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NYT's Douthat Describes How Media 'Shamed...Into Paying Attention' to Gruesome Gosnell Infanticide Case

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat occasionally tweaks his media colleagues for liberal bias, especially on social issues like abortion. He does so again in Sunday's "Balance and Bias," and on the way commits the paper's sole recent mention of the trial of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell on charges of infanticide.

After Douthat weighed what he termed the media's two traditional ideals, one of balance and neutrality, the other of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, he shows the danger of the media;s ideologically loaded attempts to "lead the conversation" on hot-button issues.

....Conservatives, meanwhile, tend to be more frustrated by bipartisanthink’s cousin, “leading the conversation.” This is how the mainstream media tend to cover social issues, and it involves acting as a crusading vanguard while denying, often self-righteously, that anything of the sort is happening.

I’m borrowing the term from The Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz, who used it to describe how the press (while also “being fair to all sides”) should handle the aftermath of the Newtown shootings. The trouble is that when you set out to “lead” a conversation, you often end up deciding where it goes, which side wins the arguments and even who gets to participate. This was clear enough in Kurtz’s own piece, which assumed that stricter gun control was the only rational policy response to Newtown. And it’s been clear enough in all of the culturally charged debates -- over guns and gay marriage, immigration and abortion -- that have attracted media attention of late.

On these issues, an official journalistic commitment to neutrality coexists with the obvious ideological thrust of a thousand specific editorial choices: 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.

“Leading the conversation” is how you end up with the major Sunday shows somehow neglecting to invite a single anti-amnesty politician on a weekend dominated by the immigration debate. It’s how you end up with officially nonideological anchors and journalists lecturing social conservatives for being out of step with modern values. And it’s how you end up with a press corps that went all-in for the supposed “war on women” having to be shamed and harassed -- by two writers in particular, Kirsten Powers in USA Today and Mollie Ziegler Hemingway of GetReligion -- into paying attention to the grisly case of a Philadelphia doctor whose methods of late-term abortion included snipping the spines of neonates after they were delivered.