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Are we about to reach a tipping point in media coverage of the Gosnell murder trial?

by | Apr 12, 2013

By Dave Andrusko

A picture from April 11 of the empty seats which have been reserved for the media during the Kermit Gosnell murder trial. The picture was taken by JD Mullane, a news columnist for the Bucks County Courier Times.

A picture from April 11 of the empty seats which have been reserved for the media during the Kermit Gosnell murder trial.
The picture was taken by JD Mullane, a news columnist for the Bucks County Courier Times.

Many of you may be familiar with the idea of a  “tipping point,” made famous by one of my favorite authors, Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell uses tipping point in a specific way to offer an explanation for “that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.”

My question is have we reached a mid-way point where media coverage of abortionist Kermit Gosnell’s murder trial has moved from a barely discernible spark to a small campfire on its way to a wildfire? I think so, and here’s why.

I’m not sure any outlets covered the case of the West Philadelphia abortionist—which began with a police raid in February 2010– in any great detail that first year. National Right to Life News Today picked up on the story on January 20, 2011. In the memorable words of the Teresa Masterson, a reporter for the local NBC affiliate,

“Dr. Kermit Gosnell, the West Philly abortion doctor whose regular method of getting rid of unwanted pregnancies was to allegedly induce labor and snap the spinal cord of a newly-born, writhing baby with a pair of scissors, was arraigned and held without bail Thursday. Gosnell was charged with the murder of 41-year-old Karnamaya Mongar and seven babies.”

We have been writing about the case ever since, with dozens and dozens of stories and reprints. We’ve also published much of the indignant 261-page Grand Jury report on Gosnell’s Women’s Medical Society which served to light a fire under District Attorney Seth Williams. By the time Gosnell’s trial ends (predicted to be in two-to-four more weeks), NRL News Today readers will have had the chance to have read it all.

So what’s different? Why has a story, although replete with the kind of details that ordinarily would lead to a stampede of reporters heading to Philadelphia, suddenly beginning to gain traction?

Well, let’s explain why it’s not, first. The public is learning a bit more even though reporters such as Sarah Kliff of the Washington Post adamantly refuse to cover the story. That’s no big deal, in and of itself; it’s her reasoning which has subjected the blackout to ridicule.

Mollie Hemingway (of Getreligion.org) tweeted Kliff to ask why. Kliff’s response was so painfully, embarrassingly inadequate that you can’t help but cringe:

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

The obvious response was/is to cite the limitless number of “local” stories that are routinely covered by national publications such as the Post, and carried by news services used by hundreds of local papers, which became ingrained in our everyday discussion. Trayvon Martin, Casey Anthony, Newtown, the list could go on forever.

What made Kliff’s response extra-special feeble was that in her tweet Hemingway cited examples of where Kliff had written tons of stories, many of which just happen to have the effect of unfairly putting the entire pro-life movement on trial.

You would expect nothing else from Kliff who appears to have carte blanche access to the Abortion Establishment. And to cast the net wider, no doubt the same Brian Williams who can work himself into a lather when it furthers his agenda will continue to ignore testimony from former Gosnell employees about “literally beheading” babies aborted alive; about how  “it would rain fetuses. Fetuses and blood all over the place” when women were given drugs to speed up the delivery of premature babies; about hearing one baby screaming after the child was delivered (“I can’t describe it. It sounded like a little alien”); and about Gosnell making jokes about babies “big enough to walk around with me or walk me to the bus stop” or of a baby that was writhing as he slit its neck, “that’s what you call a chicken with its head cut off.”

But there is movement. Yesterday we showed you the tweet from NBC News’ Luke Russert (son of Tim Russert): “The trial of corrupt abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell has produced some horrifying testimony.”

Dave Weigel of Slate tweeted “gosnell grand jury report is just completely horrifying.” Today Weigel has a slew of tweets about the [non-coverage] of the Gosnell case including this gem earlier this afternoon: “The media blackout continues, as my site’s backend stubbornly refuses to publish the Gosnell thing I put up 20 minutes ago.”

And so on including others who describe themselves as “pro-choice” (e.g., Andrew Kirell) who tweeted, “Yeahhhh, so I’m pro-choice, but this Gosnell story is awful. And oh boy does it look bad for reporters normally on the health/abortion beat.”

So what is the explanation for the sudden interest? Part of it (a big part) is embarrassment. If you are someone who covers “health/abortion” and you refuse to write a single word about the biggest abortion story in forever, you may not be capable of being embarrassed. But your colleagues can be for you.

Part of it is Kristen Powers opinion piece in USA Today that we wrote about yesterday  (“Why the Gosnell murder trial is not ‘on every news show and front page,’” http://nrlc.cc/16SE7VL). She challenges “liberal” orthodoxy too often to be a member in good standing, but Powers does have a reputation for challenging blatant examples of employing double standards.

Part of the explanation—and more important than I thought in the beginning—is the photo reproduced in this post. Lots of lots of space reserved for reporters covering the Gosnell murder trial but virtually no occupants. Here’s how one story put it:

“The picture above, for what it’s worth, is of the reserved media seats at the Gosnell trial. It was taken by JD Mullane, a news writer and columnist for the Bucks County Courier Times, The Intel and the Burlington County (NJ) Times. He says: ‘Sat through a full day of testimony at the Kermit Gosnell trial today. It is beyond the most morbid Hollywood horror. It will change you.’”

Two other possible explanations for why suddenly there is growing attention to a man accused of snapping the spines of babies he deliberating aborted alive.

First, the critiques put the media silence in a larger context. Last fall, a couple of pro-life politicians made the kind of ignorant, callous remarks that not only doomed their own candidacies but cast an unfair pall over everybody who calls themselves pro-life. Everyone was presumed guilty. And there were other instances where minor kerfuffles were blown wildly out of proportion.

But here we have a man who stands accused of seven counts of first degree murder and one count of third degree murder in the death of a woman prosecutors say died after going into cardiac arrest  but no “pro-choice” politician has been called on the carpet for these atrocities. What do you think, President Obama?

Second, the particulars of the alleged Gosnell murders are so brutal, so vicious, so revolting, and so far beyond anything we could possibly imagine that if someone opens their eyes just a little they will be shocked. And at that point and at some level, anyone who has not sold their soul to abortion-on-demand (and beyond) has to placate their conscience.

But an attempted truce cannot possibly hold—not in the face of what listening to or reading about the Gosnell trial for even a single day brings out.

We all know that there will be a “course correction,” where most of the media tells themselves that in being the slightest bit honest about Gosnell they have (a) overreacted or (b) played in the hands of those “anti-abortion” types. But that, too, will not hold long.

Not when you have the likes of Gosnell’s right hand man, Steve Massof, who in testifying was described as a man who ”at times exhibited an almost ghoulish glee, smiling and giggling, as he described the abortions he did and infants whose spines he snipped with surgical scissors.”

Please join those who are following me on Twitter at twitter.com/daveha. Please send your comments to daveandrusko@gmail.com

Categories: Media Bias