Clear eyes, full heart, can’t stop advocating for abortion

Last night, reporters were very excited to tweet extensively about an abortion filibuster going on in Texas.

While reporters struggled and struggled and struggled to find any reason at all to cover abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell’s trial, there was no struggle at all to give extensive coverage to Texas Sen. Wendy Davis’ filibustering of a bill that would protect unborn children who had made it to 20 weeks’ gestation, would require abortion clinics to meet the standards of other ambulatory surgery centers and would require doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

A sample from Sarah “local crime” Kliff, health policy reporter at the Washington Post:

This legislation is happening in the context of increased national awareness of serious problems at abortion clinics around the country, including Gosnell’s “house of horrors” and a Texas clinic run by Douglas Karpen that is accused of being even worse than Gosnell’s, if you can imagine that.

None of that context has made it into stories, near as I can tell. I asked for examples of any reporters tying this abortion debate to any of these other stories that the media have suppressed or downplayed and Texas Monthly reporter Erica Grieder (pictured here, with the big smile on the left, with Planned Parenthood honcho Cecile Richards and another Texas Monthly staffer Sonia Smith) responded “Republicans have made that argument & we’ve covered it.” The link goes to a story that says:

The bill’s sponsor, Katy Republican Glenn Hegar, said that it “raises the standard of care” for women seeking abortions and protects the lives of the unborn. Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, who had repeatedly called for Governor Rick Perry to add abortion to the special session’s agenda, had frequently invoked the genuinely horrific case of Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia-based doctor who was recently convicted of murder after killing a baby who was born alive.

Oh how quickly we forget last month’s trial that the media only covered reluctantly at best! Gosnell, of course, was convicted of killing three babies and one woman, although by all accounts he was responsible for the deaths of untold numbers of babies born alive and at least one other mother.

Grieder said she’d correct the story (written by Sonia Smith). She also offered her version of the “Gosnell is just a local crime story” explanation by saying that the Texas legislature doesn’t oversee Gosnell and that covering the legislature is a “super-full-time task.”

I suggested the omission of mentions of Douglas Karpen might be more significant. She argued that the context of the bill had nothing to do with problems reported at abortion clinics since previous incarnations of this bill predated Karpen. Perhaps reporters might consider why this bill went further than previous bills that attempted to accomplish the same thing and if the context of Gosnell or Karpen might play a role there.

But, as Grieder notes, she literally just wrote a book about putting Texas in context. Perhaps people with opinions on abortion in Texas are very different from people with opinions on abortion elsewhere. And since the Texas AP reporters are all on vacation right now, we have to trust the folks who have stayed to report.

Although I must say that Grieder and Smith’s interview of Richards doesn’t give much reason for confidence. All of the hard-hitting questions she was forced to answer:

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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.

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On Sarah Kliff’s mea culpa on Gosnell (a national story)

If you have been on Twitter in the past week or so, you probably know that our own M.Z. Hemingway recently wrote a post that noted:

… 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.

Well, about 120,000 or so social media interactions later, this journalistic discussion achieved that state that I think young people (as opposed to old people like me) call “going viral.” I think that’s the term. Did I get it right?

A whole lot of water has passed under the bridge since late last week and I have asked Mollie to continue to chart the debates with, as always, our emphasis focusing on people who are trying to promote accurate, balanced coverage of the religious, moral, cultural and scientific issues linked to this trial. In other words, we think the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell is a big, national news story and it really doesn’t matter where one stands on abortion rights, or how often one does or does not go to church, to realize that.

If you have not read it already, and you have a strong stomach, let me recommend in particular the Conor Friedersdorf piece in The Atlantic online that ran with this blast of a two-decker headline:

Why Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s Trial Should Be a Front-Page Story

The dead babies. The exploited women. The racism. The numerous governmental failures. It is thoroughly newsworthy.

That piece ended with this journalistic shot over the bow:

To sum up, this story has numerous elements any one of which would normally make it a major story. And setting aside conventions, which are flawed, this ought to be a big story on the merits.

The news value is undeniable.

Why isn’t it being covered more? I’ve got my theories. But rather than offer them at the end of an already lengthy item, I’d like to survey some of the editors and writers making coverage decisions.

Now, Friedersdorf is back with that promised follow-up piece that is simply too complex to discuss in this context, as suggested in his similarly massive headline:

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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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