Media continues to ‘Gosnell’ abortion coverage. Why?

YouTube Preview ImageThis blog played a bit of a role in highlighting Gosnelling, the media practice of ignoring or downplaying politically inconvenient abortion news (see, for example, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here). It wasn’t great prior to that incident, but the mainstream media has an even worse credibility problem when it comes to reporting on abortion news. So I’d hoped we’d see some efforts to improve it.

And we are. There has been, for instance, some media coverage of the abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell’s trial, which is currently in the phase of jury deliberations. Today the jury requested to have a transcript of one testimony re-read to them and while that’s happening, reporters from Reuters, Fox News, the Wilmington News-Journal and CBS News are present. It’s not where it should be, but it’s a start.

But what about the larger picture? How is that being covered? While abortion rights advocates and many in the media have suggested that Gosnell is an extreme outlier, pro-life media keep uncovering more and more stories that suggest the mainstream media is failing to highlight. It’s not that there’s no coverage, again, there is. Kirsten Powers wrote in a recent USA Today column about the “drumbeat” of clinic closures and links to media coverage are provided:

Last week, Ohio officials shut down an abortion clinic after inspectors found that a medical assistant administered narcotics to five patients, that narcotics and powerful sedatives weren’t properly accounted for, that pharmacy licenses had expired and that four staff members hadn’t been screened for a communicable disease.

This month, a Delaware TV station reported that two Planned Parenthood nurses resigned in protest over conditions at a clinic there. One nurse, Jayne Mitchell-Werbrich, said, “It was just unsafe. I couldn’t tell you how ridiculously unsafe it was.”

Last month, Maryland officials shut down three abortion clinics, two for failings in their equipment and training to deal with life-threatening complications.

Last year, an Associated Press investigation found that Illinois hadn’t inspected some abortion clinics for 10 to 15 years. After state health officials reinvigorated their clinic inspections in the wake of Gosnell, inspectors closed two clinics, including one fined for “failure to perform CPR on a patient who died after a procedure,” according to AP.

But there’s a difference between a prominent media critic connecting the dots here and a news report that does the same. You’ll note the difference between how the media drumbeat is hit for a cause such as, say, gun control and a cause such as abortion clinic control. The disparity is immediately apparent and difficult to explain on journalistic grounds.

Or I pointed out a few weeks ago how no angle was too small to cover when the media obsessed over the Komen Foundation’s decision to stop funding the country’s largest abortion provider. Compare that with the media downplaying every fresh angle on the Gosnell coverage, this just being today’s latest example.

Today, the conservative publication National Review has published a harrowing and lengthy expose of abortion clinics in Florida. It is a brutal read, but very important journalism. Here’s how National Review promoted it:

Jillian Kay Melchior exposes the so-called doctors, clinics, and the women affected, at these Florida abortion clinics. This is a must-read article that details the callous lack of humane practices and a brutal alleged infanticide. In Abortion’s Underside:

  • Three Florida clinics with a disturbing history of criminal activity continue to operate — and there’s little the law can do to stop them, raising alarming questions of the safety and standards inside abortion clinics in America.
  • The doctors employed at the clinics have shady malpractice histories, and some were not licensed to practice medicine.  
  • Witnesses say a baby was born alive and then murdered, but no one was ever successfully prosecuted for her death.

It’s good that National Review publishes this type of journalism. But why do we see so little of this in the so-called non-ideological press?

One last example. The top of this post shows the latest in a series of undercover journalism exposes of other abortion clinics. These exposes were not done by mainstream media outlets, it hardly needs to be said, but by pro-life journalism activists. To take just one snippet of information from these videos and show how the mainstream media fails to do its job of reporting the truth about abortion, if you go to three and a half minutes in on this video, you will witness the undercover investigator say that she wants a purely elective abortion (meaning that there is nothing at all wrong with the baby or pregnancy). The late-term abortion doctor LeRoy Carhart, a media favorite, says that the pregnancy is too far along to do in one jurisdiction but that it can be done in Maryland. He confirms that there is a very good chance the baby would survive if born at this point in the pregnancy. It’s all there on video, clear as day.

Compare that with how the mainstream media characterizes late-term abortions and the doctors who perform them. Here’s a Newsweek piece from 2009 (and you’ll note the byline is Sarah Kliff, the now-Washington Post reporter who explained she didn’t cover Kermit Gosnell because it was a “local crime” story) that says:

Past viability, no doctor will terminate a pregnancy without a compelling reason.

That’s clearly, demonstrably untrue in light of this journalism done by non-mainstream journalists. Will we see a correction? Will it change how the topic is covered?

If not, why not?

Wouldn’t it be nice if reporters and editors committed themselves to fixing the systemic problems with how this topic is covered?

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  • DeaconJohnMBresnahan

    Why is anyone surprised by the lack of integrity among some reporters and editors when faced with covering –or whether to cover –aspects of the abortion issue–like trials, or cesspool clinics, or organizations like Planned Parenthood with origins steeped in racism???
    For the fact of the matter is one can easily make the moral case that those who regard the killing of a child even as he is being delivered has little or no conscience or sense of morality to guide other decisions that need to be made in life–especially professional decisions.

    • BT

      People keep talking about the lack of mainstream coverage of Gosnell, but it just isn’t true. I remember the original story when it broke – it was on Bloomberg news, LA Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Huffington Post, USA Today, ABC News, CBS, Salon, NPR, Fox, and NBC. And those were just the first few sources I found for the story.

      We keep pushing this myth, and I don’t understand why.

      • MollieZHemingway

        Are you saying that the media covered the initial charges? That *may* be true, though I’d love to see links to each of these examples you cite.
        But it does absolutely nothing to address the lack of coverage of the trial.
        Particularly, you must compare to stories such as Todd Akin, Sandra Fluke, Susan G. Komen (not to mention trials such as, oh, Casey Anthony and Jodi Arias or whatever their names are).
        If you’d like to see substantive comparisons, this blog provided some indepth analysis. in the last month or so.
        To say this story was well covered or is well covered is, at best, odd.

        • BT

          That’s exactly what I’m saying. I remembered the initial coverage quite well so when people said it wasn’t covered, it sounded odd. All you have to do to see the coverage is to use Google and set a custom date range for 1/1/2010 to 12/31/2010. The first two pages are full of the initial coverage.

          The initial story was covered fairly broadly, yes.

          From the USA Today this weekend:
          http://m.usatoday.com/article/news/2149775

          • MollieZHemingway

            Well, again, it’s impossible to refer to a 2010 Google search to discuss the coverage of a trial that began in 2013. Like, that literally makes no sense.

            Further, while a story here or there at a few different outlets could be considered broad coverage, we live in a media environment where we can compare media coverage to other stories. And the notion that this story was covered well relative to other abortion stories, “war on women” stories, murder trials, serial murder trials, regulatory horror stories, etc., is indefensible. But if you want to show us that it was covered better than these other stories, show your work. We’ve discussed this at length here at GetReligion (you can see the previous links in the post above). If you dispute the statistics in those stories, again, show your work, please.

          • BT

            The point of the 2010 google search is to demonstrate that the story was not ignored then. (Your google works as well as mine, by the way. Search it an you will see nearly all major news outlets carried the story.)

            A google search of the trial today shows stories by Fox, Washington Examiner, USA today, The Atlantic, Washington Post, and more.

            From my point of view, I just don’t see any nefarious dereliction of media duty here. I would however agree that there is an over abundance of sensationalistic stories that get over reported generally at the expense of REAL news. I just don’t see that as an abortion-specific problem. It’s universal across all news categories.

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  • Charles Wingate

    Meanwhile, at The Atlantic we find out that Americans aren’t paying attention to the Gosnell case, perhaps because the MSM are doing such a good job of making sure they don’t find out about it.

    • BT

      From the first paragraph in your link (paraphrased) – “despite a spike in coverage, Americans aren’t paying attention. ”

      It’s not a lack of coverage. We love to perpetuate this myth of the mainstream media’s lack of coverage. As Christians we should deal more with facts as they are, not as we wish them to be.

      To the extent there is an issue, it’s a lack of interest by the public and not a lack of media coverage.

      • BT

        I actually think the causation is reversed. News outlets are businesses that sell news. If the news they offer doesn’t generate sales, then they offer something different that does. If people aren’t excited about it, it’s more likely that news organizations will cover it less and cover other things that sell better a bit more.

        Generally, the news doesn’t create passion – they follow it.

        • MollieZHemingway

          Except it doesn’t explain all those screen shots showing that the top-searched word for a site was Gosnell — along with the return of zero results. We posted on this last month. How do you explain that?

          • BT

            Poor search technique? I don’t know. I do know you get better results if you do a news search and not just a generic web search. All I can tell you is I had no problem finding a significant number of news stories on most of the major news organizations.

  • http://twitter.com/morninganna anna mitchell.

    @MollieZHemingway:disqus – a few questions here that a national policy writer might be able to ask, if she doesn’t want to cover the trial itself: http://www.integratedcatholiclife.org/2013/05/mitchell-asking-tough-questions-in-the-wake-of-tragedy/

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