Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

Dr. Kermit Gosnell, MD: Is Philadelphia’s horrific murder trial overshadowed?

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Sunday, April 21, 2013

In an earlier entry entitled “They kill babies… and women, too. West Philadelpia MD indicted on 8 counts murder” posted on Wednesday, January 19, 2011 I wrote in part that “The atrocities of this ONE incident make Nazi madman “scientist” Josef Mengele and madman/mass-murderer Jeffrey Dahmer almost pale by comparison. Body parts and bodies in freezers and refrigerators, corpse mutilation… all in the “City of Brotherly Love.”

Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s murder trial will be starting it’s sixth week, and with testimony such as:
Defense attorney Jack McMahon (heatedly): “After Digoxen and having its neck cut, you’re telling the jury that you saw the baby moving?”
Kareema Cross, 28-year-old employee from 2005 to 2009: “Yes, it was.”
- it doesn’t look good for the former physician, or for his untrained, unlicensed staff.

The indictment against him may be downloaded and read here:
http://www.phila.gov/districtattorney/pdfs/grandjurywomensmedical.pdf

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.

By Conor Friedersdorf
Please note: This post contains graphic descriptions and imagery.
A procedure room at the Women's Medical Society. / Philadelphia District Attorney's Office

A procedure room at the Women’s Medical Society. / Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office

The grand jury report in the case of Kermit Gosnell, 72, is among the most horrifying I’ve read. “This case is about a doctor who killed babies and endangered women. What we mean is that he regularly and illegally delivered live, viable babies in the third trimester of pregnancy – and then murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors,” it states. “The medical practice by which he carried out this business was a filthy fraud in which he overdosed his patients with dangerous drugs, spread venereal disease among them with infected instruments, perforated their wombs and bowels – and, on at least two occasions, caused their deaths.”Charged with seven counts of first-degree murder, Gosnell is now standing trial in a Philadelphia courtroom. An NBC affiliate’s coverage includes testimony as grisly as you’d expect. “An unlicensed medical school graduate delivered graphic testimony about the chaos at a Philadelphia clinic where he helped perform late-term abortions,” the channel reports. “Stephen Massof described how he snipped the spinal cords of babies, calling it, ‘literally a beheading. It is separating the brain from the body.’ He testified that at times, when women were given medicine to speed up their deliveries, ‘it would rain fetuses. Fetuses and blood all over the place.’”One former employee described hearing a baby screaming after it was delivered during an abortion procedure. “I can’t describe it. It sounded like a little alien,” she testified. Said the Philadelphia Inquirer in its coverage, “Prosecutors have cited the dozens of jars of severed baby feet as an example of Gosnell’s idiosyncratic and illegal practice of providing abortions for cash to poor women pregnant longer than the 24-week cutoff for legal abortions in Pennsylvania.”

Until Thursday, I wasn’t aware of this story. It has generated sparse coverage in the national media, and while it’s been mentioned in RSS feeds to which I subscribe, I skip past most news items. I still consume a tremendous amount of journalism. Yet had I been asked at a trivia night about the identity of Kermit Gosnell, I would’ve been stumped and helplessly guessed a green Muppet. Then I saw Kirsten Power’s USA Today column. She makes a powerful, persuasive case that the Gosnell trial ought to be getting a lot more attention in the national press than it is getting.

The media criticism angle interests me. But I agree that the story has been undercovered, and I happen to be a working journalist, so I’ll begin by telling the rest of the story for its own sake. Only then will I explain why I think it deserves more coverage than it has gotten, although it ought to be self-evident by the time I’m done distilling the grand jury’s allegations. Grand juries aren’t infallible. This version of events hasn’t been proven in a court of law. But journalists routinely treat accounts given by police, prosecutors and grand juries as at least plausible if not proven. Try to decide, as you hear the state’s side of the case, whether you think it is credible, and if so, whether the possibility that some or all this happened demands massive journalistic scrutiny.

* * *

On February 18, 2010, the FBI raided the “Women’s Medical Society,” entering its offices about 8:30 p.m. Agents expected to find evidence that it was illegally selling prescription drugs. On entering, they quickly realized something else was amiss. In the grand jury report’s telling, “There was blood on the floor. A stench of urine filled the air. A flea-infested cat was wandering through the facility, and there were cat feces on the stairs. Semi-conscious women scheduled for abortions were moaning in the waiting room or the recovery room, where they sat on dirty recliners covered with blood-stained blankets. All the women had been sedated by unlicensed staff.” Authorities had also learned about the patient that died at the facility several months prior.Public health officials inspected the surgery rooms. “Instruments were not sterile,” the grand jury states. “Equipment was rusty and outdated. Oxygen equipment was covered with dust, and had not been inspected. The same corroded suction tubing used for abortions was the only tubing available for oral airways if assistance for breathing was needed. There was no functioning resuscitation or even monitoring equipment, except for a single blood pressure cuff.” Upon further inspection, “the search team discovered fetal remains haphazardly stored throughout the clinic – in bags, milk jugs, orange juice cartons, and even in cat-food containers.”And “Gosnell admitted to Detective Wood that at least 10 to 20 percent of the fetuses were probably older than 24 weeks in gestation – even though Pennsylvania law prohibits abortions after 24 weeks. In some instances, surgical incisions had been made at the base of the fetal skulls.” Gosnell’s medical license was quickly suspended. 18 days later, The Department of Health filed papers to start the process of closing the clinic. The district attorney submitted the case to the grand jury on May 4, 2010. Testimony was taken from 58 witnesses. Evidence was examined.

In Pennsylvania, most doctors won’t perform abortions after the 20th week, many for health reasons, others for moral reasons. Abortions after 24 weeks are illegal. Until 2009, Gosnell reportedly performed mostly first and second trimester abortions. But his clinic had come to develop a bad reputation, and could attract only women who couldn’t get an abortion elsewhere, former employees have said. “Steven Massof estimated that in 40 percent of the second-trimester abortions performed by Gosnell, the fetuses were beyond 24 weeks gestational age,” the grand jury states. “Latosha Lewis testified that Gosnell performed procedures over 24 weeks ‘too much to count,’ and ones up to 26 weeks ‘very often.’ …in the last few years, she testified, Gosnell increasingly saw out-of-state referrals, which were all second-trimester, or beyond. By these estimates, Gosnell performed at least four or five illegal abortions every week.”

The grand jury report includes an image of a particularly extreme case (the caption is theirs, not mine):

grand jury report image That photo pertains to an unusual case, in that the mother had to seek help at a hospital after the abortion she sought at Gosnell’s office went awry. The grand jury report summarizes a more typical late-term abortion, as conducted at the clinic, concluding with the following passage:

When you perform late-term “abortions” by inducing labor, you get babies. Live, breathing, squirming babies. By 24 weeks, most babies born prematurely will survive if they receive appropriate medical care. But that was not what the Women’s Medical Society was about. Gosnell had a simple solution for the unwanted babies he delivered: he killed them. He didn’t call it that. He called it “ensuring fetal demise.” The way he ensured fetal demise was by sticking scissors into the back of the baby’s neck and cutting the spinal cord. He called that “snipping.”

Over the years, there were hundreds of “snippings.” Sometimes, if Gosnell was unavailable, the “snipping” was done by one of his fake doctors, or even by one of the administrative staff.

But all the employees of the Women’s Medical Society knew. Everyone there acted as if it wasn’t murder at all. Most of these acts cannot be prosecuted, because Gosnell destroyed the files. Among the relatively few cases that could be specifically documented, one was Baby Boy A. His 17-year-old mother was almost 30 weeks pregnant — seven and a half months — when labor was induced. An employee estimated his birth weight as approaching six pounds. He was breathing and moving when Gosnell severed his spine and put the body in a plastic shoebox for disposal. The doctor joked that this baby was so big he could “walk me to the bus stop.” Another, Baby Boy B, whose body was found at the clinic frozen in a one-gallon spring-water bottle, was at least 28 weeks of gestational age when he was killed. Baby C was moving and breathing for 20 minutes before an assistant came in and cut the spinal cord, just the way she had seen Gosnell do it so many times. And these were not even the worst cases.

Abuse of Women Patients
What little media coverage there’s been in the case has understandably focused on the murder allegations. The grand jury report also makes clear how horrific Women’s Medical Society was for the patients.

The unsanitary conditions were just the beginning.

One woman “was left lying in place for hours after Gosnell tore her cervix and colon while trying, unsuccessfully, to extract the fetus,” the report states. Another patient, 19, “was held for several hours after Gosnell punctured her uterus. As a result of the delay, she fell into shock from blood loss, and had to undergo a hysterectomy.” A third patient “went into convulsions during an abortion, fell off the procedure table, and hit her head on the floor. Gosnell wouldn’t call an ambulance, and wouldn’t let the woman’s companion leave the building so that he could call an ambulance.”

Often times, women given drugs to induce labor delivered before the doctor even arrived at work.

Said one former employee:

If… a baby was about to come out, I would take the woman to the bathroom, they would sit on the toilet and basically the baby would fall out and it would be in the toilet and I would be rubbing her back and trying to calm her down for two, three, four hours until Dr. Gosnell comes.

She would not move.

One patient died:

She was a 41-year-old, refugee who had recently come to the United States from a resettlement camp in Nepal. When she arrived at the clinic, Gosnell, as usual, was not there. Office workers had her sign various forms that she could not read, and then began doping her up. She received repeated unmonitored, unrecorded intravenous injections of Demerol, a sedative seldom used in recent years because of its dangers. Gosnell liked it because it was cheap. After several hours, Mrs. Mongar simply stopped breathing. When employees finally noticed, Gosnell was called in and briefl y attempted to give CPR. He couldn’t use the defibrillator (it was broken); nor did he administer emergency medications that might have restarted her heart. After further crucial delay, paramedics finally arrived, but Mrs.Mongar was probably brain dead before they were even called. In the meantime, the clinic staff hooked up machinery and rearranged her body to make it look like they had been in the midst of a routine, safe abortion procedure.

Even then, there might have been some slim hope of reviving Mrs. Mongar. The paramedics were able to generate a weak pulse. But, because of the cluttered hallways and the padlocked emergency door, it took them over twenty minutes just to find a way to get her out of the building. Doctors at the hospital managed to keep her heart beating, but they never knew what they were trying to treat, because Gosnell and his staff lied about how much anesthesia they had given, and who had given it. By that point, there was no way to restore any neurological activity. Life support was removed the next day. Karnamaya Mongar was pronounced dead.

Another provocative detail: A former employee testified “that white patients often did not have to wait in the same dirty rooms as black and Asian clients. Instead, Gosnell would escort them up the back steps to the only clean office — O’Neill’s — and he would turn on the TV for them. Mrs. Mongar, she said, would have been treated ‘no different from the rest of the Africans and Asians.’”

Said the employee:

Like if a girl — the black population was — African population was big here. So he didn’t mind you medicating your African American girls, your Indian girl, but if you had a white girl from the suburbs, oh, you better not medicate her. You better wait until he go in and talk to her first. And one day I said something to him and he was like, that’s the way of the world. Huh?

And he brushed it off and that was it.

Anesthesia was frequently dispensed by employees who were neither legally permitted nor trained to do it, including a 15-year-old high school student who worked at the clinic, the report states.

Most employees did as they were told, but one objected:

Marcella Stanley Choung, who told us that her “training” for anesthesia consisted of a 15-minute description by Gosnell and reading a chart he had posted in a cabinet. She was so uncomfortable medicating patients, she said, that she “didn’t sleep at night.” She knew that if she made even a small error, “I can kill this lady, and I’m not jail material.” One night in 2002, when she found herself alone with 15 patients, she refused Gosnell’s directives to medicate them. She made an excuse, went to her car, and drove away, never to return. Choung immediately filed a complaint with the Department of State, but the department never acted on it.

The Failure to Stop It
That brings us to a subject you’ve perhaps been wondering about: How on earth did this go on for so long without anyone stopping it? The grand jury delved into that very question in their report. I’m going to excerpt it at length, because it bears directly on the question that will concern us afterward: has this story gotten an appropriate amount of attention from the news media?

Here is the grand jury on oversight failures:

Pennsylvania is not a third-world country. There were several oversight agencies
that stumbled upon and should have shut down Kermit Gosnell long ago. But none of them did…

The first line of defense was the Pennsylvania Department of Health. The department’s job is to audit hospitals and outpatient medical facilities, like Gosnell’s, to make sure that they follow the rules and provide safe care. The department had contact with the Women’s Medical Society dating back to 1979, when it first issued approval to open an abortion clinic. It did not conduct another site review until 1989, ten years later. Numerous violations were already apparent, but Gosnell got a pass when he promised to fix them. Site reviews in 1992 and 1993 also noted various violations, but again failed to ensure they were corrected.

But at least the department had been doing something up to that point, however ineffectual. After 1993, even that pro form a effort came to an end. Not because of administrative ennui, although there had been plenty. Instead, the Pennsylvania Department of Health abruptly decided, for political reasons, to stop inspecting abortion clinics at all… The only exception to this live-and-let-die policy was supposed to be for complaints dumped directly on the department’s doorstep. Those, at least, would be investigated. Except that there were complaints about Gosnell, repeatedly. Several different attorneys, representing women injured by Gosnell, contacted the department. A doctor from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia hand-delivered a complaint, advising the department that numerous patients he had referred for abortions came back from Gosnell with the same venereal disease. The medical examiner of Delaware County informed the department that Gosnell had performed an illegal abortion on a 14-year-old girl carrying a 30-week-old baby. And the department received official notice that a woman named Karnamaya Mongar had died at Gosnell’s hands.

Yet not one of these alarm bells — not even Mrs. Mongar’s death — prompted the department to look at Gosnell or the Women’s Medical Society… But even this total abdication by the Department of Health might not have been fatal. Another agency with authority in the health field, the Pennsylvania Department of State, could have stopped Gosnell single-handedly.

The Department of State, through its Board of Medicine, licenses and oversees individual physicians… Almost a decade ago, a former employee of Gosnell presented the Board of Medicine with a complaint that laid out the whole scope of his operation: the unclean, unsterile conditions; the unlicensed workers; the unsupervised sedation; the underage abortion patients; even the over-prescribing of pain pills with high resale value on the street. The department assigned an investigator, whose investigation consisted primarily of an offsite interview with Gosnell. The investigator never inspected the facility, questioned other employees, or reviewed any records. Department attorneys chose to accept this incomplete investigation, and dismissed the complaint as unconfirmed.

Shortly thereafter the department received an even more disturbing report — about a woman, years before Karnamaya Mongar, who died of sepsis after Gosnell perforated her uterus. The woman was 22 years old. A civil suit against Gosnell was settled for almost a million dollars, and the insurance company forwarded the information to the department. That report should have been all the confirmation needed for the complaint from the former employee that was already in the department’s possession. Instead, the department attorneys dismissed this complaint too… The same thing happened at least twice more: the department received complaints about lawsuits against Gosnell, but dismissed them as meaningless…

Philadelphia health department employees regularly visited the Women’s Medical Society to retrieve blood samples for testing purposes, but never noticed, or more likely never bothered to report, that anything was amiss. Another employee inspected the clinic in response to a complaint that dead fetuses were being stored in paper bags in the employees’ lunch refrigerator. The inspection confirmed numerous violations… But no follow-up was ever done… A health department representative also came to the clinic as part of a citywide vaccination program. She promptly discovered that Gosnell was scamming the program; she was the only employee, city or state, who actually tried to do something about the appalling things she saw there. By asking questions and poking around, she was able to file detailed reports identifying many of the most egregious elements of Gosnell’s practice. It should have been enough to stop him. But instead her reports went into a black hole, weeks before Karnamaya Mongar walked into the Woman’s Medical Society.

…And it wasn’t just government agencies that did nothing. The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and its subsidiary, Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, are in the same neighborhood as Gosnell’s office. State law requires hospitals to report complications from abortions. A decade ago, a Gosnell patient died at HUP after a botched abortion, and the hospital apparently filed the necessary report. But the victims kept coming in. At least three other Gosnell patients were brought to Penn facilities for emergency surgery; emergency room personnel said they have treated many others as well. And at least one additional woman was hospitalized there after Gosnell had begun a flagrantly illegal abortion of a 29-week-old fetus. Yet, other than the one initial report, Penn could find not a single case in which it complied with its legal duty to alert authorities to the danger. Not even when a second woman turned up virtually dead…

So too with the National Abortion Federation.

NAF is an association of abortion providers that upholds the strict est health and legal standards for its members. Gosnell, bizarrely, applied for admission shortly after Karnamaya Mongar’s death. Despite his various efforts to fool her, the evaluator from NAF readily noted that records were not properly kept, that risks were not explained, that patients were not monitored, that equipment was not available, that anesthesia was misused. It was the worst abortion clinic she had ever inspected. Of course, she rejected Gosnell’s application. She just never told anyone in authority about all the horrible, dangerous things she had seen.

The conclusion drawn at the end of the section is provocative. “Bureaucratic inertia is not exactly news. We understand that,” it states. “But we think this was something more. We think the reason no one acted is because the women in question were poor and of color, because the victims were infants without identities, and because the subject was the political football of abortion.”

A Front-Page Story
Says Kirsten Powers in her USA Today op-ed, “Let me state the obvious. This should be front page news. When Rush Limbaugh attacked Sandra Fluke, there was non-stop media hysteria. The venerable NBC Nightly News’ Brian Williams intoned, ‘A firestorm of outrage from women after a crude tirade from Rush Limbaugh,’ as he teased a segment on the brouhaha. Yet, accusations of babies having their heads severed — a major human rights story if there ever was one — doesn’t make the cut.”

Inducing live births and subsequently severing the heads of the babies is indeed a horrific story that merits significant attention. Strange as it seems to say it, however, that understates the case.

For this isn’t solely a story about babies having their heads severed, though it is that. It is also a story about a place where, according to the grand jury, women were sent to give birth into toilets; where a doctor casually spread gonorrhea and chlamydiae to unsuspecting women through the reuse of cheap, disposable instruments; an office where a 15-year-old administered anesthesia; an office where former workers admit to playing games when giving patients powerful narcotics; an office where white women were attended to by a doctor and black women were pawned off on clueless untrained staffers. Any single one of those things would itself make for a blockbuster news story. Is it even conceivable that an optometrist who attended to his white patients in a clean office while an intern took care of the black patients in a filthy room wouldn’t make national headlines?

But it isn’t even solely a story of a rogue clinic that’s awful in all sorts of sensational ways either. Multiple local and state agencies are implicated in an oversight failure that is epic in proportions! If I were a city editor for any Philadelphia newspaper the grand jury report would suggest a dozen major investigative projects I could undertake if I had the staff to support them. And I probably wouldn’t have the staff. But there is so much fodder for additional reporting.

There is, finally, the fact that abortion, one of the most hotly contested, polarizing debates in the country, is at the center of this case. It arguably informs the abortion debate in any number of ways, and has numerous plausible implications for abortion policy, including the oversight and regulation of clinics, the appropriateness of late-term abortions, the penalties for failing to report abuses, the statute of limitations for killings like those with which Gosnell is charged, whether staff should be legally culpable for the bad behavior of doctors under whom they work…

There’s just no end to it.

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.

is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.By the same author: “14 Theories for Why Kermit Gosnell’s Case Didn’t Get More Media Attention

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/print/2013/04/why-dr-kermit-gosnells-trial-should-be-a-front-page-story/274944/

Why Kermit Gosnell hasn’t been on Page One

By Melinda Henneberger, Updated: April 15, 2013

News outlets have been struggling to explain why until now there’s been so little coverage of the murder trial of Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia abortion doctor accused of delivering live, screaming children and then beheading them.

The Post and other mainstream news outfits are on the story now, belatedly, so maybe critics like me shouldn’t act like the mother who, when you do call her, spends half the conversation asking why you haven’t called.

But, why wasn’t more written sooner? One colleague viewed Gosnell’s alleged atrocities as a local crime story, though I can’t think of another mass murder, with hundreds of victims, that we ever saw that way. Another said it was just too lurid, though that didn’t keep us from covering Jeffrey Dahmer, or that aspiring cannibal at the NYPD.

Yet another said it’s because the rest of the country doesn’t care about Philadelphia — that one was especially creative, I thought. And a friend argued that any “blackout” boiled down to the usual lack of media interest in the low-income community Gosnell “served.” (While he routinely turned poor, black patients over to assistants who lacked even a high school education, according to court testimony, the white patients he seated separately, and treated himself.)

I say we didn’t write more because the only abortion story most outlets ever cover in the news pages is every single threat or perceived threat to abortion rights. In fact, that is so fixed a view of what constitutes coverage of that issue that it’s genuinely hard, I think, for many journalists to see a story outside that paradigm as news. That’s not so much a conscious decision as a reflex, but the effect is one-sided coverage.

Now, I assign plenty of “rights under threat” stories myself, for She the People, and see them as perfectly valid. But we in the news business do cover the extremism of some who oppose abortion rights — attempts to run after pregnant women with transvaginal probes, for example — far more than we do the extremism of some who favor abortion rights, as per the Planned Parenthood’s Alisa LaPolt Snow, who said recently that when a baby somehow survives an abortion, it’s up to the woman, her family and her doctor to decide that child’s fate.

Two years ago, I wrote about the good doctor Gosnell’s “pro-choice enablers,” for Politics Daily:

“The ultimate non-partisan body – a criminal grand jury – has supplied us with the graphic, 261-page horror story of Kermit Gosnell, M.D., who stands accused of butchering seven babies – yes, after they were born alive — and fatally doping a refugee from Nepal with Demerol in a clinic that smelled of cat urine, where the furniture was stained with blood and the doctor kept a collection of severed baby feet. As often as possible, the report says, Gosnell induced labor for women so pregnant that, as he joked on one occasion, the baby was so big he could “walk me to the bus stop.” Then, hundreds of times over the years, he slit their little necks, according to the grand jury report:

[He] regularly and illegally delivered live, viable, babies in the third trimester of pregnancy – and then murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors. The medical practice by which he carried out this business was a filthy fraud in which he overdosed his patients with dangerous drugs, spread venereal disease among them with infected instruments, perforated their wombs and bowels – and, on at least two occasions, caused their deaths. Over the years, many people came to know that something was going on here. But no one put a stop to it.

And the kicker? This nightmare facility had not been inspected in 17 years – other than by someone from the National Abortion Federation, whom he actually invited there. For whatever reason, Gosnell applied for NAF membership two days after the death of the 41-year-old Nepalese woman, Karnamaya Mongar. Even on a day when the place had been scrubbed and spiffed up for the visit, the NAF investigator found it disgusting and rejected Gosnell’s application for membership. But despite noting many outright illegalities, including a padlocked emergency exit in a part of the clinic where women were left alone overnight, the grand jury report notes that the NAF inspector did not report any of these violations to authorities.”

My point, then and now, is that I am a big fan of regulation; wasn’t it the loosening of regs in the financial world that led to the meltdown of ’08 and in the oil industry to the BP spill of ’10? Those who normally agree with me about the need for oversight, though, make an exception when it comes to the abortion industry, which they feel should be self-regulating even when what that gets us is the likes of Kermit Gosnell.

The counter-argument, then and now, is that it’s the restriction of abortion rights that creates such shady operators, though there are other clinics in Philadelphia — and if his practice was restricted in any way over the years, I can’t see how.

Which “side” was Dr. Frankenstein to Dr. Gosnell? Well, there’s no mystery about where Gosnell could have gotten the idea that his youngest victims weren’t human, or entitled to any protection under the law. There aren’t just two sides, though, but a whole continuum of points of view, from those who see several cells as a legal person to those who insist that even a baby who could walk Kermit Gosnell to the bus stop is only a person if his mom says so.

Gosnell himself seemed confused, when he was charged with so many counts of murder, as to how that could be. Because even at that point, he didn’t appear to see the children he’s accused of beheading as people.

Planned Parenthood’s Snow was similarly obtuse, either willfully or out of habit, in testifying against a Florida bill that would have required medical care for babies who survive abortions. “If a baby is born on a table as a result of a botched abortion,” she was asked, “what would Planned Parenthood want to have happen to that child that is struggling for life?”

Her answer was a familiar one: “We believe that any decision that’s made should be left up to the woman, her family and the physician.”

Though it pains me to say so, that’s the same stand Barack Obama effectively took when he voted against a similar Illinois bill — even after the addition of a “neutrality clause” spelling out that the bill would have no bearing on the legal status of the (you say fetus, I say unborn child) at any point prior to delivery, and thus could not be used to outlaw abortion.

Recently, MSNBC host Melissa Harris mocked those who see a fertilized egg as a fully human person: “I get,” she said, “that that’s a particular kind of faith claim that’s not associated with science.”

But I wish she and those who agree with her also got this: To insist that a baby born at 30 weeks, as one of Gosnell’s victims was, only qualifies as a person if his mom decides to keep him is also “a particular kind of faith claim that’s not associated with science.”

Melinda Henneberger is a Post politics writer and anchors She the People. Follow her on Twitter at @MelindaDC.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/she-the-people/wp/2013/04/15/why-kermit-gosnell-hasnt-been-on-page-one/?print=1

A Jury of Your Peers

How conservatives used Twitter to goad the media into covering the trial of abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell.

By |Posted Monday, April 15, 2013, at 8:38 PM

It started with a Twitpic. By April 11, the PhillyBurbs.com columnist J.D. Mullane had spent weeks watching the trial of abortionist and accused murderer Kermit Gosnell. Mullane had tweeted links to Gosnell trial updates from LifeSiteNews.com, and links that suggested a biased media was ignoring the trial—“Guns and babies: A tale of two massacres.” He’d sparred with pro-choice tweeters. “What went into Gosnell’s red waste bags was no different that what goes in the waste at any Planned Parenthood clinic,” he’d said to another suburban columnist.

“What happens at Planned Parenthood clinic is legal, safe,” said the columnist, Kate Fratti.

“It’s not safe for the children snuffed,” said Mullane.

Pro-life activists march during the March for Life January 25, 2013 in Washington, DC.  Pro-life activists march during the March for Life Jan. 25, 2013 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Pro-life activists march during the March for Life January 25, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

On April 11, Mullane covered the trial in person and noticed the rows of empty media seats. They were largely empty. “It was just so striking to me,” he said. “I took out my iPhone and snapped a picture, only intending to use it in my weekly column.” Mullane retweeted the photo a few more times, with different captions, because it had been packed into a snowball. Kirsten Powers, a Fox News commentator who usually reports from the left, published a USA Today column on the “blackout.”

Troy Newman, president of the Kansas-based Operation Rescue, had been on the phone for “five or ten minutes” with two other pro-lifers, launching a campaign to “Break the Gosnell Media Blackout.” People who wanted the media at the trial would tweet the accused’s last name—#Gosnell—to get it trending, preferably attached to some facts about the trial. The severed feet in jars. The urine stench in the unclean facilities. The “raining fetuses and blood.” It was, said Newman, “a perfect case that makes the point I’ve been making for 20 years.” A Facebook page set out the rules, and the mission:

Can you imagine the media reaction if the case were reversed and it was a pro-lifer on trial for 7 counts of 1st degree murder? Exactly. We are going to make “new media” work on behalf of Kermit Gosnell’s innocent, helpless victims. The mainstream media is acting like nothing is happening, however—if we unite & spread the word far enough, we can FORCE the media to cover this horrific story.

It worked. An estimated 106,000 #Gosnell tweets later, on April 15, Mullane reported that major networks and newspapers had sent their reporters to cover the trial—Fox News, the New York Times, the Washington Post. Hours later, after bombs went off in the last leg of the Boston Marathon, hopes of pushing this to “the front page” waned. But in between the Twitpic and the breaking news, there’s a lesson about how conservatives can use social media—and only social media—to move the press.

Why did it take social media? Conservatives’ own tools weren’t working. Operation Rescue had dispatched its own reporters to the trial—chiefly Cheryl Sullenger, a policy adviser to the group who spent two years in prison conspiring to blow up the Alavarado Medical Center. (She’s since apologized.) Starting in March, Sullenger was filing reports from inside Gosnell’s Philadelphia trial, with photos, one of a baby so large that Gosnell joked it “could have walked to the bus stop.”

It didn’t cross over. There were scattered media reports on the trial, and plenty of Philadelphia-area coverage. Some magazines—Slate included—had covered the Gosnell case two years earlier, when a grand jury report of remarkable, grisly detail was put out by the city. But there was no camera in the courtroom, and news organizations didn’t feel any pressure to cover the story.

Thus: Twitter. The single most effective campaign to goad the media into Gosnell coverage came from Mollie Hemingway, a press critic for the blog GetReligion. Hemingway did not wait for reporters or editors to comment on the story; she didn’t email them and wait for comment. “Inspired by Kirsten Powers’ USA Today column,” she tweeted at them, then recorded the unanswered tweets for readers, starting the experiment with Associated Press social issues reporter David Crary. “His favorite stories deal with homosexuality,” wrote Hemingway, “but he also gives some love to abortion-related stories.” Just not to Gosnell.

This was a warm-up: Hemingway found a reporter who could personify that photo of the empty court benches. She tweeted at Sarah Kliff, the health care policy reporter for the Washington Post’s WonkBlog subsite.

WaPo health policy reporter @SarahKliff has 80+ site hits on Akin/Fluke/Komen and zero on Gosnell? Would love an explanation.

Kliff tweeted back:

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

It was exactly the wrong response. Hemingway’s item about the exchange was shared or liked on Facebook 68,000 times—nearly seven times more than the #Gosnell campaign page, which was operating independently of all this. By Friday morning Kliff’s tweet was prima facie evidence for conservatives that the media was spiking the story; one site offered a “tip line” for any reporters whose papers spiked Gosnell coverage. By Friday afternoon, the Post was regretting that “we didn’t send a reporter sooner” to the trial. By Monday, Kliff was in full mea culpa mode: “When I described the case of abortion provider Kermit Gosnell on Twitter last week as a local crime story, I was clearly wrong.”

Why did this work so well? Not long ago, the preferred method of browbeating the media into covering a story was “melting the phones,” or deluging a reporter with emails. Why were tweets and Twitpics so much better equipped to turn on the shame-rays?

Easy: It’s completely public. It’s a limiting medium, too, one that limits a reporter’s response to 140 characters. That’s excruciating for a member of the fourth estate; I once ticked off a longform magazine writer and got a five-paragraph email demanding that I tweak one sentence describing his article. There’s no real entry fee to Twitter, no difference between the user with 40 followers, the media critic with a question, or the TV anchor who wonders where this hashtag came from. Almost every factor that elevated the #Gosnell story was present for the Trayvon Martin story. That’s not comparing the facts of the cases; that’s just saying, the hashtag knows no mercy.

Neither does the news cycle. By Monday afternoon, the media trend-spotters who’d rediscovered Gosnell were combing Twitter for Boston Marathon survivors and witnesses. In the Philadelphia courtroom, surrounded—maybe temporarily—by the national press, Mullane was eyed warily by a bailiff.

“ ‘Anybody who is seen taking pictures, we are taking the phone and throwing it in the toilet,’ ” said the bailiff, according to Mullane. “ ‘You’re never getting it again.’ That’s one reason, maybe, that TV isn’t interested in the story.”

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2013/04/kermit_gosnell_abortion_trial_conservatives_took_to_twitter_to_shame_mainstream.html

14 Theories for Why Kermit Gosnell’s Case Didn’t Get More Media Attention

Apr 15 2013, 7:10 AM ET

Associated Press
A police care is seen posted outside the the Women's Medical Society in Philadelphia, Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011. Abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, who catered to minorities, immigrants and poor women at the Women's Medical Society, was charged Wednesday Jan. 19, 2011, with eight counts of murder in the deaths of a patient and seven babies who were born alive and then killed with scissors, prosecutors said Wednesday.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke) The "clinic" or location of "practice" where Dr. Kermit Gosnell, MD butchered women and babies.

A police care is seen posted outside the the Women’s Medical Society in Philadelphia, Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011. Abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, who catered to minorities, immigrants and poor women at the Women’s Medical Society, was charged Wednesday Jan. 19, 2011, with eight counts of murder in the deaths of a patient and seven babies who were born alive and then killed with scissors, prosecutors said Wednesday. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
The “clinic” or location of “practice” where Dr. Kermit Gosnell, MD butchered women and babies.

The trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, the abortionist charged with killing babies and neglecting women in his care, is now national news. There’s no bigger story on the web. Anderson Cooper covered it thoroughly Friday on CNN. The Washington Posts executive editor pledged to send a reporter to file dispatches from the Philadelphia courtroom. My contribution, “Why Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s Trial Should Be a Front-Page Story,” distilled the Philadelphia grand jury report and argued that those horrific, detailed allegations are thoroughly newsworthy by any reasonable standard. That premise is now conventional wisdom. The trial is likely to remain national news.

My article didn’t speculate about why the story didn’t play bigger in the national media prior to late last week. I didn’t want that debate to overshadow Gosnell’s actions or the failure to stop him.

But the debate about coverage is important and fascinating.

Journalists, news junkies, and casual news consumers are all offering theories of what drives the media. Wildly divergent theories. And every last one amounts to a fellow member of our polity saying, “This is my notion of how America’s primary means of civic communication works.”

There is, of course, no single explanation for why any news story unfolds one way instead of another. “The media” is an abstraction. It encompasses TV, radio, print, and digital; editors, reporters, and bloggers; the Drudge Report, The New Yorker, USA Today, and Feministing. Many of the factors that shape how a story is covered are seemingly random or just plain undiscoverable. But it’s possible to refine our understanding of factors that did and didn’t shape coverage.* With that in mind, let’s scrutinize some of the wildly divergent theories of American media.

Keep in mind that my inclusion of a theory doesn’t necessarily mean that I endorse it.

1) Matt Frost’s Unified Theory

One side sees the Gosnell case, thinks: “abortion is an atrocity.” Other side says, “abortion is too unsafe.” The “center” just can’t look.

– Matt Frost (@mattfrost) April 12, 2013

This theory accounts for the fact that social conservatives and progressive feminists both wrote about the story more than “mainstream” outlets.

For late-term abortion opponents, what more powerful demonstration of its brutality than an abortionist who severs the spines of already delivered babies? If you think the culture surrounding abortion destroys respect for human life, what would bolster your belief more than the fact that multiple employees willingly assisted Gosnell? And for progressive feminists, who worry that restricting abortion causes women to seek out horrific black-market procedures at great risk to their lives, what better confirmation than hundreds of women paying to receive treatment from a man whose office was filled with severed baby feet, blood spattered blankets, and cat feces?

Folks in the mushy middle are there precisely because they’re persuaded by arguments from both sides, but are uncomfortable adopting the final position of either. This is true on the rare occasions when they think about the abortion debate. But the Gosnell case doesn’t even permit us to think abstractly. The babies with severed spines and the immigrant woman dead from a botched abortion are both right there, described by the grand jury report in brutal detail. It makes sense, if social conservatives and progressive feminists both think their world views are vindicated by this case, that abortion “centrists” would find it particularly awful to fully confront.

And for what? Many centrists aren’t sure that whatever position they’ve calibrated is correct. They worry advocating for it would make them feel culpable for the inevitable babies or women hurt as a result. (If the king of a benevolent monarchy emailed to say that he’d implement in detail whatever abortion policies I suggested as soon as I wrote back, my first impulse would be to close my laptop, wrap it in duct tape, motor out to the deepest part of the Pacific and drop it overboard.)

Writing about this is uncomfortable and unpleasant for everyone. But if you’re confident in the lesson to take from this case and believe some specific change to abortion policy would definitely improve the world, of course you’d feel that covering it is less uncomfortable and more rewarding. Notably, this theory implies that most mainstream-media reporters aren’t die-hard abortion-rights advocates. If they were, they’d have reacted like some progressive feminists, proceeding as if this case clearly demonstrates the need for, say, publicly funded, safer, legal abortions. Instead, this theory implies that the Gosnell case makes the average journalist feel conflicted. In my experience, most journalists, like most people, are deeply conflicted about abortion. Media capitals like New York and D.C. are also places where being conflicted about expanding abortion rights is more socially comfortable than being conflicted about restricting them.

2) The Poor, Black Victims Theory

This theory holds that sparse coverage shouldn’t surprise us, despite the sensationalistic details of the Gosnell case, because horrific things happen to poor black people in urban areas all the time, and the press ignores them. Why should this be different? This theory is at odds with the counter-theory that the liberal media typically obsesses over stories about poor, black victims, at least when they’re subjected to blatant racism like the women in the Gosnell case. Sparse coverage, despite the provocative racial angle, proves a media coverup, according to the counter-theory.

Setting aside the conclusions, neither premise is completely wrong.

Horrific things do happen in poor, minority neighborhoods all the time without anyone in the press (or elsewhere) seeming to care. Newspapers cover rich neighborhoods better than poor ones, in part because that’s where a disproportionate number of subscribers live. Journalists are surrounded by educated, comfortably middle-class people. When they get a story tip from a friend, neighbor, or acquaintance, it is seldom a poor person. Blacks are underrepresented in newsrooms.

At the same time, direct evidence of racism sometimes fuels viral stories. If a doctor in Newport Beach gave white women botox in a sanitary office, but treated black women in a room filled with blood and cat feces, killing one of them through malpractice, would that be national news? I think so. It wouldn’t have surprised me at all if the racial angle in the Gosnell case had made it go viral.

I don’t know how to reconcile a news media that routinely and unapologetically ignores black kidnap victims while making a fetish of blue-eyed, blond-haired kidnap victims and that regards racial justice as an editorial imperative that explicitly shapes numerous stories, except to say that it’s complicated. There are both blind spots that touch on race and class, and a desire among journalists to be champions of racial and class justice. The results are often unpredictable.

3) We Treat Newborn Deaths As If They Don’t Matter As Much As Kid Deaths

This theory holds that if a pediatrician had killed seven 5-year-olds at the request of their mothers, it would be the story of the year. But because the Gosnell’s victims were voiceless babies (or because the culture of abortion makes us think killing babies, however awful, is also different, or because wanting to kill newborns is more common), his case wasn’t the story of the year.

4) The Covering-Abortion-Is-Miserable Theory

It goes beyond the unpleasantness-of-subject-matter and personal conflictedness. Writing about abortion, like writing about the Israel-Palestine conflict, guarantees (a) extreme abuse from readers no matter where you come down; (b) extreme, tedious scrutiny of every word you write; (c) certain knowledge that personal friends and family members will find themselves in strong, emotional disagreement with you; (d) the discouraging impression that no fact or argument presented will change anyone’s mind; (e) the accusation that you are complicit in something even worse than what Hitler did, or else that you hate women and want to control their bodies, or both.

There’s also the feeling that, by raising the subject, you’re bringing out the very worst in some people. The way they behave to one another in comments and characterize people on the other side of the debate over email is unsettling. Perhaps there’s a journalistic analogue of deliberately avoiding abortion at dinner parties, even ones where political debate is valued and encouraged.

5) The Gag Order Matters

This theory points out that the judge in the Gosnell case imposed a gag order on all involved. It is almost certainly true that doing so had some effect on the amount of news generated from the case.

6) Politicians Drive Political News

News items are often pegged to national politicians speaking out. If Tea Party senators or the Congressional Black Caucus or President Obama or John McCain and Lindsay Graham had really wanted to make the Gosnell case a big story, they could have. But no elected official was behaving in the way that they do when they want to make a piece of news into a big political story.

7) Journalists Live in a Pro-Choice Bubble

As articulated by Dave Weigel of Slate, political journalists “are, generally, pro-choice. Twice, in D.C., I’ve caused a friend to literally leave a conversation and freeze me out for a day or so because I suggested that the Stupak Amendment and the Hyde Amendment made sense. There is a bubble. Horror stories of abortionists are less likely to permeate that bubble than, say, a story about a right-wing pundit attacking an abortionist who then claims to have gotten death threats … a reporter in the bubble is less likely to be compelled by the news of an arrested abortionist.”

Says Erick Erickson, “networks focus on the things people along the coast are interested in and not what people along the American river valleys are talking about. In churches, local restaurants, and small town hair salons a lot of people across the country are talking about the terrible trial of Kermit Gosnell in Pennsylvania. It’s just not the people who interact with those who produce the news in New York City.”

8) The Media Has a Bias Against Graphic Descriptions and Imagery

After I filed my Gosnell story, an editor sagely added a warning I should’ve thought to include myself: “Please note: This post contains graphic descriptions and imagery.” Conveying the reality of this story demanded words and images more graphic than any newspaper or magazine typically includes. For that reason, journalists (or producers) who relied on, say, an Associated Press or New York Times dispatch understandably underestimated its newsworthiness. Once producers, editors, and reporters started reading the grand jury report, as conservative and progressive bloggers had, they finally realized, “Whoa, the newspaper stories really didn’t do this justice. The most graphic bits in them weren’t just cherry-picking the most sensational parts. If anything, they left out numerous gruesome details and extremely uncomfortable angles.”

Newspapers almost certainly weren’t sanitizing the story just because it was about abortion. They sanitize everything. Have you ever seen the dead body of a child killed in American drone strikes? Or what a cafe in Israel looks like after a suicide bomber attacks? How much blood do you see in the photographs curated by your local daily from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? If you saw all the wire photos you’d get a much different impression of modern war. And if the CBS Evening News aired a Gosnell story while you were eating you’d probably have turned it off. (That is one reason why dinner-hour news shows don’t air certain gruesome stories.)

9) Pro-Choice Journalists Are Willfully Ignoring the Story to Avoid Giving an Advantage to Pro-Lifers

Folks in the pro-life community earnestly believe this theory. My interactions with journalists have never given me reason to think that any significant number would ignore what they knew to be a newsworthy story for blatantly political reasons. Admittedly, I’ve interacted with a small subset of all journalists, and the very nature of this theory is that it cannot be definitively proven or disproved. But it seems to me that, for example, David Shaw’s “Abortion Bias Seeps Into The News” offers a much more plausible account of how ideological bias might creep into newsroom behavior. I do not know if his account was correct in 1990 when published or if it is correct now.

10) Ideological Bias Distorts the Crusades Journalists Are Willing to Embark Upon

This theory is advanced by Ross Douthat in his New York Times column. As he sees it, outlets that aspire to “objective” news coverage are pursuing two different goals that are in tension with one another: on one hand, they try to report and write every story in a fair, balanced, non-partisan manner; on the other hand, they believe a core duty of journalists is “fighting for the powerless against the powerful and leading America toward enlightenment.” On culture war issues, “an official journalistic commitment to neutrality coexists with the obvious ideological thrust of a thousand specific editorial choices,” Douthat writes. “What kinds of questions are asked of which politicians; which stories get wall-to-wall coverage and which ones end up buried; which side is portrayed as aggressors and which side as the aggrieved party, and on and on and on.” As the sparse coverage of the Gosnell trial suggests, he continues, “the problem here isn’t that American journalists are too quick to go on crusades. Rather, it’s that the press’s ideological blinders limit the kinds of crusades mainstream outlets are willing to entertain.”

In comments, a reader retorted, “When it comes to human rights, there is only one right side. When it comes to women’s rights, which after all are human rights, there is only one right side. When it comes to abortion, there is only one right side (it’s the side that says women are people and have the right to bodily autonomy). The story of Kermit Gosnell, the abortion provider you mentioned, isn’t about abortion per se. It’s about the lack of access to safe abortion in this country. It’s about how substandard health care *is* the standard in poor areas. But it is NOT about the morality of abortion.” If enough decision-makers in the media agree with that perspective (an impossible question to answer), coverage of the Gosnell case was affected by it. Douthat is certainly correct that there is no such thing as strict neutrality when editorial decisions must be made about what to cover, how much coverage to extend, and which stories merit efforts to “start a larger conversation.” There aren’t clearly articulated, consistent standards for any of those judgment calls, and I’m not sure that it would be possible to create them.

11) The Case Doesn’t Map onto a Specific Legislative Debate

Writing in The Daily Beast, Josh Dzieza argues, “When Trayvon Martin (to use the standard comparison) went from local to national story, it was partly because there was a debate over stand-your-ground laws and whether his killing constituted murder or self defense. There’s no such dispute here. The question isn’t whether what Gosnell is accused of doing should be illegal: he’s on trial because it clearly is. Gosnell could become a useful pro-life bogeyman, but it’s not clear what policies the antiabortion movement would use his case to push for.” Meanwhile, he adds, abortion rights activists are both wary of passing more abortion clinic regulations (lest access decrease) and mortified by the regulatory failures that enabled Gosnell.

Perhaps there’s something to the notion that neither side in the abortion debate could use the Gosnell case as a clear cut argument for passing a specific piece of legislation they’re currently prioritizing. The fact that much of what he did was already illegal changes the political implications of the case. And political implications often drive coverage more than a story’s importance.

12)  Conservatives Are Engaged in a “Work the Refs” Hustle 

Kevin Drum makes the case by reviewing coverage in The Washington Times:

On March 18, they ran an AP dispatch about the start of the trial. Since then, they haven’t published a single additional piece. However, they have published the following:

  • March 27: An op-ed by Christopher Harper about the media’s “shameful” silence concerning the Gosnell case.
  • April 8: A news story about the “media blackout” of the Gosnell trial for “political reasons.”
  • April 11: An editorial deploring the fact that “this grim story was not something for the morning papers or the evening news, at least not for those reading the ‘mainstream’ newspapers or watching ABC, CBS or NBC.”
  • April 11: A news story reporting that conservative House members “took to the floor to denounce what they call a ‘national media cover-up’ of the sensational case.”
  • April 12: A news story reporting that “conservatives and other pro-life advocates who are upset with the lack of coverage of the case are taking to social media sites in droves.”
  • April 13: A weekly news recap headlined, “Abortion doctor on trial, but media not interested.”
  • April 14: An op-ed about our “undistinguished press corps,” listing all their recent shortcomings. “Most egregious of all, though, has been the lack of coverage on the ‘House of Horror’ trial of abortionist Kermit Gosnell.”

And that brings us to today. Adding it all up, we have a grand total of one story about the trial itself and seven stories complaining that other media outlets aren’t covering the trial. It’s pretty obvious what the priorities are here.

There are, as I’ve mentioned, conservative outlets like National Review that have always treated the Gosnell story as if it’s important. Certain writers, like Mark Steyn, don’t fit Drum’s theory. But there are definitely outlets and writers who gave Gosnell less coverage than, say, the New York Times, and are now expressing outrage at the lack of coverage. Media Matters accuses the New York Post of doing this. Said Paul Mirengoff in an April 12, 2013 post at Powerline:

I don’t believe we have commented on the murder trial of Pennsylvania abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell. I guess that’s because, although some, if not all, of us at Power Line are pro-life (I haven’t taken a full survey), none of us has the abortion beat. Or maybe it’s because we have had nothing of particular interest to add to the discussion of this gruesome affair, in which a child screamed after it was delivered alive during an abortion procedure, the spinal cords of babies were snipped, and fetuses “rained” (in the words of one witness). Power Line does, however, handle the media beat. Therefore, we should at least note the lack of coverage the Gosnell trial has received.

Movement conservatives spend a lot more time covering “the media beat” than the abortion beat. Or any other beat, for that matter. Would this story have attracted more attention sooner if, rather than writing media-bias columns, conservatives just kept rendering details of the grand jury report? Hard to say. My account of the grand jury report was widely shared on social media. And writing it didn’t require a travel budget or “mainstream media” pixie dust. The whole thing is online.

13) Horrific as It Is, This Case Doesn’t Speak to Anything Larger About Abortion

This theory runs through a lot of left-of-center commentary. Way back in 2011, for example, when William Saletan used the Gosnell case as a vehicle to discuss late-term abortion generally, a writer at Feministing argued doing so was inappropriate because If this doctor delivered these infants, live infants that were breathing and then killed them? Let’s make something clear: That is not abortion.”

She continued:

Only 1.5% of abortions occur after 21 weeks of pregnancy. And what do you think the overwhelming majority of those cases are? Women who might die if they don’t have one. Fetuses who wouldn’t survive outside of the womb. Fetuses with such extreme abnormalities that they’d suffer during what would be a very brief time on this earth. The fact that people assume women actually want to have an abortion in the third trimester is beyond me — not to mention unbelievably offensive to the women who have had to make these very difficult decisions.

If I can interject here, if you want to understand why the debate over the media coverage of Gosnell is so polarized, it’s important to remember that some people, like the writer above, emphatically believe Gosnell is an aberration that says nothing larger about abortion in America. And other people, like Peter Wehner, emphatically believe that what he calls the “lethal logic” employed by Gosnell cannot be entirely disconnected from policy debate over abortion.

He cites this exchange in which a lobbyist representing the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates speaks to Florida legislators:

I’d actually love to see the Feministing writer and Wehner debate the question.

14) Lots of Horrific Stories Don’t Get Covered

Here’s a list of children who have been killed in drone attacks approved by George W. Bush and Barack Obama. How many of their stories have you read about? Could you say how many kids we’ve killed in Pakistan and Yemen? I have theories about why those dead kids haven’t ever been treated as a major national story. What’s certain is that neither liberal media bias nor pro-choice bias are among the reasons … which may or may not tell us anything about Gosnell coverage.

  ****

This is, by no means, an exhaustive list of theories. In fact, you’ll most likely find more in the comments. The only conclusions I’ll offer are these: If you think any one theory completely explains how this case has been covered, you’re almost certainly wrong. (Personally, I find it plausible that parts of almost all of these theories and many more affected coverage.) And like the abortion debate itself, the debate over Gosnell coverage has earnest, smart, well-meaning people on all sides. If you think otherwise, you haven’t engaged enough people with the perspective you’re demonizing. The abortion debate can’t be avoided. Part of its unpleasantness can.Be good to one another in comments.

__
*To avoid confusion, let’s be explicit about what that coverage actually entailed. Prior to late last week, the Gosnell trial generated significant local coverage within metropolitan Philadelphia. As for outlets outside Philly, there was coverage back in 2011 from Katha Pollitt in The Nation, Lori Adelman at NBC’s The Grio, Will Saletan in Slate on three separate occasions, the Associated Press, NPR, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Rich Lowry in National Review, the editors of that publication, Mark Steyn on various occasions, Joseph Bottum of The Weekly Standard, niche sites dedicated to feminism, abortion rights, and anti-abortion advocacy, and others I’m missing. After 2011, the next time that multiple prominent outlets covered the subject was in March 2013 when the trial started. Here’s the New York Times story noting that news. It ran on page A17 of the New York edition. That rundown shows there wasn’t a mainstream media “blackout” or a literal conspiracy to keep the case secret. At the same time, many outlets failed to cover the story, and most outlets that covered it didn’t give it the depth or prominent play that I’ve argued it deserved.

Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.
 —

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