Despite little to no coverage of the trial by most mainstream media outlets, Kermit Gosnell’s atrocities have become one of the most discussed news items on the internet.
Tireless work by a handful of political pundits, aided by conservative and religious media, caused a social media cascade that forced the “house of horrors” in Philadelphia into the national consciousness.
Still some in the media are defending the lack of coverage and they point to four main reasons for their position. The only problem is that all four reasons are demonstrably false.
The media critique had been bubbling under the surface with pro-life activists as Gosnell’s trial for 10 counts of murder began almost a month ago on March 18. As no significant national coverage happened and none seemed soon coming, many began being more insistent with their calls for media attention.
The dam was burst by a column in USA Today by evangelical Democrat and FOX News contributor Kristen Powers subtitled: We’ve forgotten what belongs on Page One. Twitter and Facebook were flooded with calls for the media to act.
In particular, columnist Mollie Hemingway began to pointedly ask journalists, whose beat the Gosnell trial would fall under, why they had not yet covered the story, particularly when they had covered other stories that fell favorably toward the pro-choice side.
.@sarahkliff I know you wrote extensively at WashPost about Akin, Fluke and Komen. Why have you not mentioned Gosnell?
— Mollie (@MZHemingway) April 11, 2013
As the online firestorm grew larger and larger, with #Gosnell trending on Twitter and “Kermit Gosnell” becoming the most searched for item on news sites that weren’t even covering the story, journalists began to pick up on and report the story, many acknowledging it should have been covered sooner.
At this point, let me make it clear that I do not hold to some conspiracy theory that all the members of the media get together to plan out which stories they are going to embargo. The Gosnell blackout is much simpler. As Dave Weigel of Slate wrote about in his mea culpa for his own lack of coverage, reporters exist, as everyone does, in their own bubble that reinforces their own preconceptions. He praised the tweeters like Hemingway for bringing the story to his attention.
At The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf confessed he had never heard of the name “Kermit Gosnell” before this week, but detailed “Why Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s Trial Should Be a Front-Page Story.”
Pro-choice pundit Megan McArdle explains that she should have covered it sooner. She recognized that those with her view on abortion are hesitant to focus on Gosnell because “while legal abortion was not sufficient to create the horrors in Philadelphia, it was necessary.”
Washington Post acknowledged their mistake in not reporting on it and have pledged to send a writer to Philadelphia. CNN’s Jake Tapper and Anderson Cooper covered the issue. Even Planned Parenthood was backed into a corner and had to send out a carefully worded tweet “condemning” Gosnell’s actions.
So, why would I still be talking about the mainstream media ignoring Gosnell? ABC’s Terry Moran and NBC’s Luke Russert tweeted about the abortionist, but how much coverage did the story get on the nightly news of ABC, NBC and CBS? Yeah … about that.
Clearly, some still refuse to see the story as being hidden from viewers and readers due to ideological considerations. Journalists have offered essentially four innocuous reasons why Gosnell is not being covered. They’re just really bad reasons.
1. It’s just a local crime story.
This was Washington Post reporter Sarah Kliff’s response to Hemingway’s questions. She has covered pro-life stories in the past (in fact, some of her best friends are pro-life!), but this Gosnell story was just about local crime and outside of her policy beat.
OK, but why would Kliff herself cover stories like the Casey Anthony, Trayvon Martin, Sandy Hook and the murder of an abortion doctor, that are, at their heart, local crime stories, if she doesn’t write about that?
The obvious reality is that virtually every story begins as a local story that is picked up by the national media and infused with a narrative to generate a country-wide discussion. Couldn’t the rallying cry of supporters of additional gun control measures after Sandy Hook be repeated with Gosnell: “Even if it just saves one life!”?
Kliff is also ignoring the fact that the Gosnell case has obvious policy implications that are connected with current political discussions and prominent politicians. One could ask if this should encourage more states to increase their regulation of the abortion industry, as Virginia recently did, against the wishes of abortion providers.
A really brave reporter could ask President Obama about his opposition to the Born Alive Infant Protection Act when he was a senator in IL and how, if he had gotten his way, Gosnell’s murdering of the babies who survived the initial attempts at abortion would be completely legal.
Clearly, this is not the equivalent of a convenience store being robbed in a one-stoplight town. This is the story of a serial killer with direct policy implications for a major political issue.
2. There was a court mandated gag order.
You see, the judge issued a gag order, which means that the lawyers involved in the case could not speak with the media about anything related to the trial. Weigel, who noted the lack of coverage, offers this as a possible reason, which was then parroted by other writers.
Do I even need to give you links to the media discussing trials and defendants, even when a court gag order was in place? The judge didn’t rule that CBS News could not talk about the story. His ruling was only applicable to the lawyers, not journalists.
I’m sure you can think of numerous high profile cases where gag orders were issued and often times ignored even by the lawyers themselves. Here is a story in Chicago about a gag order being extended in a murder case. Note the ability of the reporter to write a story about the case and the gag order itself, despite the gag order being in place.
3. Conservatives weren’t writing about it either.
Once the story began gaining traction, liberal writers began to assert that conservatives were holding news organizations to a higher standard than they were willing to operate under themselves.
Media Matters wrote about one show on Fox News that didn’t mention Gosnell until this week. Alex Seitz-Wald, a Salon writer asserted that conservatives need to investigate their own media before charging others with bias, since no one was really discussing Gosnell prior to this week.
The big problem with this? They are massively wrong.
Seitz-Wald was forced to correct his story because his facts were off. Conservatives and pro-life writers have been covering Gosnell for years.
The news organization I freelance for has over 40 stories dating from this week back to 2010, the year the FBI raided the clinic. World Magazine has done extensive reporting on the case. I shared the documentary about Gosnell’s atrocities, 3801 Lancaster, some time last year.
Besides, do Salon and Media Matters really want to draw the mainstream media as a contrast to conservative media? Would that not insinuate the two have opposing viewpoints, with only one being open about their perspective?
Even if the conservative media had never touched the story, which is clearly a false charge, the mainstream media should have still been wall-to-wall covering a mass murderer since the time the charges first came to light. Since when has the media not wanted to talk about serial killers?
4. It has already been covered.
Why should the national media report on the on-going trial of an inner-city serial killer when the AP had a wire report at the beginning of the testimony?
Plus, feminists have written about this for a couple years and if you didn’t know about it, that’s only because you ignore the voices of women, or something.
While some are simply failing back on a barebones mention of the story from a few months ago, Salon‘s Irin Carmon is just going to go ahead and call you a sexist. In a demonstrably false story, Carmon speaks about the “uniformly male” writers calling out the media for ignoring the story.
Carmon also fails to answer the real charge here – the mainstream media outlets, not feminist authors, have failed to appropriately cover this story as of yet.
The horrors of what Gosnell did and what pro-choice politicians and abortion rights supporters allowed in Philadelphia came to light nationally in spite of the epistemic closure of the vast majority of the media remaining in their cultural cocoon. As I tweeted out:
— Aaron Earls (@WardrobeDoor) April 12, 2013
The media has tried to say there was no real blackout on Gosnell. They were wrong. Thankfully, however, the blackout was overcome by thousands of people refusing to remain silent on this evil.