In case you haven’t heard, there’s a doctor named Kermit Gosnell on trial in Philadelphia for murdering seven infants after botched abortions, along with various other crimes. Aside from the local Philadelphia press and various pro-life blogs, little has been said about this story nationally until a few days ago, despite the fact that the trial has been going on for weeks. A particularly damning photograph shows an almost empty reserved press section at the trial.
The mainstream press has not reacted well to those asking why the story hasn’t been covered. As the story spread over Twitter, there have been plenty of voices trying to excuse the situation, strenuously arguing against a “coverup.” Of course, open letters from conservative sources asking the mainstream media to cover the story went unheeded for almost a week, as stories like the Rutgers basketball fiasco got significant coverage as a literal baby-killer went unnoticed.
Those who have read any of my other political posts (and understand the philosophy of this blog) know that I don’t tend to side with either Democrats or Republicans on issues. Labels like “liberal” and “conservative,” in my view, tend to be rather limiting and often oversimplify underlying problems of politics and philosophy.
So, I say this as someone who is definitely NOT affiliated with any right-wing source (nor any left-wing source): Mainstream “liberal” media, you messed up bad.
Before some readers try to deny the bias of the mainstream media, realize that everyone is biased. It’s pretty much impossible not to be to some extent. And the reality is: most reporters at ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, as well as newspapers like the New York Times, the Washington Post, etc. self-identify as liberals. Pretending that such a fact has absolutely no effect on how they report or what they chose to report is simply naive.
I’m not at all saying there was some sort of giant conspiracy to keep this story out of the news. But I do think, particularly given some responses that reporters at these outlets have made in the past few days, that many of them consciously chose to ignore the story. They may give excuses about how it was merely “a local matter” (which apparently led to some attempts to delete information about it on Wikipedia for lack of notability), but such excuses are nonsense.
As thoroughly documented over at The Atlantic recently, there are numerous reasons why this story should have been newsworthy. Either all of these reporters are incompetent and/or living in a filter bubble much worse than any technology geek has imagined, or most of them actively decided NOT to cover the story, despite what their reporter friends in Philadelphia felt obligated to do.
The reasons to bury the story are obvious to any liberal. Discussing the story brings up all those hard questions about when life actually begins (legally, if nothing else), and it risks giving further attention to conservative efforts to force all sorts of regulations onto abortion (whether or not those regulations have anything to do with preventing situations like the Gosnell case).
One thing that hasn’t been adequately discussed in the past couple days of media self-reflection is the fact that the mainstream conservative media (e.g., Fox News) also failed to report on the story. I think this Salon piece that does note this absence fails to consider is the legitimate motivations Fox and other big conservative outlets had to wait.
It’s pretty much undeniable that any reporter at a major mainstream news outlet must have known about this trial. It’s horrific, and it has been thoroughly covered by major media in Philadelphia, along with more limited covered in the Associated Press. The only logical explanation for NONE of the liberal outlets covering it is hope that the story would just stay under the radar and not get the attention of those in the middle of the abortion issue (who might be swayed toward pro-life by the gruesomeness of it all).
I therefore disagree with Alex Seitz-Wald at Salon when he says: “it’s difficult to take complaints seriously from people who haven’t used their own public platforms to push a story they think others are now ignoring.”
Nope. Alex, they played you. You and many other reporters just wanted to ignore the story, though if you had covered it from the beginning, you would have had a chance to put your spin on it. But instead, you ignored it. The conservatives waited a few weeks, then they got the wacko fringe to release things like open letters to get the media to cover it, and then they waited a week more to get enough time to demonstrate bias.
And they pounced.
This is Media Relations 101: control the story by breaking it first, though it doesn’t surprise me that most reporters don’t think about media relations since they are the media. Now they are stuck backpedaling about themselves and trying to fit their own narrative onto the story, but it’s too late.
What does the “liberal” narrative look like? The real story is poor women, poor access to abortions, and by the way if any conservatives dare to suggest any regulation, we’re headed back to the 1960s where all abortion clinics look like this “Horror House.”
Or, in sum, we need more abortion: better access, better funding, more opportunities for women to get what they need. I don’t necessary disagree, but all of this is beside the point.
This isn’t the time for that story — the media has to deal with their failure to report first. I can’t help drawing a parallel with recent gun policy proposals: what we need to prevent school massacres is more guns, everywhere, with better access. In the recent coverage, there have been comparisons to the Newtown massacre: we’ve had months of media coverage on that, but a “blackout” on the Gosnell trial. Both involved a person who killed many children. What’s the difference?
In reality, the cases have a lot in common. It’s just that liberals and conservatives are on opposite sides of the issues.
Both represent a failure of regulation. Both have caused proposals for new laws and policies — much more severe restrictions on guns or restrictions on abortion — that actually would not have prevented either of these horrific crimes. The gun used in the Newtown shooting was already illegal; the procedures and conditions in Gosnell’s clinic were already illegal as well. The solution is not that we need to make more things illegal — in both cases, we need to fix the regulatory system.
Nor is the solution that we just need “more” of something — more guns with better access, more abortions with better access. In many cases, better access may be helpful, but neither of them is going to prevent people like Adam Lanza and Kermit Gosnell from doing horrific things. These are people who exist outside the boundaries of normal societal morality. They are actively choosing to violate our ethical codes for proper behavior. A person like Lanza would likely have still killed a number of children before being shot himself, even if a lot of teachers had guns. A person like Gosnell would likely have still performed a number of questionable procedures on women and babies who were particularly needy and went to him for help for privacy reasons or whatever (as opposed to more well-known clinics). Access to more guns and more abortions would undoubtedly prevent some things, but heinous crimes committed by people who act in illegal ways are often going to be done (or attempted) by these people regardless.
The mainstream “liberal” media was stupid here. But if they want to win the battle in turning the story back to their side (or at least having their side heard), they need to stop pretending that Gosnell’s acts are the results of conservatives forcing poor women to cheap clinics, anymore than Lanza’s acts were the results of liberals banning guns from schools.
Can we please just stop using the deaths of children for political gain? PLEASE.
Bans on new guns that have been dubbed “assault rifles” (sometimes arbitrarily) by liberals would not have prevented Newtown, because Lanza was in possession of an illegal gun already. Bans or restrictions on more kinds of abortion procedures (also sometimes arbitrarily) would not have prevented Gosnell’s clinic from doing what it did, since what he did was already illegal.
But sticking our heads in the sand and saying, “We just need access to more guns/abortions” is not going to solve the problem either.
As I’ve already said, we’re talking about regulatory failure to deal with situations that were already illegal in both cases. We need to fix the regulations so that the laws are actually effective.
And even then, we’ll just have to admit that some tiny amount of people will convince themselves that it’s okay to commit murders. Kermit Gosnell is no more a reflection of abortion doctors than Adam Lanza is of gun owners. No matter how good the regulatory system is, sometimes these people will slip through, because they are so out of the norm. But we can still learn lessons from both cases — just not what the extreme partisan arguments would suggest in either case.
Please, let’s stop the rhetoric. Let’s stop the media games. Let’s actually try to discuss things that will actually be effective at preventing these sorts of things from happening again, rather than ridiculously overreacting according to our political biases.
We’re talking about dead children here. They deserve more respect.