Something truly remarkable happened yesterday. After days and weeks of pushing by New Media and social media, the mainstream media has not only admitted that they should have covered the ongoing capital murder trial of abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, they have promised to immediately remedy that mistake…
This is not the usual-usual from our media. Normally, like a game, the media will only admit to this kind of oversight long after it is too late to do anything about it. Worse still, the admission of the mistake is generally just a convenient excuse for the media to talk about its favorite subject — themselves.
Much of the speculation has been about why so many news outlets ignored the story. But perhaps the real story here is the way the trial became a national story without the help of the MSM—and arguably even despite its best efforts to ignore the trial. In the last century, there were a few central news gatekeepers who controlled what stories Americans heard. The internet and social media have changed all that; the people have swept aside the gatekeepers and ripped the gates from their hinges.
The MSM is no longer in control; anyone and everyone now has the tools to call the media out and if the story is hot and compelling enough (and the trial of an accused multiple baby killer passes that test with ease), it will force itself into the national conversation.
“Leading the conversation” is how you end up with the major Sunday shows somehow neglecting to invite a single anti-amnesty politician on a weekend dominated by the immigration debate. It’s how you end up with officially nonideological anchors and journalists lecturing social conservatives for being out of step with modern values. And it’s how you end up with a press corps that went all-in for the supposed “war on women” having to be shamed and harassed — by two writers in particular, Kirsten Powers in USA Today and Mollie Ziegler Hemingway of GetReligion — into paying attention to the grisly case of a Philadelphia doctor whose methods of late-term abortion included snipping the spines of neonates after they were delivered.
As the last example suggests, the problem here isn’t that American journalists are too quick to go on crusades. Rather, it’s that the press’s ideological blinders limit the kinds of crusades mainstream outlets are willing to entertain, and the formal commitment to neutrality encourages self-deception about what counts as crusading.
The core weakness of the mainstream media, in this sense, is less liberalism than parochialism. The same habits of mind that make bipartisanthink seem like the height of wisdom also make it easy to condescend to causes and groups that seem disreputable and to underplay stories that might vindicate them.
But I understand why my readers suspect me, and other pro-choice mainstream journalists, of being selective—of not wanting to cover the story because it showcased the ugliest possibilities of abortion rights. The truth is that most of us tend to be less interested in sick-making stories—if the sick-making was done by “our side.”…
Moreover, surely those of us who are pro-choice must worry that this will restrict access to abortion: that a crackdown on abortion clinics will follow, with onerous white-glove inspections; that a revolted public will demand more restrictions on late-term abortions; or that women will be too afraid of Gosnell-style crimes to seek a medically necessary abortion…
I could defend myself by saying that I wasn’t aware that the Gosnell trial was going on. Abortion is not my beat, and the mailing lists that I am on weren’t exactly blasting the news of this trial.
But that doesn’t totally let me off the hook. I knew about the Gosnell case, and I wish I had followed it more closely, even though I’d rather not.
Some news organizations may have considered the national angle to be a stretch. Although possible, it’s a bit difficult to draw the connection between a doctor delivering premature babies, then murdering them and calling it abortion, to the overall debate that we are having in this country over who should have access to abortions and how they should be paid for.
There are important questions journalists can be asking to determine whether local stories like the Gosnell case are worth national media attention: Does the story inform our public debate about abortion? Is there a larger meaning to be gained? Or is there interest because it’s shocking and abhorrent?
The answer to all three questions is likely yes. But it will be a hollow answer if the debate about Gosnell focuses more on the media’s alleged crimes.
I will grant his silly argument this – that no doubt there are many so-called conservatives who reflexively shy away from stories like these because they’re cowed by the broader culture into feeling it’s somehow uptight, provincial and problematic in image terms to be seen to make a fuss about a mountain of dead babies. As Andy’s powerful column reminds us this weekend, the left is brilliant at framing the debate in language that demoralizes too much of the right into pre-emptive surrender.
But some of us have argued a consistent position on this case for over two years now: Relatively few people wish to commit mass murder on the scale of Gosnell – that’s the good news. The bad news is that the vast ranks of newspaper publishers, TV executives, editors, news producers, radio assignment editors, and reporters somehow reached an instant, near universal consensus that a man who may well be America’s all-time champion mass murderer isn’t a story at all, never mind one to hold the front page for – because they didn’t see him as a murderer; they saw him as a “choice-provider” who got a little out of hand.
That’s a dark, disturbing stain on our culture and our morality.
Our country is trying very hard not to think about abortion — about the physical reality of abortion. Earlier this year, the Colorado Supreme Court upheld a ban on the use of what critics insist on calling “graphic images” — but what is in fact simple photography — in abortion protests. Similar attempts to suppress free speech on the subject of abortion crop up regularly. Abortion is a strange issue in that it is the allegedly secular and materialist side of the debate that finds itself taking refuge in metaphysics, in this case the fiction of “personhood” that suddenly descends upon a human being at some point. The other side, thought to be populated mostly by religious cranks, is content to address the physical reality of abortion, the facts that cannot be denied but may be ignored.
The Gosnell case is shocking, but only because it makes visible and explicit what had been hidden and implicit. Every abortion is a shocking act of grisly violence — against the baby, who is murdered, and against the mother, whose body is converted into a crime scene. Taking some account of the moral reckoning of what our country has been up to for the past 40 years is a task of great scope and complexity. It is a job that is too big for the mass media. But willfully ignoring the story is a job that is not too big for them, even though doing so reveals our mighty newspapers and television networks to be smaller than we had thought. If this is what American newspapers have to offer, then they do not deserve to survive, and they will not. But the culpability is not theirs alone: There is a reason that there are many newspapers called The Mirror.