I've been writing about media coverage of abortion for many years. And so have many others. If you haven't read David Shaw's "Abortion Bias Seeps Into The News," published in the Los Angeles Times back in 1990, you should. That report also explains why we cover the topic here at GetReligion.
But the thing is that I'm getting kind of sick of pointing out egregious bias only to see things not just remain bad but get worse. Just think, in the last year, we saw the media drop any pretense of objectivity and bully the Susan G. Komen Foundation into funding Planned Parenthood. And then we had how many months of coverage focused on someone calling a birth control activist a bad name? And who can forget every pro-life person in the country being asked to respond to Todd Akin's stupid remarks about rape?
So our abortion-drenched media would certainly want to cover what is arguably the country's most horrific serial murder trial of abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, right? Well, far from the front-page, top of the news, daily update coverage you rightfully would expect, it's been downplayed. Majorly downplayed.
Inspired by Kirsten Powers' USA Today column yesterday, I decided to start asking journalists about their personal involvement in the Gosnell cover-up.
I began by asking the AP's national social issues reporter why he hadn't been tweeting to AP coverage of the Gosnell trial. I had to ask a few times and then ... there it was ... finally .... a tweet on the Gosnell trial. Then he told me that the AP was covering the trial (which I knew, as I've critiqued it here). I reminded him that I was wondering why he hadn't been tweeting to coverage of Gosnell. I asked him to correct me if I was wrong about his lack of tweets. He didn't.
Then I decided, since tmatt has me reading the Washington Post every day, to look at how the paper's health policy reporter was covering Gosnell. I have critiqued many of her stories on the Susan G. Komen Foundation (she wrote quite a bit about that) and the Sandra Fluke controversy (she wrote quite a bit about that) and the Todd Akin controversy (you know where this is going). In fact, a site search for that reporter -- who is named Sarah Kliff -- and stories Akin and Fluke and Komen --- yields more than 80 hits. Guess how many stories she's done on this abortionist's mass murder trial.
Did you guess zero? You'd be right.
So I asked her about it. Here's her response:
Hi Molly - I cover policy for the Washington Post, not local crime, hence why I wrote about all the policy issues you mention.
Yes. She really, really, really said that. As Robert VerBruggen dryly responded:
Makes sense. Similarly, national gun-policy people do not cover local crime in places like Aurora or Newtown.
So when a private foundation privately decides to stop giving money to the country's largest abortion provider, that is somehow a policy issue deserving of three dozen breathless hits. When a yahoo political candidate says something stupid about rape, that is a policy issue of such import that we got another three dozen hits about it from this reporter. It was so important that journalists found it fitting to ask every pro-lifer in their path to discuss it. And when someone says something mean to a birth control activist, that's good for months of puffy profiles.
But gosh darn it, can you think of any policy implications to this, uh, "local crime" story? And that's all it is. Just like a bunch of other local stories the Washington Post also refuses to cover -- local crimes such as the killing of Trayvon Martin and the killing of Matthew Shepard and the killing of students at an elementary school in Connecticut. Did the Washington Post even think of covering those local crime stories? No! Oh wait, they did? Like, all the time? Hmm. That's weird. But did they cover them in terms of policy implications? Asking politicians for their views and such? Oh they did that, too? Hmm. So weird. Oh, and Sarah Kliff herself wrote one of those stories? Well, gosh, I'm so confused.
And what policies could possibly be under discussion with this Gosnell trial? Other than, you know, abortion clinic hiring practices? And enforcement of sanitary conditions? And laws on abortion practices that extend to killing live infants by beheading them? And the killing of their mothers? And state or federal oversight of clinics with records of botched abortions? And pain medication practices? And how to handle the racist practices of some clinics? And how big of a problem this is (don't tell anyone but another clinic nearby to Gosnell was shut down this week over similar sanitation concerns)? And disposal of babies' bodies? And discussion of whether it's cool to snip baby's spines after they're born? And how often are abortion clinics inspected anyway? What are the results of inspections? When emergency rooms take in victims of botched abortions, do they report that? How did this clinic go 17 years without an inspection? Gosh, I just can't think of a single health policy angle here. Can you?
I mean, God forbid we go big and actually discuss abortion policy in general -- something Kliff is usually quite keen to do. (Here's her 2010 piece for Newsweek headlined Remember Roe!)
Kliff is hearing from her readers now -- mostly I know about this since literally hundreds of them are copying me on their responses. To put it quite mildly, they find her justification attempt stunning, disingenuous, callous, laughable and far, far worse. The most charitable response was this one from Billy Valentine:
so who at @washingtonpost SHOULD be covering Gosnell if not you?
She hasn't responded. It seemed obvious to me that the reporter at the Washington Post who writes so prolifically and passionately about abortion rights would cover this story. She says, however unconvincingly, that a major abortion story suddenly isn't her beat. OK. Fine. So who at the Washington Post should be covering this major story with national implications? Let me know and I'll ask them about it.
Journalists aren't exactly coming to her defense either. In the words of Andrew Kirell:
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.
The Gosnell blackout was working brilliantly for months here. And if this didn't happen to be the most shocking trial of the century, I think reporters such as Kliff could have gotten away with it. They'd say they couldn't imagine it being a health policy story. And then they wouldn't cover it. So no politicians would weigh in. And it wouldn't become a health policy story. It may be circular logic, but it's quite effective.
See, the way you get Presidents and others to talk about uninteresting little local crime stories is that you ask them to.
I offered this one up to Kliff earlier but I'll share it widely:
President Obama worked against the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act back in the Illinois Senate. He said he thought it was unnecessary and that he was worried it would undermine Roe. How has the Gosnell case affected his thinking on protections for children such as the ones Gosnell is accused of killing?
Variations of that would work on any and all pro-choice politicians, particularly the ones that share Obama's extreme views on this topic. Remember how reporters asked every pro-life individual in America (or so it seemed back in October) to respond to Todd Akin's remarks on rape? Go ahead and ask just a few prominent pro-choice activists and pols for their take on Gosnell. And try to ask some tough questions. No, like real questions.
In my next post, I'll tell you how it went when I looked at Politico's Gosnell coverage and Atlantic.com's -- it's also pretty interesting.
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 Kermitt Gosnell trial today. It is beyond the most morbid Hollywood horror. It will change you.
I was surprised by the picture and asked "really?" He responded "Local press was there, Inky, PhillyMag, NBC10 blogger. Court staff told me nobody else has shown up."