Today detailing the horrors of this case, stating that none of the three major television networks have mentioned it in the last three months and claiming that The New York Times has only run one original story since the trial began on March 18. Conor Friedersdorf wrote a similar piece for The Atlantic.

Powers, Friedersdorf and other critics point out that, given how lurid the details of this case are, it’s surprising that national media outlets haven’t covered it more. It is surprising that more outlets haven’t covered it, but it’s not entirely fair to say that national media haven’t reported on it.

A quick search of the Associated Press archives turns up dozens of articles going back to when the indictment was handed down, AP Spokesperson Paul Colford told Poynter. Likewise, The New York Times ran several stories in 2011 and 2012, both staff-written and AP generated. Although, since the trial began, the Times has only run one story. Philadelphia media, meanwhile, has been covering the case extensively for years.

The Gosnell story raises questions about how national media decide when to report on a local story. Stories go from local to national for a number of reasons. You can look at the Stuebenville sexual assault case or the Trayvon Martin case and see examples of a local story with national implications.

Some news organizations may have considered the national angle to be a stretch. Although possible, it’s a bit difficult to draw the connection between a doctor delivering premature babies, then murdering them and calling it abortion, to the overall debate that we are having in this country over who should have access to abortions and how they should be paid for.

There are important questions journalists can be asking to determine whether local stories like the Gosnell case are worth national media attention: Does the story inform our public debate about abortion? Is there a larger meaning to be gained? Or is there interest because it’s shocking and abhorrent?

The answer to all three questions is likely yes. But it will be a hollow answer if the debate about Gosnell focuses more on the media’s alleged crimes.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/jim.mulvaney.16 Jim Mulvaney

    Indictments are handed up, decisions are handed down. Mechanics come before punditry

  • SQDB

    Why isn’t this a national media story? Because it doesn’t further the agenda of the media. Kill a couple kids with a gun and they can do something with that. Kill a hundred kids with scissors and they don’t want anything to do with it.

    This IS a national story because it’s still going on today. Nobody will argue that there are a million abortions per year in the US. Nobody will argue that at least 1% are late term abortions. That means there are 10,000 of these per year. That’s almost 30 per day. How are those late term abortions different than what is happening in this trial? They aren’t.

    This IS a national story because now this action is law, each one of us have to pay to support murdering babies whether you like it or not. And it would be against progressive goals to point that out broadly. It’s shameful that the media has become cowards who spend more time hiding facts than surfacing them.

  • http://twitter.com/blogworld BlogWorld CEO

    hmmm, I left a pretty long comment that seems to have been deleted. There wasn’t anything offensive in it. What happened?

  • Guest

    It’s worth noting that the Washington Post has been assiduously – and largely critically – covering the Virginia legislature’s decision to subject abortion clinics to additional health and safety regulation, characterizing the decision largely in terms of attempts to restrict access to abortion. All of which seems plausible, particularly if their readers have no knowledge of what’s going on in the Gosnell case (which they never, to my knowledge, mentioned in the context of the Virginia legislation until yesterday, after they had been shamed by Mollie Hemingway and others). In light of what happened in Philadelphia, however, readers might question the presuppositions of much of the coverage and criticism. Can’t have that, now, can we?

  • http://Rovinsworld.blogspot.com Rovin

    “The media’s alleged crimes”? There’s nothing alleged about ignoring a national travesty that this man was ALLOWED to do to live babies Kelly. If you are so blind to these facts, then yes, you and the national media are guilty as charged. Millions of us all know that this egregious act does not fit into the liberal media’s narrative—shameful—both the act and your pathetic excuse.

  • Jack_H

    “it’s a bit difficult to draw the connection between a doctor delivering
    premature babies, then murdering them and calling it abortion, to the
    overall debate that we are having in this country over who should have
    access to abortions and how they should be paid for.” Where’s the difficulty? Are you really so dense or just drunken by the Leftist Koolaid that you don’t see the connection and why this has NATIONAL implications?

  • Stephen

    Actually, it isn’t difficult at all to make the national connection. President Obama, a national figure unafraid of inserting himself into local issues in places like Newtown, CT (if gun legislation saves just one life) or Cambridge, MA (the Cambridge police acted stupidly when they arrested my pal Skip Gates), defended the kind of actions Kermit Gosnell is accused of when Obama was an Illinois State Senator.

    The infant born alive protection act protects children who survive an abortion. Obama voted against it. The children Gosnell murdered also survived their abortions, only to be beheaded afterwards.

    Does Obama still think children who survive an abortion don’t need protection? Or has his view evolved on that, too? Perhaps a slight bit of national importance to the question in light of the happenings in Philadelphia, if only brain dead members of the media like yourself could be bothered to ask.

  • http://twitter.com/lateblum lateblum

    OJ Simpson, Penn St sexual abuse scandal, Steubenville football party rape, Chicago murder rate, Rutgers Basketball coach, Jeffrey Dahmer, Richard Speck, Trayvon Martin, Newtown shootings, Aurora CO theater shooting. . . only local stories? What is Medill teaching these days?

  • http://twitter.com/vermontaigne Sirius U. Guise

    I’ll be frank with you, Kelly: it is a form of madness when a basketball coach’s homophobic slurs elicit more nationally expressed butthurt from journalists than a man who is alleged to have murdered hundreds of babies. It is insanity. It is the result of making symbols more important than what they are supposed to represent, and if you can’t see that, you are part of the problem.

  • http://twitter.com/ningrim Jose

    The trial of one of the greatest mass murderers in history is a “local story”….

    The overall policy debate is the question of why, if Gosnell had severed the spines a few moments earlier, is it perfectly acceptable and legal, while a few moments later makes him a serial killer?

    Of course, the grisly nature of abortion is the uncomfortable discussion the media wants to avoid, hence the national blackout.

    The Trayvon Martin story is a self-defense case, which are notoriously difficult to adjudicate but are not uncommon. And the media willfully stirred up a national frenzy over it.

    @MZHemingway 7 mins
    NYT coverage of “Sandra Fluke” since 2012: 97 stories. NYT coverage of “Kermit Gosnell”: 1