A mere month after the trial began, the New York Times has, under pressure, sent a reporter to Philadelphia to cover the trial of abortionist Kermit Gosnell on charges of mass infanticide.
Trip Gabriel did indeed file from Philadelphia on Tuesday, under an unusual headline conceding that "Online Furor Draws Press to Abortion Doctor's Trial."
But his location was mostly irrelevant, as he only pinned two and a half paragraphs from what happened in court on Monday to the end of his report. Most of the story was a recap of the trial's "grisly details," accusations from "conservatives" that the media was ignoring the story, and defenses from unlabeled liberal media "experts" denying a coverup.
Through four weeks, prosecutors have laid out evidence against Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia abortion provider on trial on charges of killing seven viable fetuses by “snipping” their necks with scissors and of causing the death of a pregnant 41-year-old woman during a procedure.
The grisly details drew mainly local attention. But after an online furor that the case was being ignored by the national news media because of troubling accounts of late-term abortions, reporters from major newspapers and television networks descended Monday on the Court of Common Pleas. It was the latest example of the power of social media to drive a wide debate, similar to the attention paid to a rape trial last month in Steubenville, Ohio, that resulted in the conviction of two teenage football players.
In recent days, the case has become a political cause célèbre, kicked off by a commentator for Fox News, Kirsten Powers, who wrote in USA Today that “when Rush Limbaugh attacked Sandra Fluke,” a pro-contraception activist, “there was nonstop media hysteria,” but in the case of Dr. Gosnell, there was only a “deafening silence” that was disgraceful.
On Twitter, conservatives began a campaign to prod more coverage. Mollie Hemingway, a columnist for Christianity Today, asked individual health journalists directly why they were ignoring the story.
Gabriel managed to indentify the Washington Times as conservative, but not the suddenly high-profile, controversial left-wing magazine Mother Jones as liberal, or anyone else who rushed to the media's defense. The word "liberal" didn't appear in a story that somehow avoided stating the obvious conservative explanation for the media ignoring the story: Liberal bias.
But others noted there had been scant coverage in conservative news outlets. Kevin Drum, a political blogger for Mother Jones, pointed out that one conservative paper, The Washington Times, had published one wire-service article about the trial and seven stories “complaining that other media outlets aren’t covering the trial.”
Kelly McBride, an expert on media ethics at the Poynter Institute, said she saw no evidence of any cover-up, simply confusion by news editors over whether the story merited national attention. “One of the ways the news media knows how to cover a story these days is because of the attention in social media,” Ms. McBride said. “That’s how people judge whether there’s an appetite for a story.”
Martin Baron, the executive editor of The Washington Post, told a reporter from his paper writing about the controversy that he simply had not known of the story until readers e-mailed him last week. “I wish I could be conscious of all stories everywhere, but I can’t be,” he said. “We never decide what to cover for ideological reasons, no matter what critics might claim.”
Baron's ignorance argument is a damning indictment of the liberal media's information bubble, although Gabriel doesn't seem to recognize it. Gabriel was quoting from an unconvincing rationalization for the lack of coverage by Paul Farhi from Monday's Post.
If Gabriel had wanted a more questioning view, he could have read Melinda Henneberger's online analysis for the Post, "Why Kermit Gosnell hasn’t been on Page One": "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."
Gabriel noted that "In any event, the coverage has arrived," as if that ended the discussion. After all the throat-clearing, Gabriel finally issued a brief recount of what actually happened in Monday's courtroom, with a slant toward Gosnell's defense.
-- Clay Waters is Editor of the MRC's TimesWatch site.