As you may have heard, right-wing pundits, and some in the mainstream, are accusing the “liberal media” of covering up the sensational case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell in Philadelphia, whose horror show of crimes at his abortion clinic should have (they claim) drawn repeated news coverage and commentary. Ross Douthat of The New York Times on Sunday went so far as use it as a prime example of the dangers of (allegedly) liberal reporters and editors increasingly pushing a certain social agenda—in this case, pro-choice.
It all started last week when Fox News’ Kirsten Powers for USA Today described the gruesome case, which has just gone to trial—Gosnell, 72, is charged with murdering seven infants and a pregnant woman—and charged that news outlets were deliberately ignoring it. She wondered why they acted outraged when Rush Limbaugh attacked Sandra Fluke but not over a murderous abortion doc.
Her conclusion? "The deafening silence of too much of the media, once a force for justice in America, is a disgrace." Both Breitbart.com and the National Review dubbed it a "blackout."
Conservative writers leaped on this, charging that the Gosnell case showed the dangers of legal, late-term abortion and so the media simply had to cover it up. Working the refs worked, and much analysis and/or self-criticism ensued, from Dave Weigel to Jeffrey Goldberg. Conor Friedersdorf came up with 14 theories yesterday why the case did not receive, in his view, nearly enough attention.
Now, as you might have guessed, there are several problems with this hue and cry—though one should be grateful for any attention to savage and illegal crimes against women.
For one thing: The Gosnell case actually bolsters the pro-choice case, since at heart it shows the kind of butchery that might happen daily all over the country if Roe v. Wade was overturned.
For another, there’s this hypocrisy: With rare exceptions, conservative media also ignored the case until recently. As Paul Farhi at The Washington Post pointed out yesterday, the Weekly Standard "hadn’t published anything on the trial, according to a search of the Nexis database.” Neither did Ross Douthat. Or the Wall Street Journal right-wing editorial page.
Kevin Drum at Mother Jones observed today that the Washington Times carried a piece last month—from the AP—on the start of the Gosnell trial and nothing since, beyond running seven separate pieces on the media coverup angle.
Right-wingers claiming that THEY didn't ignore the case are frantically linking to this Jim Geragty "takedown" of that meme. Problem is: every piece he cites is from 2011--when "liberal media" had more coverage.
Farhi points out that the Associated Press, like Fox News, has covered the case extensively. The New York Times ran a piece as recently as March 19. One reason for the lack of extensive TV coverage is: There are no cameras in this courtroom. Another: The judge has imposed a "gag rule" on all involved. A third: Since when they do care much about crimes against folks in poor neighborhoods?
Nevertheless, Howard Kurtz on Sunday said CNN had covered the case before the latest uproar, and CBS and ABC offered reports way back in January. More updates here.
Then there’s this: a certain “liberal” media outlet did raise alarms about Gosnell more than two years ago. It may have a familiar ring: It's The Nation, where Katha Pollitt wrote a widely-linked column. For the Feburary 14, 2011, print edition, under the headline "Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s Horror Show," she wrote at the start:
Blood-spattered floors. Cat feces. Broken equipment. A 15-year-old giving anesthesia. Two women dead, countless more maimed and injured. Third-trimester fetuses delivered alive whose spines were then severed by the doctor. This was the Women’s Medical Society in West Philadelphia. This is what illegal abortion looks like.
She then observed—which may shock those who claim this story has been long suppressed:
A great deal has been written about Dr. Kermit Gosnell and the shocking conditions and practices at his facility, which was closed last March after a drug raid, and is back in the news because a grand jury has indicted him and nine employees for murder in the deaths of one woman and seven infants. There have been many calls for further restrictions on abortion, much revulsion expressed at post-viability abortions, much blame cast on prochoicers for supposedly doing nothing to stop him. But it has not been pointed out often enough that what Dr. Gosnell was doing was illegal in Pennsylvania. It is not legal to perform abortions after twenty-four weeks.
And a month before Pollitt, Amanda Marcotte wrote a piece at Slate on Gosnell. She observed,
There are 1,800 abortion providers in the country, and the vast majority run clean, professional operations. That there are a few shady characters in the bunch is unsurprising, and the pro-choice community exerts quite a bit of effort trying to improve the quality of abortion care, even under the remarkable constraints on provision.
A month later, still in 2011, Will Saletan, also at Slate, wrote a lengthy piece on the horrors in the grand jury report. Then he wrote two more. Huffington Post wrote about it. NPR covered it. It's true that the case has now come to trial—but all of the grisly details that pro-lifers want exposed came out more than two years ago already, and were widely covered.
Jon Healey of the Los Angeles Times has written a balanced opinion piece that concludes with a more salient question: “Namely, why is it that the state of Pennsylvania—hardly a bastion of liberalism on the subject of abortions—ignored so many complaints and warnings about Gosnell's clinic? Was there no oversight from within the medical profession? And if the grand jury's report offers an accurate picture, how is it that a facility that harmed so many people could go unnoticed by authorities for so long?”
Jeff Deeney at The Atlantic: the poor women might not have ended up on the butcher's block if more funding and services for them.
And what was Conor Friedersdorf's final point in his list of 14 possible explanations for underwhelming media coveage of this case:
14) Lots of Horrific Stories Don't Get Covered. Here's a list of children who have been killed in drone attacks approved by George W. Bush and Barack Obama. How many of their stories have you read about? Could you say how many kids we've killed in Pakistan and Yemen? I have theories about why those dead kids haven't ever been treated as a major national story. What's certain is that neither liberal media bias nor pro-choice bias are among the reasons... which may or may not tell us anything about Gosnell coverage.
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