The “Gosnell Media Blackout” is Really Just Human Nature, Also Horrible

I’m already tired of hearing about the “media blackout” of the abortionist Kermit Gosnell’s murder trial. Can we impose a blackout on covering the blackout already?

It has been over a week since LifeNews hyperbolically declared that NPR had finally caught up to the local papers and “some stories from the Associated Press.” The Philadelphia Inquirer may not be a national media outlet, but it’s hardly the Podunk Weekly. And you may recognize the Associated Press as the newswire agency that provides stories to every major news outlet in the worldHere’s a story from USA Today in mid-March with the headline “Abortion Clinic Worker Says She Cut at Least Ten Babies.” Not only did the 2nd biggest newspaper in the country cover the story, they used a sensational headline calling the abortees “babies.” A lot of the links in this post are to major media outlets covering the story.

This doesn’t seem like a “blackout,” to me.

I know people don’t mean a literal or absolute blackout. The point is rather that the coverage of the story is so paltry and sparse that it amounts to a blackout. That claim seems to have something to it. As the Media Research Council pointed out, the major networks spent 41 minutes of precious airtime talking about the Rutgers basketball coach who did….something less objectionable than running a house of horrors in a major American city where women and their babies died. The basketball coach – Mike Rice – was bullying his players, slinging gay slurs and basketballs at them with reckless abandon. Why is this story garnering more attention than Gosnell’s murder trial?

There is no need to posit a conspiracy, but it is no use denying that media and intellectuals are an ideologically monolithic crowd. Even if the Media Research Council is exaggerating these numbers, most observant viewers (pro-choice and pro-life) recognize that the coverage has been paltry. As bad as the Rutgers couch’s actions and words were, were they worse than gang-related violence in Chicago, worse than sex trafficking, worse than the horrific slaughter of innocent newborns? These examples differ in degree (surely sex trafficking and gang violence are more endemic than crackpot abortionists), but a bullying coach is different in kind. Maybe that isn’t true for those who zealously advocate for speech-chilling Human Rights Commissions that succeed only in violating constitutional rights.

And if abusive coaching – especially when designated hate words are used – is more threatening in some worldviews, maybe the Gosnell case is less so. Some argue that the Gosnell atrocity is exactly what we should expect from restrictive abortion laws, suggesting that the landscape would be dotted with slipshod purveyors of death were it not for the gleaming beacon that is Roe v. Wade. Recently we have been treated to discussions of whether “post-birth abortion” is justifiable (you may recognize this as the concept formerly known as infanticide). I can’t help but think that those who consider it a woman’s unfettered discretion to choose to end her child’s life, so long as the child has not emerged past a certain point from her body, may not be very troubled by most of what went on in Gosnell’s clinic.

Roe, especially as modified by Casey in 1992, provides a virtually unlimited right to abortion when the “life or health” of the mother is at risk. So there is a strange dissonance when states (Alabama is the latest) adopt strict laws requiring abortion centers to meet the same standards as hospitals or surgery centers, all in the name of the health and safety of the mother. But it isn’t really about health, not on either side, except at the margins. We can all agree that we want surgical procedures to be safe and clean. And I have not yet met anyone who thinks a woman should be compelled by law to sacrifice her own life for that of her child (I don’t doubt such people exist, but, then, so do advocates of post-birth abortion). It isn’t about “reproductive health” nor is it about making abortion clinics sparkly clean and safe. It is about things much more fundamental than that – about state protection of human life and the right of adults to control their own bodies. As I wrote recently about contraceptive access, we confuse everyone (including ourselves) when we force the discussion in to the cold, sterile language of medicine.

Christians cringe when the Westboro Baptist “Church” makes headlines, fearing that people will confuse our ancient and vibrant creed of redemptive love with that ersatz drivel. Those in the media are only human, and they don’t want abortion providers generally tarnished with Gosnell’s horribles. Christians are wrong to infer (or worse, to imply) that abortionists are all flagrant law-breakers who make terrifying jokes about their victims and are careless even with their adult patients. Many of us believe (I do) that abortion is always the tragic taking of an innocent human life. That’s not the same as painting everyone who disagrees with us as monsters like Gosnell. And even from a traditionalist, conservative, Reformed, evangelical perspective (like mine), it is possible to think talking about snipping fetus’s spines and keeping their feet in jars is akin to protesters with graphic signs. Maybe ubiquitous reporting of a faceless baby screaming “like a little alien” really doesn’t advance the debate.

Don’t think I’ve gone soft – the media is on the hook on this one. Liberal columnist Kirsten Powers documents the newsies’ failings in her latest at USA Today:

[Former employee Stephen] Massof, who, like other witnesses, has himself pleaded guilty to serious crimes, testified “It would rain fetuses. Fetuses and blood all over the place.” Here is the headline the Associated Press put on a story about his testimony that he saw 100 babies born and then snipped: “Staffer describes chaos at PA abortion clinic.”

“Chaos” isn’t really the story here. Butchering babies that were already born and were older than the state’s 24-week limit for abortions is the story.

Regardless of your politics on the abortion question, this story is full of sensational (if macabre) details and quotes just like that. What does it say about the “news reporters” that they are giving this story scant attention while routinely focusing hours of coverage on APOCALYPSE SNOWSTORMS IN THE MIDWEST!! I can’t improve on Powers’s closing lines, so instead I will just quote her:

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.

About S. L. Whitesell

Lee studies law at the University of Pennsylvania. He and his wife Joanna live in Philadelphia.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/pgepps pgepps

    You need to clarify your thesis, as you appear to have come down with equal ambivalence on both sides of the problem.

    Also, no elective abortion is “tragic.” Sinful, yes. Criminal, in a just society, yes. Unconscionable, certainly. Unjustifiable, indubitably. But “tragic”? Weasel word. Don’t get suckered.

  • S. L. Whitesell

    Dead babies are tragic to me no matter what the cause. Elective abortions are also wrong, evil, sinful. But ALL abortions are tragic, even those required to save the mother’s life when the baby will die no matter what. Hence my statement that “all abortions are tragic.”

  • http://byzantium.wordpress.com Kullervo

    Many sins are tragic. Human sinfulness is itself tragic.

  • S. L. Whitesell

    I see what Epps means, though. Tragic can be a weasel word. I was painting with a broad brush and intentionally used a broadbrush word.

  • Zoney

    The premise here is off-kilter and obfuscating to the point of being surreal Newspeak.

    “Human nature” vis-a-vis the media is to cover, exploit, and overexpose the most shocking, ghastly, and/or grotesque stuff imaginable. In this case, the liberal media is ignoring it because it puts one of their pet “causes” — the grisly and carnage-producing practice of abortion and the consequent population-control their leftist control-freaks strive for — in a light that even they would have a hard time whitewashing.

    As for the comment about the (gasp!) “abusive coaching” with the (double-gasp!) “hate words,” give me a break already.

  • S. L. Whitesell

    Our instincts are to downplay bad news about things we like, and go on incessantly with bad news about things we don’t. Hence Kirsten Powers’s point about flagship network news shows making a major production about Limbaugh’s program.

    The line about “designated hate words” was supposed to be a sarcastic way of pointing out imperialism of progressives. My point was that the media are a bunch of leftists who have a stake in establishing the diversitocracy in which their views gain hegemony to the legal exclusion of the expression of others. So they are obviously going to act like “nothing to see here” in cases like these. It’s entirely predictable, entirely natural. It also discredits them as “journalists” and exposes their underlying worldview for the degraded mess that it is.

  • Zoney

    Thanks for the response and for trying to clear up any misperceptions.


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