Mainstream press on Gosnell: adjust the framing

Mainstream press on Gosnell: adjust the framing April 10, 2013

Yes, there’s more.

Abortionist Kermit Gosnell is on trial in Philadelphia for killing a female patient and using scissors to cut the spines of fetuses that were aborted alive. According to the grand jury report, he killed “hundreds” of living fetuses. It was his “standard business practice.” Mysteriously, Gosnell kept fetal feet in jars, perhaps as mementos.

I took that from The Weekly Standard, a conservative publication covering a hard-news story that, for some reason, the national media are curiously downplaying. Yes, the same national media that gave us non-stop, daily, histrionic, top-of-the-show coverage of such important news as the Komen Foundation’s decision to stop its minor funding of the country’s largest abortion provider (funded to the tune of $1 billion a year) and someone saying something mean to a birth-control activist, etc.

Each day of this trial reveals new horrors. The details are horrifying. But whether it’s the Newtown massacre or the massacre that took place at this abortion clinic, access to the news is important. Denying access to the news — as so many national media are doing in this case — is not good for civil society, for public discourse. Correct me if I’m wrong but, in general, if you are a news outlet you should report the news.

Over at HotAir, Ed Morrissey writes about whether one witness’ defense — that she was just following orders — is any better than other times that defense has been used. Then:

While we’re asking questions, let’s ask again why the crime-obsessed media hasn’t taken an interest in this case.  It has nearly everything that the media usually wants — horrific tales, serial killings, grotesque deliberation, even a villain who liked to make and keep trophies of his victims.  We even have living victims willing to go on camera to talk about their experiences with Gosnell. So why has no national media outlet taken advantage of this target-rich environment?

It’s a great question. Some have tried to defend it by noting that local media has covered the story. But a salacious “local” murder trial doesn’t even need to involve mass murder for the national media to usually devote untold resources to it.

We have more than the usual required number of incidents to get trend pieces and regular coverage of the larger issues, too. We had the Planned Parenthood official in Florida defending post-birth abortions such as the ones that Gosnell committed. We have another Planned Parenthood clinic being exposed for unhealthy conditions, like Gosnell’s. Pro-life (and at least one local) media covered five botched abortions there in a matter of weeks, whistleblowers who sounded the alarm about the conditions and the eventual shut-down of the clinic. We have had some legislatures responding to unhealthy abortion clinic conditions such as the ones being discussed in the Gosnell trial.

I mean, all of this isn’t anywhere near as big of a deal as a law school student being called a bad name, but it’s almost worth some coverage, no? Is it that this story so upends the traditional frameworks the media use to tell their stories? Reader Mark Baddeley has some thoughts:

I like Northcoast’s point. If the right to life march is not newsworthy because it happens “all the time”, then surely the prosecution of an abortion doctor for mass murder with a possible capital sentence *is* news. This is a singular event. When you add in how charged the American scene is over abortion this is the kind of story that would sell papers, and drive ratings up. I mean, the defunding of Planned Parenthood by Komen was, in the judgement of editors, a story of national importance that drove the story cycle for some time, and it was far less “if it bleeds it leads” than this story.

I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that the problem here is that this story cannot be framed the right way for the mainstream media. I don’t want to blame them entirely for this problem — their consumers prefer stories that are framed in a way that fit with how they already see the world anyway. But there has been a constant frame for decades of brave pro-abortion advocates and doctors fighting for women’s health against misogynist knuckle draggers who want to force women out of the workplace and into the kitchen and delivery room. There is simply no way that this story fits with the frame *at all*. And so there is no story. A story that can’t fit the pre-existing frames open for it can’t be communicated within the limitations inherent to the media at this point in time. On this story the conservative and Christian sites have a gift on a silver platter because the story fits entirely within their frame, and is what their punters already expect to see happen sooner or later.

I’m sure that the partisan cheerleading for the pro-abortion side is at work here, as was painfully evident with the Komen reporting debacle. If the editors wanted to tell this story they’d try ad overcome the frame problem. But I think that this is also a framing problem. Having framed all the stories on this issue to fit the pro-abortion side, there is no frame available to help communicate this one. And without that frame contemporary journalism finds it hard to function. Their consumers don’t pay them to force them to think.

Perhaps it’s worth reflecting on whether reporters and editors should question their preferred frames if those frames require hiding reality. But I thought of another frame that might be helpful for reporters not wishing to be the PR team for the abortion lobby.

A reporter tweeted out that “Looks like @nytimes has run 1 article this year on Gosnell, and @WSJ (incredibly) zero. @USATODAY has run 4.” One person responded to her that:

Media’s favorite conceit is that is gives a voice to the powerless and forces people to confront uncomfortable truths…

Well there you go! Go with that one. Make it be true, even! Give a voice to the powerless and force people to confront some uncomfortable truths.

Frame image via Shutterstock.

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