Politics

04.15.13

The Gosnell Trial and the ‘Conspiracy’

I will admit that I first heard of Kermit Gosnell this past weekend, reading colleague Megan McArdle’s essay. So that tells you something.

From what I’ve now read, I can sure tell you I don’t want to read any more. The details are just sickening. It should be noted that what he was doing was (presumably) illegal, which is why he is on trial in the first place, so in reasoned debates Gosnell should no more represent “abortion” than Bernie Madoff should represent investment counseling. But abortion is our most emotional issue, as we all know. So has this been a liberal media cover-up so as not to weaken abortion rights in the public mind?

The most convincing thing I’ve read so far on this is by Kevin Drum. He shows that even The Washington Times, a right-wing paper, didn’t cover this. The trial started March 18. The Times ran a piece of wire-service copy that day about the trial’s start. Ever since, according to Drum, it hasn’t run a single news story. It has, however, run a few columns complaining about the blackout in the nation’s news pages—a blackout in which the Times itself has participated since March 19!

In other conservative outlets—the New York Post, the Weekly Standard, and so on—it’s the same story. They’re not really covering it either. Yet they’re all running commentaries on the fact that other people aren’t covering it. This is pretty meta.

Planned Parenthood of Pennsylvania has denounced Gosnell in strong terms, and there’s not much else they can or have to do here. Indeed, one might argue that they jumped the gun! He is, like any American, innocent until proven guilty. But OK, PP needed to do that for political reasons, because they'd be accused of being soft on Gosnell if they said nothing.

Katha Pollitt has an excellent column up taking on the argument that abortion providers in the state somehow made excuses for Gosnell years ago. She writes that one women’s-health group alerted the state to unsavory practices at Gosnell’s clinic, and the state said it couldn’t accept third-party complaints.

So would this be all over the nation’s front pages if the situation were reversed? Well, what would that mean, first of all? You can’t compare this to George Tiller. That was a trial where a doctor was murdered for doing legal things. If Gosnell had been murdered, I’d imagine that would indeed have been front-page news.

An equivalent situation might be a local trial of an anti-abortion activist who didn’t kill anyone, but who...what...made violent threats against a number of women who received abortions at a clinic? I guess to be honest that probably would receive more national media attention. But I doubt such a trial would generate massive coverage.

So I think there is probably some bias here, some degree of discomfort with the promotion of a story that reflects ill on abortion rights, but that still doesn’t explain why the conservative media haven’t covered it either. I think what explains that is the fact that the conservative media don’t really “cover” much at all; they exist chiefly to kvetch about the “liberal media,” which is exactly why The Washington Times has run several columns but just one news article, and that one being one they didn’t even write in-house.