Breaking the silence on abortion doctors like Gosnell

Sometimes other people do such fine GetReligion-esque media criticism that we just like to point at it and then walk away.

So that’s precisely what I’m going to do with Melinda Henneberger’s piece “Are there more abortion doctors like Kermit Gosnell? And do we want to know?” that ran online at the Washington Post. What I like about her criticism is that she puts the best construction on what her journalistic colleagues are doing while also asking hard questions — she combines nice and tough to great effect.

She begins by noting some of the revelations in the new undercover videos released by pro-life activists this week. (Quick note: you know that the Gosnell media scandal changed media coverage even slightly since these videos received some coverage here and here.) Then she wonders why the National Abortion Federation didn’t report some of what it found when it inspected Kermit Gosnell’s unsanitary clinic (“If what she observed — a padlock on an emergency exit in a part of the clinic where women were left alone overnight, for example — was so far outside the norm, then why didn’t it inspire a single phone call to the state, according to the grand jury report?”).

She criticizes media coverage of abortion clinics:

Other such criminal clinics have only made the news as local stories, while most mainstream abortion coverage details threats to abortion rights rather than to women themselves.

Even when a New York woman died after a third-trimester abortion performed in Maryland in February, the coverage questioned not the care that led to her death, but the breach of privacy she suffered when antiabortion activists publicized the case.

Henneberger notes that there is an egregious double standard:

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Media’s Gosnell reputation isn’t going to fix itself

Days after my quest for answers about why the media downplayed abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell’s abortion trial went viral, we have seen approximately eleventy billion media analysis pieces about the coverage. Many folks have written mea culpas copping to pro-choice bias, ignorance, or other journalistic failures. Some folks have tried claiming that the coverage was really there, usually pointing to either 2011 or the day the trial began (a curious approach, given what we know about the time-space continuum). Others have said that since conservative outlets didn’t cover it (except, you know, they did), that excuses the lack of mainstream coverage. Some folks just reacted defensively, yelled at me and called me names. It really ran the gamut.

What we haven’t seen terribly much of, however, is good coverage of the trial, the abortion industry, regulation of said industry or the larger issues in play. The New York Times hasn’t run anything in days, after one particularly weak story that barely mentioned the trial.

Or take the Los Angeles Times. Let’s take a trip through its search engine. When birth control activist Sandra Fluke was called a bad name, did it think that a story worth covering? Yes, big time:

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What about that Komen/Planned Parenthood dust-up? The East Coast media flipped out about the decision by a private breast cancer foundation to stop funding the country’s biggest abortion provider. Did the Los Angeles Times? Yep:

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What about that Missouri Representative, Todd Akin, who said something very stupid about rape? Uh, yeah:

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So before we look at how the trial of Kermit Gosnell has been covered by the paper, let’s look at how the paper has covered another distant case, one that hasn’t even gone to trial yet. The case dealing with the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Oh boy:

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Which brings us to the Times‘ coverage of Kermit Gosnell.

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WPost reporter explains her personal Gosnell blackout

I’ve been writing about media coverage of abortion for many years. And so have many others. If you haven’t read David Shaw’s “Abortion Bias Seeps Into The News,” published in the Los Angeles Times back in 1990, you should. That report also explains why we cover the topic here at GetReligion.

But the thing is that I’m getting kind of sick of pointing out egregious bias only to see things not just remain bad but get worse. Just think, in the last year, we saw the media drop any pretense of objectivity and bully the Susan G. Komen Foundation into funding Planned Parenthood. And then we had how many months of coverage focused on someone calling a birth control activist a bad name? And who can forget every pro-life person in the country being asked to respond to Todd Akin’s stupid remarks about rape?

So our abortion-drenched media would certainly want to cover what is arguably the country’s most horrific serial murder trial of abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, right? Well, far from the front-page, top of the news, daily update coverage you rightfully would expect, it’s been downplayed. Majorly downplayed.

Inspired by Kirsten Powers’ USA Today column yesterday, I decided to start asking journalists about their personal involvement in the Gosnell cover-up.

I began by asking the AP’s national social issues reporter why he hadn’t been tweeting to AP coverage of the Gosnell trial. I had to ask a few times and then … there it was … finally …. a tweet on the Gosnell trial. Then he told me that the AP was covering the trial (which I knew, as I’ve critiqued it here). I reminded him that I was wondering why he hadn’t been tweeting to coverage of Gosnell. I asked him to correct me if I was wrong about his lack of tweets. He didn’t.

Then I decided, since tmatt has me reading the Washington Post every day, to look at how the paper’s health policy reporter was covering Gosnell. I have critiqued many of her stories on the Susan G. Komen Foundation (she wrote quite a bit about that) and the Sandra Fluke controversy (she wrote quite a bit about that) and the Todd Akin controversy (you know where this is going). In fact, a site search for that reporter — who is named Sarah Kliff — and stories Akin and Fluke and Komen — yields more than 80 hits. Guess how many stories she’s done on this abortionist’s mass murder trial.

Did you guess zero? You’d be right.

So I asked her about it. Here’s her response:

Hi Molly – I cover policy for the Washington Post, not local crime, hence why I wrote about all the policy issues you mention.

Yes. She really, really, really said that. As Robert VerBruggen dryly responded:

Makes sense. Similarly, national gun-policy people do not cover local crime in places like Aurora or Newtown.

So when a private foundation privately decides to stop giving money to the country’s largest abortion provider, that is somehow a policy issue deserving of three dozen breathless hits. When a yahoo political candidate says something stupid about rape, that is a policy issue of such import that we got another three dozen hits about it from this reporter. It was so important that journalists found it fitting to ask every pro-lifer in their path to discuss it. And when someone says something mean to a birth control activist, that’s good for months of puffy profiles.

But gosh darn it, can you think of any policy implications to this, uh, “local crime” story? And that’s all it is. Just like a bunch of other local stories the Washington Post also refuses to cover — local crimes such as the killing of Trayvon Martin and the killing of Matthew Shepard and the killing of students at an elementary school in Connecticut. Did the Washington Post even think of covering those local crime stories? No! Oh wait, they did? Like, all the time? Hmm. That’s weird. But did they cover them in terms of policy implications? Asking politicians for their views and such? Oh they did that, too? Hmm. So weird. Oh, and Sarah Kliff herself wrote one of those stories? Well, gosh, I’m so confused.

And what policies could possibly be under discussion with this Gosnell trial? Other than, you know, abortion clinic hiring practices? And enforcement of sanitary conditions? And laws on abortion practices that extend to killing live infants by beheading them? And the killing of their mothers? And state or federal oversight of clinics with records of botched abortions? And pain medication practices? And how to handle the racist practices of some clinics? And how big of a problem this is (don’t tell anyone but another clinic nearby to Gosnell was shut down this week over similar sanitation concerns)? And disposal of babies’ bodies? And discussion of whether it’s cool to snip baby’s spines after they’re born? And how often are abortion clinics inspected anyway? What are the results of inspections? When emergency rooms take in victims of botched abortions, do they report that? How did this clinic go 17 years without an inspection? Gosh, I just can’t think of a single health policy angle here. Can you?

I mean, God forbid we go big and actually discuss abortion policy in general — something Kliff is usually quite keen to do. (Here’s her 2010 piece for Newsweek headlined Remember Roe!)

Kliff is hearing from her readers now — mostly I know about this since literally hundreds of them are copying me on their responses. To put it quite mildly, they find her justification attempt stunning, disingenuous, callous, laughable and far, far worse. The most charitable response was this one from Billy Valentine:

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We need answers on Gosnell coverage

We’ve had a couple posts on the curious downplaying by the national media of the abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell’s mass murder trial going on right now in Philadelphia. We’ve noted, among other things, that USA Today is one of the few outlets to have mentioned the story more than once.

Well, today that national newspaper also published an absolutely devastating column — repeat, “column” — by Kirsten Powers. You should read “We’ve forgotten what belongs on Page One” — unless you are trying to remain in your bubble of epistemic closure at all costs:

Infant beheadings. Severed baby feet in jars. A child screaming after it was delivered alive during an abortion procedure. Haven’t heard about these sickening accusations?

It’s not your fault.

Powers lays out some of the details of the case and why they matter for a free society. She ends:

The deafening silence of too much of the media, once a force for justice in America, is a disgrace.

Now, Powers is just one of the latest critics to ask what in the h-e-double-hockey-sticks is going on with this insane lack of national media attention on this trial.

I think many of us are going to continue asking. Just by way of example, I noticed that the Associated Press’ national social issues reporter David Crary hasn’t mentioned the Gosnell trial. Or, at least, I could find no mention of it going back a month or so on his Twitter feed (I recognize the technology here is imperfect so perhaps I missed his stories or his publicizing of colleagues’ stories). So I asked him why.

.@CraryAP: Any reason you’re not tweeting out updates to AP coverage of abortionist Gosnell’s mass murder trial?

I explained to others on Twitter:

.@craryAP is AP “national social issues” reporter. He tweets out local coverage and covers national angles on social issues stories.

Go back a month+ in @craryAP’s twitter feed and there are 0 tweets regarding abortionist Gosnell’s mass murder trial. Why?

.@craryap is prolific tweeter of “social issue” AP stories. But he’s been silent on Gosnell. Is it lack of AP coverage? Or why the blackout?

He hasn’t responded yet, and I’ll be sure to share his explanation when he does.

You can see his Twitter feed here. His favorite stories deal with homosexuality but he also gives some love to abortion-related stories. The most recent one was something about Ireland resident Savita Halappanavar, whose death reporters and other pro-choice activists (if not medical examiners) link to a denial of abortion — don’t confuse that story with the woman who died after a late-term abortion in Maryland recently, a story that also was downplayed and blamed on, by the Washington Post, “childbirth.” Really.

Anyway, perhaps he’ll get around to linking to coverage of one of the most salacious mass-murder trials our country has ever seen.

But this isn’t just about David Crary of the Associated Press. This is about quite a few reporters. And so I have a few other questions, which I posted on Twitter. I haven’t had any of the targeted reporters respond, much less justify, their news decisions, but I’ll keep you updated:

If you are a reporter who covered, say, Fluke getting called a bad name but not the Gosnell trial, can you explain news decision there?

If you are a reporter who covered, say, Komen defunding @ppact but not the Gosnell trial, can you explain news decision there?

If you are a reporter who covered, say, Akin being an idiot but not the Gosnell trial, can you explain news decision there?

And if you were 1 of many journos who gave those stories repeated histrionic coverage and have ignored Gosnell, please explain that, too.

If everyone agrees to stay silent about this abortionist’s trial, the media blackout works. But some folks are speaking out. And they have some very tough questions about what it says about our press corps. For instance:

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Should media cover — or cover up — abortion trial?

I would love to critique the coverage of the trial of Kermit Gosnell, the abortion doctor whose mass murder trial is going on right now in Philadelphia.

The only problem is that there is a curious lack of media coverage.

The Daily Mail had a story this weekend headlined “‘Fetuses and blood all over the place’: Medic’s graphic account of ‘be-heading live babies’ at abortion ‘House of Horrors’ in Philadelphia” but none of the big three networks have even mentioned the trial once.

That Daily Mail piece is just one update on one recent witness in the trial, which has been going on for three weeks with similar horrific updates you can read about — in the pro-life and Christian and conservative press, but not in the national mainstream press — every day. An abortion shop of horrors is undoubtedly of interest to Christian audiences and pro-life audiences and conservative audiences. But is it not also of interest to general audiences? Why wouldn’t it be?

It is very difficult to critique coverage of a topic when the media isn’t covering it so much as inexplicably covering it up.

David Freddoso of the Washington Examiner couldn’t help but notice the media silence:

You might not know it, but there’s a mass murder trial going on in Philadelphia. There has been plenty of courtroom drama, and the death penalty remains a possibility.

The media are seldom shy about such sensational affairs, but they have been with one. Perhaps it’s because the accused mass murderer is an abortion doctor, who along with his medically untrained staff is accused of killing a female patient and several babies who had already been born, alive and breathing.

Doctor Kermit Gosnell’s preferred method of killing these latter, according to witnesses, was to sever their spinal cords. Upon his arrest in January 2011, his urine-scented and blood-soaked clinic was deemed a “house of horrors.” (I will spare readers further details, which are far worse.)

Freddoso compares the media silence on this topic with the wall-to-wall coverage of another horrific incident: the Sandy Hook massacre. Freddoso notes that “Gosnell’s trial is to abortion what Sandy Hook is to gun ownership”:

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NYT publishes ‘news story’ on pregnancy centers

The New York Times, a daily publication that claims to “Publish All the News That’s Fit to Print,” gave front-page play to the growing number of pregnancy centers that discourage abortion.

As a journalist, I believe in the value of skepticism: It’s a healthy attribute in reporting and writing newspaper stories. My question related to this particular Times report: At what point does skepticism detour into editorializing?

Let’s start at the top (boldface emphasis mine):

WACO, Tex. — With free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, along with diapers, parenting classes and even temporary housing, pregnancy centers are playing an increasingly influential role in the anti-abortion movement. While most attention has focused on scores of new state laws restricting abortion, the centers have been growing in numbers and gaining state financing and support.

Largely run by conservative Christians, the centers say they offer what Roland Warren, head of Care Net, one of the largest pregnancy center organizations, described as “a compassionate approach to this issue.”

As they expand, they are adding on-call or on-site medical personnel and employing sophisticated strategies to attract women, including Internet search optimization and mobile units near Planned Parenthood clinics.

Is that double attribution really needed? Does putting “a compassionate approach to this issue” inside quote marks intentionally call the description into question? What do we have here: simple journalistic attribution (that’s a good thing) or scare quotes (that’s not)?

Keep reading, and the Times provides this background:

Pregnancy centers, while not new, now number about 2,500, compared with about 1,800 abortion providers. Ms. Maxon estimated that the centers see about a million clients annually, with another million attending abstinence and other programs. Abortion rights advocates have long called some of their approaches deceptive or manipulative. Medical and other experts say some dispense scientifically flawed information, exaggerating abortion’s risks.

What approaches are deceptive or manipulative? What is the scientifically flawed information? Will both sides get a chance to comment on the claims?

Immediately, both sides receive an opportunity to weigh in briefly:

Jean Schroedel, a Claremont Graduate University politics professor, said that “there are some positive aspects” to centers, but that “things pregnant women are told at many of these centers, some of it is really factually suspect.”

The centers defend their practices and information. “Women who come in are constantly telling us, ‘Abortion seems to be my only alternative and I think that’s the best thing to do,’ ” said Peggy Hartshorn, president of Heartbeat International, which she described as a “Christ-centered” organization with 1,100 affiliates. “Centers provide women with the whole choice.”

Later, the Times returns to the criticisms raised against the pregnancy centers:

Some centers use controversial materials stating that abortion may increase the risk of breast cancer. A brochure issued by Care Net’s national organization, for example, says, “A number of reliable studies have concluded that there is an association between abortion and later development of breast cancer.”

Dr. Otis Brawley, the American Cancer Society’s chief medical officer, who calls himself a “pro-life Catholic,” said studies showing abortion-breast cancer links are “very weak,” while strong studies find no correlation.

Other claims include long-term psychological effects. The Care Net brochure says that “many women experience initial relief,” but that “women should be informed that abortion significantly increases risk for” clinical depression, suicidal thoughts and behavior, post-traumatic stress disorder and other problems. An American Psychological Association report found no increased risk from one abortion.

How does Care Net respond to the claims that its materials are inaccurate?

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Pod people: Theodicy, pinnochios and the war on women

Last week was not one of the best for the mainstream media. I just wrote a lengthy screed about how awful the coverage, or the lack thereof, was about an Indiana Senate candidate, the administration’s handling of a terrorist attack by Muslim extremists in Libya and a so-called “war on women.” You know which one didn’t receive much coverage from most outlets and which ones did. And you can hear me talk about it on this week’s Crossroads podcast.

The only thing I will add is that the mainstream media missed an opportunity to talk about religion in a mature manner because of their single-minded focus on horserace politics. What I wish we would have seen is what some alternative media outlets excelled at this past week, looking at theodicy and different theological approaches to the question of why good or bad things happen. By wanting to push a political narrative, the media lost the opportunity to educate, inform or even just reflect the values of the communities they seek to serve. And I can’t help but think it’s a great example of why the media have lost so much trust in the public they seek to profit from.

Anyway, I don’t want to spend too much time harshing on the horribly biased week the media had. I had figured I’d have to write a “Got News?” piece about the failure of the media to call out President Obama for a particular statement he’s been making quite a bit. A statement that turns out not to be true. But the Washington Post‘s “fact checker” looked into the statement:

 “You’ve got issues like Planned Parenthood, where that organization provides millions of women cervical-cancer screenings, mammograms, all kinds of basic health care.”  — President Obama during an interview on “The Tonight Show,” Oct. 24, 2012

The media have also made this claim. I will never forget the ABC News piece that led the nightly news with a fabrication about Planned Parenthood providing mammograms. You can read my piece about it here. It’s a common statement from President Obama, as the Post piece explains, providing multiple examples. And all year long this claim has been repeated by the most powerful people in the country.

Only problem? Well, it’s not true. Or, as the Washington Post puts it:

The problem here is that Planned Parenthood does not perform mammograms or even possess the necessary equipment to do so. As such, the organization certainly does not “provide” mammograms in the strict sense. Instead, its clinics provide referrals and direct low-income women toward resources to help pay for the procedure.

It is good to correct inaccurate statements! All year long I have been frustrated by how this inaccurate statement has been bandied about. A casual news reader might be under the impression that Planned Parenthood’s most noteworthy work is the mammograms it supposedly provides (you’ll note how rarely the 300,000 abortions get mentioned or the $500 million in federal subsidies it receives each year get mentioned).

But I want to show how the Post concludes it’s “fact check”:

The president has suggested time and again that Planned Parenthood directly provides mammograms, but the organization only offers referrals and helps women find financial resources for the exams. This suggests an intentional attempt to mislead voters about all the services that are at stake with decisions regarding federal funding for the controversial group.

Obama’s campaign points out that the incumbent was referring in each case to Planned Parenthood’s broader role as a health-care provider. But that doesn’t make his remarks any less inaccurate.

We wavered between Two or Three Pinocchios but ultimately decided the president earns Three Pinocchios for his mammogram remarks on “The Tonight Show.” He has repeated them too many times in one form or another for this to be considered just playing with words to generate a misleading impression.

This is what annoys me — the awarding of a subjective Pinocchio score. Just tell us what the politician said and then tell us whether it comports with the facts. If there are differences of opinion on how to interpret something, go ahead and include that. But this Pinocchio thing? I can do without it.

Also, while the mainstream media is obviously anything but curious about why Planned Parenthood doesn’t do mammograms but does do 300,000+ abortions each year, you can read the pro-life press for more (e.g. “Abortion is 125 to 165 times more profitable than mammography.”) And back to the GotNews? thing … did anyone see mainstream coverage of the pro-life event “Schedule Your Imaginary Mammogram Day“? I didn’t.


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