Has there been enough national mainstream media coverage of the trial of abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell?
The local press has extensively covered the shocking testimony about the Philadelphia "House of Horrors" where Gosnell allegedly killed seven babies and one woman since the trial began on March 18, nearly a month ago. But while it seems obvious that the national media has mostly ignored the story, a bevy of left-wing journalists and activists have loudly disagreed in recent days—asserting that the big three networks and the major newspapers have appropriately covered a trial that none sent a reporter to cover.
“If you’ve never heard of the Gosnell story,” Irin Carmon wrote in a widely circulated Salon piece, “it’s probably because you failed to pay attention to the copious coverage among pro-choice and feminist journalists, as well as the big news organizations, when the news first broke in 2011. There would be something rich, if it weren’t so infuriating, about these (almost uniformly male, as it happens) reporters and commentators scrambling to break open this shocking untold story. You know, the one that was written about here, here and here, to name some disparate sources.”
One should immediately be struck by how strange it is that a person who is claiming this is an important story—feminists wrote about it!—now seems angry that reporters are finally rushing to cover it. Shouldn’t she be glad?
As for her claim that there was “copious coverage” she links to RH Reality Check (Reproductive & Sexual Health and Justice), The Grio, Philadelphia Weekly, The Nation, CBS News’s Crimesider blog, and NPR. That so many of the people now rushing to claim that Gosnell was widely covered can’t tell the difference between activist media and The New York Times or CBS Evening News is a little scary. Of the outlets she listed, NPR is the only one that can reasonably be considered mainstream, so yea for that one story.
Some on the left are claiming that the reason the trial was ignored (even though it wasn’t really ignored—stay with me here) is because nobody cares about poor people. Carmin writes, “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?” But if you search “Gosnell” at The Nation, there’s not a single story on the trial. A search at Salon showed one story: a set-up piece about the “looming” trial. Before today, search The American Prospect for “Gosnell,” and all you find on the trial is a story in January.
The problem is that the media apologists are battling a straw man. The column that started the firestorm over the media blackout didn’t claim that the mainstream press had “never” covered Kermitt Gosnell. I know, because I wrote it.
The column, and the ensuing outrage—and much of the outrage came from people with vaginas despite Carmon’s egregious and divisive claim that it was just the patriarchy rearing its ugly head—was specific to the fact that the mainstream media had not covered the trial of Kermit Gosnell, which started March 18, 2013. I am going to repeat this, because a starling number of people on the left, including New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan, either cannot grasp this or are intentionally ignoring it. Repeat after me: “The problem is that the trial has not been covered.” That the Times ran one story about Gosnell in January is hardly relevant to the trial that started in March.
It is the trial that has included spectacular and headline-grabbing testimony from Gosnell’s former assistants and workers. It is the trial that has been largely ignored outside of local media and activists on the right and left. This, despite the normal obsession with murder trials (Good Morning America has done a 10-part series on the Jody Arias trial). It is the trial—rife with grisly details about an abortion doctor who maimed and killed women and babies—that was ignored, despite The Washington Post’s, The New York Times's, and network evening news’s usual obsession with all things abortion related.
So, the continued misleading claims that the trial has been widely covered are empirically false—as is Carmon’s claim on CNN Friday that the only reason anyone is talking about this is because of Fox News, always the left’s go-to scapegoat. Unless Fox News owns USA Today, I’m not sure what she is talking about. It’s remarkable how quickly a story of a trial about decapitated babies and maimed women was overshadowed by liberal rage at Fox News and the “conservative media” who allegedly were hypocrites because they hadn’t been covering it, either. (In fact, Fox News has run 11 stories over the course of the three-week trial, while The New York Times so far has run just one piece, on A-17, the day the trial began.)
I can only think of a handful of times in my eight years as a Fox News contributor that I’ve discussed abortion. The people who obsessively cover it and anything vaguely related to it are those in the mainstream media and in the left-wing media, which is why their silence on this is so remarkable. Mollie Hemingway did yeoman’s work chronicling how faithfully The Washington Post’s health reporter, who covered Todd Aiken, the Susan G. Komen controversy, and the murder of abortion doctor George Tiller, didn’t write a single story on the Gosnell trial. No abortion regulation is too small for the mainstream media to cover; no stupid comment about abortion by any Republican goes unnoticed. So her disinterest in this trial is inexplicable.
But while the left has alternately attacked the right for its alleged lack of interest and for paying too much of the “wrong sort” of attention, I haven’t heard a lot about the near silence from the feminist organizations that lecture us endlessly about how they stand for women’s health. I find the claims now that feminists were deeply upset about poor minority women being abused and killed along with their babies a little tough to believe. A search for “Gosnell” on NOW's website yielded only two hits, both from 2011. Search for “Gosnell” on the League of Women Voters website and you will find nothing. The same search on the NARAL and Planned Parenthood sites returned the same number of hits: zero.
But that’s probably Fox News’s fault.