Power to hype or downplay: On Gosnell and the NYTimes

Many in the media are indicating that they really want to move on from the Gosnell trial that they’ve struggled to cover — or ignored — from the get-go. You’re not seeing much coverage. Earlier this week I came across a small example that demonstrates how media frenzies are fed or squashed. It’s instructive.

Let’s go back to the Winter of 2012. You’ll remember that when a private foundation devoted to fighting breast cancer decided to stop subsidizing the country’s largest abortion provider, all hell broke loose. The media effectively bullied the Komen foundation into reversing its decision under threat of extinction. It led the newscasts. There were unbelievably hostile interviews — praised by media critics — of the breast cancer charity’s founder. The major media got many facts of the case wrong, such as that this decision was “sudden” or that the clinics being funded by the foundation offered mammograms.

OK, so this week, six dozen or so members of Congress signed on to a letter demanding that broadcast networks provide coverage of the murder trial of abortion practitioner Kermit Gosnell. Last year, two dozen senators signed a letter urging the Komen foundation to fund Planned Parenthood.

Let’s compare the media coverage of those two letters. ABC News’ had a story on the Komen letter.

The Senate has added to the pressure on the Susan G. Komen foundation.

Twenty-six Democratic senators today sent a letter to Nancy Brinker, the group’s founder and CEO, urging it to reconsider the decision to cut funding from Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings for the poor.

The Washington Post covered it:

The pressure on the Susan G. Komen For The Cure Foundation to reverse its decision to cut funding to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings for poor people — a decision which has caused an uproar among women’s groups and on social media — is about to get significantly more intense. Nearly two dozen Senators are set to enter the fray.

The Los Angeles Times had an article. So did the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, CNN, National Journal, The Hill and Reuters.

That’s just what I found on the first page of Google results for Komen+letter+Senators.

So two dozen lawmakers signing a letter about Komen yielded news coverage from major outlets.

And what does six dozen lawmakers going after broadcast networks for failure to cover Gosnell get you?

Hmm. Well, let’s see. I found two blogs, two pro-life media outlets, and the Washington Times. Further digging brought up an item in the Daily Caller and The Hill. None of these are what you’d call major mainstream media and only one of them qualifies as mainstream media period.

Absolutely fascinating, no?

If you want a story to be big, you can keep feeding it. We know that Gosnell is hot news and that folks have been hungry for updates — and largely denied those updates by the media that control what is and what isn’t a story. This letter-from-members-of-Congress story I’m mentioning is just an update. Just a quick and easy item like the Komen letter was. If it was worth writing breathless reports about the Komen letter, why is this one buried?

I get — I really get — that the media want to just move past this story and hope that people forget. For the sake of the media industry’s credibility and for the sake of civil society, it would be better to just begin covering it rather than leave this dark mark on the record.

And a quick aside. I asked on Twitter about where the Gosnell story was from the New York Times‘ excellent media reporter Brian Stelter. A prolific writer, his most recent headlines include “Robin Roberts Update,” “At Fox News, Less Attention Paid to Gun Debate Than Elsewhere,” “A Pulitzer Prize, but Without a Newsroom to Put It In,” and “A Top Producer Leaves ‘Katie’ for CNN.” I was hoping we’d see him focus on broadcast news’ treatment of Gosnell, since his focus is on broadcast media and that’s a big part of the larger story. So, I tweeted:

Where’s @brianstelter’s look at Gosnell media coverage? He’s had days to work on it, no?

I found his reply just fascinating:

huh? Trip Gabriel wrote a story about the trial that included the media angles: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/16/us/online-furor-draws-press-to-abortion-doctors-trial.html?ref=tripgabriel

I replied:

Interesting. It’s a huge media story. That 1 piece, which was officially supposed to be trial coverage, wasn’t much, was it.

That Trip Gabriel piece, which combined a shockingly accurate — if brutally self-indicting — headline (“Online Furor Draws Press to Abortion Doctor’s Trial”) with an egregiously inaccurate lede was brief and ostensibly supposed to fulfill the Times‘ claim that it would cover the trial. I believe they’ve since moved on from the trial, missing the vast majority of this week’s dramatic testimony.

Brian replied:

fair point. I’m not sure what I could write that hasn’t been written. But I’m open to suggestions.

So very interesting. And it really gets to the root of the problem we’ve seen with this Gosnell situation. So many reporters and editors in newsrooms across the land — health policy reporters, political reporters, cultural reporters, media reporters, and all their editors, etc. — seem to suffer from a massive and systemic failure of imagination when it comes to the Gosnell trial. They just can’t imagine any stories on it! They had no problem with finding media angles on the Komen story. Or the Fluke story. Just by way of example on how a media angle to a story can be covered, here are some of the headlines Stelter contributed to the Sandra Fluke frenzy our nation endured last year. A sample of the headlines include:

Attack by Limbaugh Awakens ‘Stop Rush’ Campaign

“THE CAUCUS; Obama Backs Student in Birth Control Furor

Limbaugh Apologizes for Attack on Student in Birth Control Furor

THE CAUCUS; Facing Outcry, Limbaugh Apologizes for Attacking Student Over Birth Control

Limbaugh Advertisers Flee Show Amid Storm

As Advertisers Recoil, Limbaugh Says ‘So Be It’

MEDIA DECODER; Limbaugh Says ‘So Be It’ Over Boycott

After Apology, National Advertisers Are Still Shunning Limbaugh

With the exception of the last item, these ran in a four-day period! See how some stories get obsessed over and create media frenzies and others are studiously downplayed and ignored?

How is it that, say, the Los Angeles Times can get 278 pieces on the Trayvon Martin killing — something that hasn’t even gone to trial — but nothing on Gosnell? How is it that reporters don’t struggle to publicize pressure on the Komen Foundation or Rush Limbaugh but dry up when it comes to pressure on their own industry! I mean, heck! I find that letter from the members of Congress to broadcasters kind of frightening on multiple levels! Or as Deacon Greg Kandra put it in a piece headlined “Gosnell backlash: how a free press becomes less free“:

If the press isn’t responsible, the government will start trying to tell it what to do.

And I don’t even think this letter calling on broadcast networks to fix their lack of coverage is even anything close to the most interesting TV coverage angle out there.

But in the last week we’ve heard from some reporters who say their pro-choice biases kept them from looking at the trial. Others claim complete and utter ignorance. Others just say they’re struggling to find a fresh angle. (I’ll leave out the ones currently writing on the Boston bombing who said they couldn’t cover Gosnell because the details were too icky.)

The explanations are all very interesting, but they indicate just a complete and utter breakdown in newsrooms across the country. Don’t they?

NYT building image via Erika Cross / Shutterstock.com

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  • FW Ken

    Let’s make a deal: the media gets a pass on this specific trial if the go out and get the goods on how many botched abortions occur each year. How many women die? How many are maimed? Left sterile? In how many clinics do how many babies survive abortion only to get “snipped”?

    So the press gets a pass on Gosnell, but give us some real, verifiable numbers on dead women and infanticide.

  • http://faithvictoria.wordpress.com Steve Weatherbe

    Keep at them Mollie.

  • http://sarahboylewebber.blogspot.com/ Sarah Webber

    Everybody now: “We love you, Mollie. Oh, yes we do. We love you, Mollie….”

  • Chris

    I’m not sure your congressional letter angle works. One was a letter to one of the main characters of “the story”. The other was to the story teller. Out of self-interest I’d assume the latter letter wouldn’t be “discussed”

    • Mollie

      Except that the media IS a main character in the story about the media not covering Gosnell. Also, media types usually love nothing more than to talk about ourselves. So I think it works.

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    Unfortunately Mollie, I think you’re beating a dead horse. The flash has gone by and you and the other esteemed Get Religionistas are now officially ignorable. You’ve had your Andy Warhol 15 minutes of fame, now the rest of the press can you put back under the rock from whence they feel you came.
    And FW Ken, I hope you’re being facetious because you know the press will never do what you’re suggesting.

    • John Pack Lambert

      As long as the trial is still in process the horse is not dead. I think this pressure is worth keeping up. Some think they made enough coverage with one report but they were wrong.

  • Harris

    The post’s head is a bit misleading as to its content. Isn’t the complaint the dearth of coverage from just about everybody? I don’t see this as the NYT’s fault nor especially its responsibility. Out here in flyover land, who is it that is supposed to generate this story (and there are plenty who want to hear)? Perhaps a better place to look would be at Gannett, or (laughing hysterically) Newhouse.

    Perhaps part of the problem is simply that most abortions take place far earlier (90 percent in the first trimester), and were one to grant the framing of Plan B as an abortifacent, then far more than 90 percent. This shift of weight to the early stages of a pregnancy certainly frames the public understanding; I would suggest it’s what is behind the mushiness in the public mind. The very breadth of the term “abortion” covering everything from infanticide in the Gosnell case, to birth control in Plan B ironically diminishes potential source of outrage and framing of Gosnell as about “abortion.”

  • northcoast

    I’m disturbed by both letters. I vote to elect a legislator, not an overseer. Our representatives in Congress have too much power for us to let them monitor our lives. So I think there should be coverage with an expression of outrage.

    I’m amused that the Trip Gabriel NYTimes story referred to above kind of ends in mid story. The rest of the story was carried in the Inquirer: http://articles.philly.com/2013-04-17/news/38589235_1_mcmahon-west-philadelphia-abortion-clinic-unlicensed-medical-school-graduate. (I commented about this a few days ago.)

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  • http://fkclinic.blogspot.com tioedong

    The only coverage I saw in the Philippines was on CNN International where Anderson Cooper said “someone” needs to look into why the clinic wasn’t regulated. So keep an eye on CNN if they do a follow up story.
    The other story not covered is that he was a drug pusher: The clinic was exposed, not by the Medical society or the state but when the FBI raided him for giving out narcotics.
    Now, all docs who do pain clinics fear being accused of this so we have narcotic contracts and keep records. Yet here, his overprescription of Class II narcotics was overlooked for quite awhile.

    So All of this has implications far beyond killing babies. Anyone checking into that trial?

  • cvg

    Another angle is how the percentage of late term abortion providers convicted of legal infanticide will change with a potential guilty verdict. 1/5 (20%) late term abortion providers convicted of infanticide is a really bad statistic. Even though it could interpreted as an anomaly, it would certainly beg the question of whether there are systemic issues which create an environment where legal abuse is likely.

    The other angle, only fit for science & math mags, is an analysis of the probability that a late term abortion would end up as legal infanctide due to errors associated with gestational aging. i.e. an abortion 1 week under the legal limit has a well defined probability of actually occurring on a 24+ week baby. (normal distribution and z-scores do have some application in real life). I did a rough back of the envelope calculation and got well over a dozen possible events.

  • Paul

    If a baby is killed by an abortionist and no one is there to report it, was it ever killed at all? The answer by the rabidly pro-abortion MSM is a resounding NO! At the heart of this story is the determination of what lives are important and what aren’t. If Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton had accused the media of racism for ignoring this story, it would have probably gotten some coverage. Mollie, I admire your restraint. Everything about the Gosnell case and its lack of coverage has to be frustrating for you. You’ve handled this all with class. I doubt I would have been as polite as you have been.

    When 95% of journalists are pro-abortion, it’s impossible to have anything pertaining to abortion treated even remotely fairly. And the more effective someone is at making the pro-life argument, the more they will be shunned by the network news and most newspapers and magazines.

    I am pro-choice about one thing, my choice to ignore news sources that ignore the most vulnerable lives of all. Thank you.

  • Martha

    Here’s a suggestion for an angle for all those media analysts and investigative reporters to explore; link courtesy of the StandFirm blog, this story in the “Philadelphia Enquirer” about “Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania’s annual Spring Gathering”:

    “(Dayle Steinberg, the organization’s president and chief executive) said that when Gosnell was in practice, women would sometimes come to Planned Parenthood for services after first visiting Gosnell’s West Philadelphia clinic, and would complain to staff about the conditions there.

    “We would always encourage them to report it to the Department of Health,” Steinberg said as she sat with Steinem before Tuesday’s events.”

    How about a bit of that Susan Komen-type grilling of Ms. Steinberg about what PP in Philadelphia knew, who knew it, exactly how many complaints they got, why nobody in their organisation seems to have so much as lifted the phone and asked the Department of Health why this guy wasn’t shut down, and if they claim to be in it for women’s health, why couldn’t they have organised a campaign like they did when their funding was threatened?

    Just for starters. Legal questions about complicity – if they were treating women who had been injured or mistreated by Gosnell and never reported it themselves, had they an obligation? Why not? We know PP ignores notification laws about underage girls having sex with older men, is this more of the same?

  • http://lcms.org Babs

    “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil; God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

  • FW Ken

    T.A.S.,

    I’m serious as a heart attack. Of course the MSM won’t do it or allow the results to come to light, but at this point, the systemic issues are what count.

    And the media will eventually slough off the Gosnell scandal anyway.

  • Cvg

    I like Martha’s angle.

  • http://none John Smyth

    I just searched for “gosnell” on the New York Times website and there are still zero NEWS stories since their March 18 story on the first day of the trial. Three opinion pieces only including the one from Margaret Sullivan saying that the Gosnell trial “deserves and IS GETTING more coverage” (my emphasis).
    They really just don’t care about the news do they.
    Keep up the great work Mollie

  • helen

    BUT: Observe what the NYT does consider NEWS. ["Local news"?]

    OPINION | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
    Texas on Fire, Again and Again
    By BILL MINUTAGLIO
    It is time for the pathological avoidance of oversight to end in Texas.

    This story, about a fertilizer plant explosion last Wednesday in the town of West, Texas (near Waco) caught my attention because here is the NYT…. way out in Texas, worrying about “oversight”, when it can’t see that oversight is needed in Philadelphia.
    Moreover, Minutaglio talks about two such fires… the other one happened in 1947!

    [The fires were both tragic and shouldn't have happened; that is not my point.]
    I just wonder if infanticide happens that infrequently?

  • John Pack Lambert

    In this [http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/24/us/judge-throws-out-some-charges-against-dr-kermit-gosnell.html?_r=0] article the New York Times leads with an inaccuracy. They say that “A Pennsylvania judge” (part of me is reminded of how despite my general attempts to not pay to much attention to the case, I can tell you Lance Ito was the judge in the O.J. Simpson trial, failure to name Judge Jeffrey Minehart almost seems to be one of many ways the case is marginalized even when covered) threw out “three of seven murder charges”. The problem, there are eight murder charges against Kermit Gosnell. I want to think that this is just a mistake, but with it being the times I wonder if they are trying to avoid the fact that we see here that legal abortion does not mean safe, especially when it is legal abortion brought by regulators looking the other way.

    The fact that people seem to be ignoring is that Karnamaya Mongar was only 19-weeks pregnant. This was 5 weeks shy of the legal limit in Pennsylvania. There was nothing even remotely illegal going on here. However Mongar was a small women and that is key to why she died, she was overdrugged. This leads me to wonder if an issue involved with two other clinics not giving her an abortion is that after acertain point in pregnancy abortion is inherently much less safe under most circumstances than carrying the child to term. This would at least be a relevant issue for the media to bring up. However I get the sense that the NYT and other news media want to cast Gosnell as someone who did infanticide, and to not discuss how common death of the mother and injury are in late term abortions.

    Then there is this totally confusing sentance “Dr. Gosnell, who, according to prosecutors, killed fetuses that were alive after they were aborted by plunging scissors into their necks.” What is this talk about “alive after they were aborted”. If they are aborted does that not mean they are dead, and if they are alive does that not mean the abortion failed. This really seems to be an attempt to aboid directly mentioning that the children are said to have been “born alive” and then killed. The Times seems to be determined to avoid using the language of pro-lifers even if it means using language that is nonsensical.

    Then there is this paragraph “The trial has become a cause célèbre for some anti-abortion activists, some of whom were seated in the courtroom on Tuesday. Before the judge announced his decision, an officer of the court instructed those present to remain silent. ” which to me seems an attempt to accuse pro-lifers of being disruptive of the court proceedings. It seems the Times is bent on maligning pro-lifers, not only by denying their right to self-identify, but by trying to apply they are disruptive.

    The next sentance with “Bryan Kemper, youth outreach director for Priests for Life, an anti-abortion group, said that he was “obviously frustrated” with the judge’s decision.” shows us how the New York Times is determined to always frame pro-lifers as “anti-abortion”, even if it involves ignoring their own terms.

  • John Pack Lambert

    One line of the NYT coverage really intrigues me “The judge gave no reason for his decision”. Do judges normally give a reason for throwing out some of the charges? Is it normal for judges to dismiss some charges during a trial? I would like to know, and think they should tell us, but they don’t.

    They introduce the bizarre “killed after aborted” language later on, and try to pin it on an assistant prosecutor, but since it is not in quotes it seems to be more of the NYT attempt to confuse.

    I guess I should be glad this much coverage of the Gosnell case occured, but it invites so much more.

    Follow up sotries:
    1-should the bodies of children who die at birth be respected?
    2-with such high requirments to convict someone of killing a newborn child, do we really have effective laws against infanticde?

  • John Pack Lambert

    This article [http://www.lifenews.com/2013/04/21/planned-parenthood-knew-of-kermit-gosnells-abortion-horrors/] from Life Site knews clearly gives another angle that could be persued. The head of Planned Parenthood of Southeast Pennsylvania admits to knowing of problems with Gosnell, but clearly she did nothing.

    She claims she tried to get people to file reports but they would not. I however think such self-justifying reports after the fact should be taken with extreme caution. If the health of the mother was the top concern, and not the good image of abortion, than these people would have pressed harder for reports to be made. Somehow I don’t think Planned Parenthood questioning the medical reliability of Dr. Gosnell on a wide basis would have been ignored.

    There needs to be an outcry for accountability.

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