On LifeNews, Jill Stanek offers a good summary of the media establishent’s recent come-to-Jesus moment. Thanks to pro-life activists and social media, a number of very high-profile journalists are lining up to admit that, yeah, they ought to have paid more attention to the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell. With prosecutors painting a mural of gore and neglect in the Philadelphia abortion clinic where Gosnell allegedly killed seven live babies and one woman, it could, and should, have been big news.
Moreover, in explaining why they left this story, with its potential to become the next Abu Ghraib, in such deep shade, media figures are confessing their biases with a drunk’s candor. The Daily Beast’s Megan McCardle writes that most pro-choice writers are “less interested in sick-making stories — if the sick-making was done by ‘our side.'” Pointing out that both his own magazine and The Atlantic had, in fact, covered the Gosnell trial, Slate’s David Weigel claims not to know why some local crime stories go national and others don’t. Still, he concedes “the obvious”: that “socially liberal” reporters live in “a bubble” that’s hard for abortionist horror stories to permeate.
Megan McCardle’s piece left a friend of mine, a professor who is Catholic, utterly underwhelmed. As he posted on Facebook, “What is awful beyond telling about this is precisely that we are seeing the emperor naked (I know not for the first time) but now he is delivering a discourse on nudity and its complexity and ambiguity rather than putting on some damned clothes…”
He’s got a good point. McCardle’s piece reads like a closing argument to a paid-off jury. She seems to know her readership shares her values, might have made the same decision she made, and will ultimately forgive her. Indeed, pro-choice pundits are already spinning the Gosnell story for their own side, and without any apologies. Salon’s Irin Carmon blames the survival of Gosnell’s clinic on a shortage of public funding, through which poor women might have obtained more timely abortions at better-run establishments. In her version, Gosnell’s an incarnation of the desperate abortion-seeker’s nightmare — the back-alley butcher with the coat hanger. He just happens to have a medical degree.
This angle must have looked compelling to feminist journalists too partisan to qualify as mainstream. As Carmon points out, they’ve been hitting the story hard all along. Writes Lori Adelman for The Grio: “If you thought that racially segregated doctor’s offices were done away with in the 1960s, get ready to feel like you just stepped out of a time machine.” That’s about as powerful a lede — and one with as much bipartisan appeal — as could be wished for. In a recent tweet, Ross Douthat credits the “feminist left” with “consistency.”
It would be a shame if my friend turned out to be right — if the splendid bit of flank-turning on the parts of Mollie Hemingway and Kirsten Powers resulted in a pyrrhic victiory. In the short run, it might appear that way; but over time, I’m convinced, the pro-life side will gain substantial ground. For one thing, whether or not the media silence was ever so complete as critics claim, there can be no doubt that Gosnell’s name and face are embedded in the public consciousness as never before. Simply by becoming the subject of a national conversation on the question of whether he deserves to become the subject of a national conversation, Gosnell’s gained the kind of notoriety that can land a guy on South Park.
The details evoked in this conversation are turning out to be the pulpiest, ugliest, and (to borrow Megan McCardle’s phrase) most sick-making kind. If you’re not the type to philosophize away stories of live babies beheaded with scissors, or fetal fragments left inside their mother’s uteruses, this story is bound to stick in your head and haunt you but good. Pro-lifers have long debated whether displaying pictures of aborted children helps or hurts their cause. Those against say it’s so ham-handed that it calls into question the motives of whoever’s waving the placards. Well, now the public is contemplating word-pictures — a little less ghastly than photos, maybe, but also less assailable on taste grounds — and they’re getting those word-pictures on someone else’s dollar.
And then you do have the scattered apologies. They were qualified, yes; but considering the vigor of Irin Carmon’s defensive strategy, it’s remarkable they were offered at all. And I think there’s more behind them than guilt at having fallen short of some ideal of objectivity. Just a year ago, Gallup reported that 41% of Americans — an all-time low — now identify as pro-choice. Fully 50% call themselves pro-life. The bubble David Weigel spoke of is shrinking, and social media are blasting breaches in it. Pro-choicers still have a case to make, but they are finding it harder to set the terms under which they make it. The media are starting to catch on.
Jill Stanek says abortion opponents shouldn’t gloat. Well, maybe not yet.