Now that some in the media have finally been shamed into covering the Gosnell abortion trial, the only thing left for journalists is finding the right alibi for ignoring it for so long. It’s like watching an episode of “Law & Order,” complete with a horrific journalistic crime and an endless stream of media excuses.
In print, online and on TV, lefty journalists came up with excuse after excuse to say they couldn’t possibly have had a typical lefty bias. Journalists offered up racism, classism, ignorance and more as possible excuses.
CNN’s resident media critic Howard Kurtz tried the blame-conservatives approach, claiming “The conservative media didn't do much either.” Ah yes, those tens of thousands of conservative reporters and editors who work, where exactly?
Kurtz couldn’t even be honest or factually correct enough to call the victims “babies,” choosing the lefty term “fetuses,” even for living, breathing children.
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CNN's legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin was just as willfully ignorant during the April 12 “Anderson Cooper 360.” Toobin knocked any conservative allegation of bias. “Well, the people making those criticisms by and large are conservatives, who are saying the liberal media is trying to protect abortion rights by not showing this horror show. I don’t buy that at all,” he claimed.
Washington Post reporter Paul Farhi raised the tough question. He gave the “conservative Media Research Center” credit (Hint: It’s where I work.) for pushing the story. Then he asked: “Could it be, as conservative bloggers have charged since shortly after the trial began March 18, that the media had taken a pass because Gosnell — who stands accused of killing seven newborn infants and one mother — is an abortion doctor whose alleged crimes run counter to the mainstream media’s supposed support for abortion rights?
He included several unsatisfying answers. ABC didn’t say. NBC tried to dodge. CBS admitted correctly that it planned to cover it. “Fox News has been the only consistent national TV source on the story,” Farhi wrote. He added that MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” would cover it on April 15 and they did.
His own paper had given multiple responses.
On April 11 at 7:08 p.m., health reporter Sarah Kliff defended her failure top cover Gosnell. “I cover policy for the Washington Post, not local crime, hence why I wrote about all the policy issues you mention,” Kliff said. Conservatives set Twitter aflame that night, making “Gosnell” a trending topic.
By 5:43 p.m. on the next night, the Post had changed its tune. Executive Editor Martin Baron, told the paper’s Erik Wemple Blog: “We believe the story is deserving of coverage by our own staff, and we intend to send a reporter for the resumption of the trial next week. In retrospect, we should have sent a reporter sooner.” The Post was joined by The Wall Street Journal and New York Times. Shame is an amazing thing.
CBS, the only broadcast network that has ever previously mentioned the case in its coverage, back in 2011, covered it over the weekend and on Monday morning. The “This Morning” story had reporter Jan Crawford warning that “some of the details you are about to hear are very disturbing” and “there are almost no words” to describe what witnesses said happened in the clinic. One quote in the story had a man saying “the grand jury went to the scene wearing Hazmat suits.”
While CBS acknowledged there was a debate over the media coverage, it did its best to do CYA reporting. The segment interviewed Walt Hunter, who “broke the original story,” and reminded viewers it had reported on the story in 2011. The network left out how CBS had ignored the story ever since, admitting “his trial has received little national news coverage.” The report cited a USA Today column by Kirsten Powers with complaints about the lack of coverage “that went viral on Twitter” and were then picked up by House Republicans.
Liberal outlets, while bashing Gosnell, were mostly dismissive of the whole debate.
The lefty American Prospect came up with “Five Lessons from the Gosnell Abortion-Clinic Controversy” – essentially ways to rationalize the media not covering it. Those included claiming that “many prominent feminists” had covered it and the evil media ignored them and that somehow the stigma of abortion hurts women. The Prospect didn’t explain how women had gotten past that “stigma” 50 million times since Roe v. Wade. And while it mentioned the Powers column, it didn’t even spell her first name correctly.
Salon’s Alex Seitz-Wald tried the Kurtz strategy, blaming conservatives. After all, it’s not like most in the media will point out how silly that was. He whined, “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.”
Even liberal Wikipedia considered deleting its own page on the trial because “his case has not received national attention.” Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy. The media ignore something and then when it doesn’t get press, Wikipedia disappears it like in the old Soviet Union.
The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf, who had created a stir admitting the “trial should be a front-page story,” tallied the 14 different theories why the “case didn't get more media attention.” Most of those were media or liberal rationales. It was an extensive list including the laughable Mother Jones theory that conservatives were “working the refs.” The lefty, Soros-funded magazine charged: “it didn't get much coverage until conservatives decided they could make hay with charges that the story was being deliberately suppressed by the liberal media.”
Because, of course, that’s what conservatives wanted was “hay,” not balanced news coverage on a life-or-death topic. The Mother Jones big complaint was that the conservative media hadn’t reported more thoroughly on the case. That’s right, because the conservative media’s non-existent pool of thousands of reporters is equal to what the Times, Post, Gannett and others can bring to bear.
Conservative blogger David Burge summed up conservative criticism of the media succinctly. “Ben Carson or Kermit Gosnell: guess which doctor the media consider ‘controversial.’”
We all know the answer, but at least journalists have to admit both exist now.
Dan Gainor is the Media Research Center's Vice President for Business and Culture. He writes frequently about media for Fox News Opinion. He can also be contacted on Facebook and Twitter as dangainor.