Examples: [Collected via e-mail, April 2013]
Origins: Dr. Kermit Gosnell is a Philadelphia-area doctor who is currently on trial in Pennsylvania, charged with a variety of crimes related to his performance of hundreds of illegal and gruesome late-term abortions. Although
The clinic reeked of animal urine, courtesy of the cats that were allowed to roam (and defecate) freely. Furniture and blankets were stained with blood. Instruments were not properly sterilized. Disposable medical supplies were not disposed of; they were reused, over and over again. Medical equipment — such as the defibrillator, the EKG, the pulse oximeter, the blood pressure cuff — was generally broken; even when it worked, it wasn’t used. The emergency exit was padlocked shut. And scattered throughout, in cabinets, in the basement, in a freezer, in jars and bags and plastic jugs, were fetal remains. It was a baby charnel house. The people who ran this sham medical practice included no doctors other than Gosnell himself, and not even a single nurse. Two of his employees had been to
Gosnell’s approach, whenever possible, was to force full labor and delivery of premature infants on ill-informed women. The women would check in during the day, make payment, and take labor-inducing drugs. The doctor wouldn’t appear until evening, often 8:00, 9:00, or 10:00 p.m., and only then deal with any of the women who were ready to deliver. Many of them gave birth before he even got there.
By maximizing the pain and danger for his patients, he minimized the work, and cost, for himself and his staff. The policy, in effect, was labor without labor. There remained, however, a final difficulty. When you perform late-term "abortions" by inducing labor, you get babies. Live, breathing, squirming babies. By
Over the years, there were hundreds of "snippings." Sometimes, if Gosnell was unavailable, the "snipping" was done by one of his fake doctors, or even by one of the administrative staff.
But all the employees of the Women's Medical Society knew. Everyone there acted as if it wasn't murder at all. Most of these acts cannot be prosecuted, because Gosnell destroyed the files. Among the relatively few cases that could be specifically documented, one was Baby
After reviewing extensive and compelling evidence of criminal wrongdoing at the clinic, the Grand Jury has issued a presentment recommending the prosecution of Gosnell and members of his staff for criminal offenses including: Murder of Karnamaya Mongar, Murders of babies born alive, Infanticide, Violations of the Controlled Substances Act, Hindering, Obstruction, and Tampering, Perjury, Illegal late-term abortions, Violations of the Abortion Control Act, Violations of the Controlled Substances Act, Abuse of Corpse, Theft by Deception, Conspiracy, Corrupt Organization, Corruption of Minors.
Some critics have maintained that Dr. Gosnell's case has not received nearly as much attention in the U.S. news media as it merits. In a piece published on
It's not your fault. Since the murder trial of Pennsylvania abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell began
A Lexis-Nexis search shows none of the news shows on the three major national television networks has mentioned the Gosnell trial in the last three months.
The Washington Post has not published original reporting on this during the trial and The
Let me state the obvious. This should be front page news. When Rush Limbaugh attacked Sandra Fluke, there was non-stop media hysteria. The venerable NBC Nightly News' Brian Williams intoned, "A firestorm of outrage from women after a crude tirade from Rush Limbaugh," as he teased a segment on the brouhaha. Yet, accusations of babies having their heads severed — a major human rights story if there ever was one — doesn't make the cut.
You don't have to oppose abortion rights to find late-term abortion abhorrent or to find the Gosnell trial eminently newsworthy. This is not about being "pro-choice" or "pro-life." It's about basic human rights.
The deafening silence of too much of the media, once a force for justice in America, is a disgrace.
The following day, Conor Friedersdorf responded in The Atlantic to say that:
Inducing live births and subsequently severing the heads of the babies is indeed a horrific story that merits significant attention. Strange as it seems to say it, however, that understates the case.
For this isn't solely a story about babies having their heads severed, though it is that. It is also a story about a place where, according to the grand jury, women were sent to give birth into toilets; where a doctor casually spread gonorrhea and chlamydiae to unsuspecting women through the reuse of cheap, disposable instruments; an office where a 15-year-old administered anesthesia; an office where former workers admit to playing games when giving patients powerful narcotics; an office where white women were attended to by a doctor and black women were pawned off on clueless untrained staffers. Any single one of those things would itself make for a blockbuster news story. Is it even conceivable that an optometrist who attended to his white patients in a clean office while an intern took care of the black patients in a filthy room wouldn't make national headlines?
But it isn't even solely a story of a rogue clinic that's awful in all sorts of sensational ways either. Multiple local and state agencies are implicated in an oversight failure that is epic in proportions! If I were a city editor for any Philadelphia newspaper the grand jury report would suggest a dozen major investigative projects I could undertake if I had the staff to support them. And I probably wouldn't have the staff. But there is so much fodder for additional reporting.
There is, finally, the fact that abortion, one of the most hotly contested, polarizing debates in the country, is at the center of this case. It arguably informs the abortion debate in any number of ways, and has numerous plausible implications for abortion policy, including the oversight and regulation of clinics, the appropriateness of late-term abortions, the penalties for failing to report abuses, the statute of limitations for killings like those with which Gosnell is charged, whether staff should be legally culpable for the bad behavior of doctors under whom they work ...
There's just no end to it.
To sum up, this story has numerous elements any one of which would normally make it a major story. And setting aside conventions, which are flawed, this ought to be a big story on the merits.
The news value is undeniable.
David Weigel weighed in on the controversy in Slate, reporting that:
Let's just state the obvious: National political reporters are, by and large, socially liberal. We are more likely to know a gay couple than to know someone who owns an "assault weapon." We are, generally,
So the question, raised by pro-lifers, is this: Explain to us why Gosnell isn't a national story. Somebody else can try. I can't explain it. It's never made sense to me, how a local crime story becomes a national story. Two words: "Poop cruise." CNN ran hours of coverage and grainy video of a stranded Carnival cruise ship, a situation that inconvenienced many and killed none. How does a missing college student or an angry man in a TSA line become part of Our National Conversation? I don't know.
If you're pro-choice, say, and you worry that the Gosnell story is being promoted only to weaken your cause, you really should read the grand jury report. "DOH could and should have closed down Gosnell's clinic years before," write the investigators. Why wasn't it? Were state regulators nervous about igniting a political fight about abortion? Is the regulatory system incompetent or under-funded? And are there other states where the same could be said? Social conservatives are largely right about the Gosnell story. Maybe it's not a raw political story. It's just the story of a potential mass murderer who operated for decades as government regulators did nothing.
Irin Carmon countered claims of media non-coverage in Salon, asserting that:
Paul Farhi also observed in the Washington Post that:
The Weekly Standard and the National Review, two leading conservative magazines, for example, hadn’t published anything on the trial, according to a search of the Nexis database. The New York Post’s conservative editorial board has written one commentary — an editorial lamenting the lack of coverage, which, although it doesn’t mention it, includes its own paper. The Washington Times has published five staff-written articles and guest commentaries on the matter, all focusing on the absence of press coverage.
Fox News has been the only consistent national TV source on the story, having run 11 news reports or commentaries on it over the past month. Among national print outlets, the Associated Press has covered the trial extensively. The story has been prominently featured in the Huffington Post and discussed on its Huffington Post Live webcast. The Huffington Post is generally considered a liberal news organization.
Last updated: 12 April 2013
Carmon, Irin. "There Is No Gosnell Coverup." Salon. 12 April 2013. Farhi, Paul. "Is Media Bias to Blame for Lack of Gosnell Coverage?" Washington Post. 14 April 2013. Friedersdorf, Conor. "Why Dr. Kermit Gosnell's Trial Should Be a Front-Page Story." The Atlantic. 12 April 2013. Gainor, Dan. "The Monstrous Abortion Trial the Media Don’t Want You to Know About." FoxNews.com. 10 April 2013. Powers, Kirsten. "Philadelphia Abortion Clinic Horror." USA Today. 11 April 2013. Weigel, David. "Kermit Gosnell: The Alleged Mass-Murderer and the Bored Media." Slate. 12 April 2013.