If there were an award for Most Constructive Shaming of the News Media, the clear winner would be Kirsten Powers, the brave Fox News pundit and Daily Beast columnist. Last Thursday, she called out the mainstream media for failing to adequately report on the ongoing trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia abortionist who is charged with murdering seven newborn infants and a patient seeking an abortion. Powers’s USA Today piece provoked an instant response from many sheepish journalists.
Megan McArdle of the Daily Beast acknowledged she “should have” written about the “horror Doc’s” clinic. The Washington Post made the stunning admission that “we should have sent a reporter sooner.” Dylan Beers, Politico’s media reporter, flatly stated that “Gosnell should be front-page, top-of-the-hour news by primetime tonight.” Jeffrey Goldberg concluded, “It’s remarkable that it took this long.”
Indeed, the silence had been stunning since the Gosnell trial began back on March 18. No mention of the story at all on ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, NPR, or MSNBC, and no front-page stories in any major paper. National Review, the Weekly Standard, Breitbart.com, and Michelle Malkin, on the other hand, provided early and consistent coverage. J. D. Mullane, the columnist for the Bucks County Courier Times who has been a tiger on the story, reported last week what he found in the courtroom: In the entire 40-seat section reserved for the media, he was the only one present. A couple of local journos were scattered elsewhere around the courtroom.
The lack of interest is striking in an era when “if it bleeds it leads” thinking pervades the media. As Valerie Richardson of the Washington Times noted last week:
The Gosnell case would seem to contain all the ingredients of must-see television: a formerly respected community leader accused of unspeakable acts; the death of a young immigrant woman; a parade of former employees offering graphic testimony on the gruesome deaths of more than 100 just-born infants; and even the implication by the doctor’s lawyers that the charges have been motivated by racism. Dr. Gosnell is black and his clinic was in a mostly minority neighborhood.
It’s natural to think that some of the lack of interest stems from the gruesomeness of the details. Gosnell’s “practice” was so grisly that some people might wish to turn away and ignore the nightmare. But unpalatable images and facts don’t stop the media from reporting on the horrors of famine-stricken North Korea, even though there are almost no pictures available. It seems undeniable, then, that abortion politics played a role in the blackout. When Mullane asked a member of the court’s staff why there was so little media interest, the man pointed to the filthy medical equipment set up in the courtroom as an exhibit and asked, “If you’re pro-choice, do you really want anybody to know about this?”
It’s not as if there isn’t good reason for pro-choice journalistic sleuths to pursue the story for simple muckraking purposes. It’s a stunning tale of bureaucratic neglect and incompetence. Despite its law against partial-birth abortions, Pennsylvania stopped regular inspections of abortion clinics in 1993. But regulators still received frequent — and credible — complaints about unsanitary or horrific practices taking place behind Gosnell’s clinic door. And they did nothing.
A 2011 grand-jury report singled out racism and politics for the “see no evil” attitudes. “We think the reason no one acted is because the women in question were poor and of color, because the victims were infants without identities, and because the subject was the political football of abortion,” the grand-jury report stated. Philadelphia district attorney Seth Williams, a liberal Democrat and one of the prosecutors in the case, maintains that abortion clinics are held to lower standards than other businesses are. In 2011, he asked, “How is it that we have more oversight in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania of women’s hair salons than we do over abortion clinics?”