Conservative media critics have been adamant this week in accusing news organizations of ignoring the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, who is charged with killing seven babies and a mother. According to the grand jury report, Gosnell was running a "house of horrors" in which he performed illegal late-term abortions by delivering live babies who were then killed by his staff, all under unsafe conditions. Convinced the liberal media is censoring the story because of its alleged support for abortion, critics have been lamenting the lack of coverage and demanding the disturbing local trial be treated as big national news.
On Fox News' Special Report yesterday, contributor Jonah Goldberg complained that "the media is not covering" the story. Fox News employee Kirsten Powers penned a USA Today column criticizing the country's leading newspapers for not putting the Gosnell story on "the front page." (Powers singled out the New York Times and the Washington Post for allegedly downplaying the Philadelphia trial.)
And on Thursday, Rupert Murdoch's flagship American newspaper, The New York Post, weighed in with an unsigned editorial, "Dead Silence," which condemned the supposed "media blackout" surrounding the story.
Like most of the conservative attacks, the Post's editorial saw a clear case of media bias [emphasis added]:
The trial is receiving intensive coverage in Philadelphia and across the conservative press and Web sites. But national networks and newspapers? Not so much.
The reason seems obvious: Much of our press corps skews to one side on abortion. So even though what Gosnell is charged with is closer to infanticide - an unlicensed abortionist profiting mightily by killing the newborn babies of poor, minority women - somehow it's not news.
Isn't that a scandal, too?
Here's the thing: Up until Thursday's editorial condemning the so-called liberal media for not covering the Gosnell trial, the New York Post hadn't covered the Gosnell trial. Not only hadn't the Post put the story on its front page, where Powers demanded it belonged, but Murdoch's Post hadn't covered the story at all*. Meaning, the Post had been part of the media "silence" surrounding the story; the same silence the Post yesterday condemned.
Note that Murdoch's Wall Street Journal also has not covered the Gosnell trial, according a search of the paper's archives, via the Factiva database.
And that's the problem when right-wing critics concoct elaborate newsroom conspiracies to explain why their preferred news event isn't receiving enough media attention. The problem is that news coverage from avowed conservative outlets such as the New York Post often mirrors that of the "liberal media," which completely undercuts the claim that bias is driving editorial decisions.
There's no evidence that newsroom ideology is determining the amount of coverage the Gosnell trial receives. But if it were, pro-choice advocates would want to shine a spotlight on the troubling tale of a reckless doctor allegedly performing illegal abortions. That, according to Simon van Zuylen-Wood in Phillymag.com, who this week pointed out:
The moral to be drawn from the Gosnell trial is not that current abortion laws are screwed up. Indeed, Gosnell broke them, which is why he's on trial. Rather, it's that as individual states increasingly restrict abortion rights, more and more illegal clinics, like Gosnell's may crop up.
As noted in the grand jury indictment, legitimate abortion providers like Planned Parenthood and members of the National Abortion Federation follow standard medical procedures and the law, and that Gosnell was rejected by NAF. Since his arrest in 2011, pro-choice advocates have condemned Gosnell's actions.
Right-wing critics are demanding more press attention for a story that even Murdoch's New York Post and Wall Street Journal have largely ignored. And they're doing it in an obvious attempt to smear all doctors who perform abortions with Gosnell's brush.
*I performed a Nexis search of the Post's archive over the past month for "Gosnell," and searched nypost.com for "Gosnell." The "Dead Silence" editorial was the only result found.