Kermit Gosnell and the Bursting Bubble

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.

  • Tim in Cleveland

    The grand jury report actually does contain some graphic images, including one of a dead baby boy placed in a shoe box. The baby was named “Baby Boy A” since no one ever gave him a name (for some reason I found that more heart wrenching than the picture). There were other pictures as well including blood soaked and torn hospital beds and a drug menu for patients.

    But I think the matter-of-fact phrasing of the testimony has more of an impact than the pictures from grand jury report. Phrases like “sounded like an alien screaming” or Gosnell joking about the size of recently aborted babies seem to be having a lot of impact on people.

    Hopefully the media picks up on this story because a lot of the grand jury report deals with the state of PA not doing anything for years and possibly engaging in willful blindness. I doubt bloggers and tweeters will be able to make much of a difference in that realm, but the mainstream media still holds sway.

  • Gonzo

    I don’t know that I would consider the press coverage as legitimate. It’s good that the story garners some attention. But a lot of the attention is focused on making excuses for why they haven’t covered it. The rest of the coverage tends to ignore the scandal of infanticide, and instead argues that this case PROVES we need more abortion, fewer regulations, more government money funding this barbarism. It’s not all that different from the NRA claiming that Sandy Hook proves we need MORE guns. It’s just spin. But it is spin that has no regard for human life.

  • Birthday girl

    I’m with Gonzo on this one … the coverage of the facts is mostly coming from the so-called right-wing or conservative new media. The left-wing corporate and new media are mainly spinning self-justifications, not reporting. We can only hope that enough people hear enough by word of mouth and from the free new media to get a couple of images burned into their minds … seeds, if you will, that could take root later …

  • peicurmudgeon

    Without getting into exactly what the coverage entailed, the media that ignored the story was actually Fox.

  • DWiss

    There’s a theory occasionally touted that says pro-choice will die a demographic death. Simply put, there will be more pro-lifers alive than pro-choicers and the choice movement will die out. I believe it, but it will take a while.

    In the meantime, it couldn’t hurt for the pro-choice crowd to reign in the worst of the abortion practitioners. Who wants to be seen as protecting a guy like Gosnell? Seems like ideology has trumped common sense.

  • sg

    Honestly, I blame the health department for not doing something. Yes, Gosnell was insane or whatever, but what about the health dept? I mean, they are supposed to be like cops enforcing health and safety rules. It is terrifying to think that they just aren’t doing their jobs at all. Are they this lax with dentists, doctors, tattoo parlors? Seriously, how many other incompetent providers are their in Philly? How many dentists are killing patients? Sure that sounds crazy, but so is their obvious failure to regulate Gosnell’s clinic!!