When Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin made a comment about women being raped last year, the New York Times responded with, according to a search engine count, about 250 stories in under three months. A sample of the 19 (!) headlines from just the first two days*:
“Republicans Press Todd Akin to Quit Race,” “Romney Condemns Akin Remarks on Rape,” “Romney and Ryan Team Up on Trail Amid Criticism on Abortion,” “Akin’s No-Show on ‘Piers Morgan’ Is Boon for Program,” “Romney Statement on Abortion Contradicts Ryan’s Earlier Stance,” etc., etc., etc.
It didn’t slow down. That search engine shows 22 stories about Akin on August 21 alone. An August 22 story was headlined “Ryan Pressed to Explain Position on Rape and Abortion.” And it was written by Trip Gabriel, who is also on the New York Times‘ Gosnell coverage, such as it is. Gabriel even wrote about trying to press the candidate he was covering about the Akin issue in his campaign journal.
It’s interesting to note, then, how this reporter, his colleagues at The Times and journalists at other papers have handled the political implications of the Gosnell story. This Gosnell story is nowhere near as bad as someone saying something untrue about rape. Not that bad. It’s just about a convicted murderer whose abortions fell a bit too far on the post-birth and malpractice side of things than the prebirth side and resulted in an untold number of deaths and scarings and disease spreading.
But The Times has — how does one put it — struggled with stories on the general case and the actual trial in particular. In the first one to cover the trial after an early report, the headline gave away that the story was only being published under extreme pressure, barely mentioned the trial, failed to fully represent the legal arguments mentioned and got extremely confused about the difference between babies and fetuses. (tmatt will have more on this later.) Another piece was better, though it read perhaps a bit too much like a well-crafted press release from an abortion rights activist group.
This last piece suffers from the same problem. If the job is to ask tough questions of people in Gosnell’s line of work (anything like the tough questions asked of people in the same political party as Todd Akin), it failed. If the job was to publish the statements from press releases without even so much as a hint of a tough follow-up, it was great. If it was to write up an anodyne “she-said, she-said” of competing analyses of the trial, also great work.
Don’t get me wrong, while I will fully agree with the New York Times that a politician saying something stupid deserves at least 250 breathless stories in a three-month span and that the country’s most salacious serial murder trial, that of an abortion doctor to boot, should only begrudgingly and weakly be covered after extreme pressure, I wonder if maybe there’s not room for slight improvement here.