Media coverage swells over the lack of media coverage for abortion provider Kermit Gosnell

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The trial of Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia doctor accused of performing illegal and particularly grisly late-term abortions, has garnered copious media coverage in the last week, mostly about the perception there is little national media coverage of his alleged crimes.

Following an op-ed by Fox News political analyst and Daily Beast contributor Kristen Powers in USA Today, a firestorm of controversy has erupted between media outlets saying the story deserves more attention and those arguing otherwise (the trial began March 18). Powers wrote that the gruesome details of the case — scissors used to sever the spinal cords of late-term babies born alive,  patient deaths, an unskilled staff barely maintaining a filthy office — are only some of the reasons outlets like the New York Times, the AP and the Washington Post should be providing more (and more explicit) coverage.

Let me state the obvious. This should be front page news. When Rush Limbaugh attacked Sandra Fluke, there was non-stop media hysteria. The venerable NBC Nightly News’ Brian Williams intoned, “A firestorm of outrage from women after a crude tirade from Rush Limbaugh,” as he teased a segment on the brouhaha. Yet, accusations of babies having their heads severed — a major human rights story if there ever was one — doesn’t make the cut.

The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf agreed, writing in a lengthy piece that the grand jury report is so appalling, he can’t believe the national media hasn’t picked it up already, despite the fact he hadn’t heard of it himself. He states the multiple angles of Gosnell’s house of horrors, a lack of regulatory oversight, the abortion debate and the apparent disparity in treatment between white and minority patients screams for follow-ups.

If I were a city editor for any Philadelphia newspaper the grand jury report would suggest a dozen major investigative projects I could undertake if I had the staff to support them. And I probably wouldn’t have the staff. But there is so much fodder for additional reporting.

Slate’s Dave Weigel says “People are conflating liberals, many of whom wrote about Gosnell when the case was fresh, and the ‘MSM,’ which fancies itself unbiased and in-it-for-the-story, but hasn’t piled onto this.” Get Religion writer Mollie Hemingway‘s tweets challenging reporters at mainstream outlets to pay attention to the case prompted him to read the grand jury report. Weigel notes Slate published stories about the grand jury’s findings and filings of the charges in 2011, but says “There is a bubble” that partly explains the media’s lack of follow-up.

So the question, raised by pro-lifers, is this: Explain to us why Gosnell isn’t a national story. Somebody else can try. I can’t explain it. It’s never made sense to me, how a local crime story becomes a national story. Two words: “Poop cruise.” CNN ran hours of coverage and grainy video of a stranded Carnival cruise ship, a situation that inconvenienced many and killed none. How does a missing college student or an angry man in a TSA line become part of Our National Conversation? I don’t know. I do know that a reporter in the bubble is less likely to be compelled by the news of an arrested abortionist.

Philadelphia media outlets have been reporting on the trial regularly. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Joe Slobodizan has been covering the case steadily, and Salon’s Irin Carmon specifically notes the work of Philadelphia Weekly’s Tara Murtha in an essay Friday in which Carmon fires back against the cry for national coverage, and the conservative call that there is a cover-up by the liberal, pro-choice media.

I can’t speak for big news organizations like CNN and the networks, but let’s think about this question another way: How often do such places devote their energies to covering the massive health disparities and poor outcomes that are wrought by our current system? How often are the travails of the women whose vulnerabilities Gosnell exploited — the poor, immigrants and otherwise marginalized people — given wall-to-wall, trial-level coverage? If you’re surprised that in the face of politicized stigma, lack of public funding or good information, and a morass of restrictive laws allegedly meant to protect women, the vacuum was filled by a monster — well, the most generous thing I can say is that you haven’t been paying attention.

Correction: Due to an editing error, this post originally referred to Mollie Hemingway as a Christianity Today columnist. Her column there ended in 2011.

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  • John Murdoch

    More questions for journalists who are scrambling to avoid the obvious embarrassment of ignoring this story:

    Rep. Alyson Schwartz has recently announced her candidacy for governor of Pennsylvania. Before she ran for office, she was not only a “strong abortion rights supporter”–she actually ran an abortion clinic in suburban Philadelphia, a few miles from Gosnell.

    – Did she refer patients to Gosnell for late-term abortions?
    – Did she have interactions with Gosnell?
    – When was her clinic inspected by the Pa. Dept. of Health?
    – Did she believe her clinic should have been inspected more frequently?

    Kermit Gosnell did not just perform abortions in West Philadelphia. He also performed late-term abortions at two clinics in Delaware.

    – Are Delaware authorities investigating?
    – Are those clinics still in operation?
    – What are the differences between those clinics and Gosnell’s?

    As a follow-up, Gosnell’s co-defendant (and partner), O’Neill, was also a doctor at the Delaware clinics; and also performed late-term abortions there. Were either of them licensed to practice medicine in the state of Delaware?

    The two clinics in Delaware are owned by the same man who runs an abortion clinic in Louisiana–where Eileen O’Neill used to work, performing late-term abortions.

    – Is that clinic inspected by the state of Louisiana?
    – Are there similar issues of “later than late-term abortions”?

    The media narrative changed last week–initially from “no story here, move along” to “this is a local crime story.” When that ploy failed, they embraced the NARAL narrative: this is an outlier, a one-off, a horrible example of why we need to ensure public funding for abortion.

    That there are other clinics where Gosnell and O’Neill operated challenges that narrative. Will we see questions raised about them?

    Or will the NYT tell us that Newtown and Aurora are “local crime stories”?

  • Roy Ferguson

    This comment should be at the top of the list, or actually inserted into the story as a rebuttal.

  • sargeh

    With today’s media walking hand in hand with the pro-abortion lobby, why should anyone be surprised? Our once-respected profession is circling the drain.

  • BlogWorld CEO

    Is anyone arguing that ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, The New York Times, Boston Globe, Et al. have covered this story?

    The facts are indisputable. The answer is no. So now the argument becomes should the main stream press cover this story?

    The right claims the mainstream media is not covering the story due to their pro-choice bias. The left claims the MSM isn’t covering the story due to their lack of interest in the plight of poor people and people of color.

    Both sides agree the story isn’t being covered. Shouldn’t the MSM tell us why?

    Shouldn’t both sides be pressing the MSM to cover this story?

    Here are some pretty obvious questions this trial raises that seem to rise to the level of national interest.

    Are legal abortions currently safe in urban areas with large poor populations?

    The state local and federal agencies charged with oversight of this clinic obviously failed to do their job for nearly two decades. Why?

    Is this a unique case or is this wide spread?

    Is this due to the incompetence of these agencies?

    Lack of funding?

    Or the most sinister possibility, did they intentionally turn a blind eye?

    Seems like the stuff Pulitizers are made of to me.

    Or how about these block buster stories,

    How does the pubic feel about the difference between in utero and ex utero abortions?

    Is there a moral difference between aborting a fetus at 24 weeks inside the womb vs. having a live breathing baby being born and then “terminated” by a procedure known as “snipping” ( cutting the fetus/ baby’s spinal cord with a pair of scissors)?

    Is snipping legal under Roe V. Wade?

    Should it be?

    Where is public opinion on this issue?

    Where do leading democrats and republicans stand on this issue?

    Where are the positions of Planned Parenthood and other advocacy groups on these questions?

    This all seems like obvious national news to me and it has all the gruesome details the media love in a story. Jeffry Dahmer kept people’s heads in his freezer. This guy kept baby parts all over his clinic.

    So again the question of why isn’t this being covered?
    I would love to see Poynter press the MSM for answers.

  • Yoni Greenbaum

    Philly’s NBC10 and have been covering this trial on a daily basis since the start — often with two reporters. You can find their work and all of our reporting on the case here:

  • Paul Colford

    AP has covered the Kermit Gosnell case extensively from the start, including 16 days of stories since jury selection. Most were national stories.

    AP’s latest, 4:59 p.m. ET Friday (via Daily Times, in Delaware County, Pa.):