Media Excuse Themselves on Gosnell Trial Coverage

By: Bethany Stotts
Accuracy in Media


The mainstream media have become too comfortable following the legislative and policy agendas set by the White House and other liberals, so that when a truly newsworthy story comes to the fore, it is sidelined as “local news” instead of getting the front-page coverage it deserves. When the Newtown Massacre occurred, for example, the front pages were flooded with news about gun control which continues to this day. When a judge overturned the soda ban in New York City, many news outlets debated the merits of such a ban. But the alleged murder of seven infants and a patient by a homicidal doctor performing late-term abortions? That’s local news.

Perhaps the media outlets were scared that the story about Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s gruesome treatment of babies born alive during late-term abortions might lead to a call for additional protections for the rights of the unborn. This sets a new standard for what is meant by “pro-choice.” “Let’s just state the obvious: National political reporters are, by and large, socially liberal,” wrote David Weigel for Slate magazine. “There is a bubble. Horror stories of abortionists are less likely to permeate that bubble than, say, a story about a right-wing pundit attacking an abortionist who then claims to have gotten death threats.”

Weigel’s column aims straight at the unspoken fear that this news story might be used to benefit, of all horrors, the pro-life movement. “If you’re pro-choice, say, and you worry that the Gosnell story is being promoted only to weaken your cause, you really should read that grand jury report,” writes Weigel. Similarly, The New York Times, in its recent blog piece on the Gosnell story, states that “…the effort to use this case to ‘prove’ that abortion is wrong, is wrongheaded.” Let’s just make sure our readers understand that point: the media does not want any pro-life message to be taken from this story. “If anything,” Andrew Rosenthal writes for the Times, “the case highlights the need for safe, affordable and available women’s reproductive health care.” Heaven forbid a story in which the antagonist decapitates viable babies with scissors might benefit the pro-life lobby.

The New York Times, in its March and most recent reporting, insists on labeling viable babies born alive as “viable fetuses” when reporting about the Gosnell case.

Sarah Kliff, who writes for The Washington Post, was asked by blogger Mollie Hemingway why she hadn’t written about Dr. Gosnell’s horror show. Kliff responded via Twitter that “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,” writes Hemingway for This week, on April 15—3 days after Hemingway published Kliff’s Twitter response—Kliff took the time to write a story on the Gosnell travesty.

It is interesting to note that as of April 14, Kliff had taken the time out to write a short piece on the New York City soda ban, which apparently has more to do with health policy than abortion abuses. Her angle? A recent peer-reviewed paper that shows that people consume more soda under a bundling program which might happen under soda restrictions. “This is obviously one small study and it also wasn’t able to look at how much people would actually drink of the sodas they ordered, another important factor in determining calorie intake,” writes Kliff (emphasis added). “It does provide some evidence though, that when it comes to soda, outlawing large sizes might not lead to the desired result.” What earth-shattering policy news!

Those who might think that the Gosnell case is a matter of local news might want to talk to Kirsten Powers, a Fox News political analyst and former Democratic strategist. “Well this is a policy issue. It’s a regulatory issue,” said Kirsten Powers on Fox News’ America Live, with Megyn Kelly. “I mean, read the grand jury report. It’s a horror show of how the government wasn’t doing what they were supposed to be doing, with enforcing the laws that were on the books.” Powers asserted in a USA Today article that “This should be front page news…The deafening silence of too much of the media, once a force for justice in America, is a disgrace.”

Kliff apologized for her comments on April 15, writing, “When I described the case of abortion provider Kermit Gosnell on Twitter last week as a local crime story, I was clearly wrong. The egregious and horrifying crimes committed in the physician’s West Philadelphia abortion clinic have become a matter of national attention.”

“It’s really easy to do a bad job covering abortion policy when everybody agrees to do it, implicitly or explicitly,” asserted Hemingway on Fox.

With all the recent attention this case has received for its lack of media coverage, most major news organizations are finally starting to cover the Gosnell case. As of this writing, CNN, CBS, The New York Times, The Atlantic, the Christian Science Monitor, Mother Jones, USA Today, and The Washington Post all had pieces covering the case. Fox News has been consistently reporting on the findings. Why do you think that this has not received front page coverage? asked Anderson Cooper on CNN. “Well, the people making those criticisms are by and large conservative,” responded analyst Jeffrey Toobin. “They are saying the liberal media is trying to protect the abortion rights by not showing this harsh show. I don’t buy that at all.” The story “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,” insists Kevin Drum for the liberal Mother Jones.

Another reason that media outlets might not be interested in carrying the story as one of policy is how it could reflect on the current President. After all, as Hemingway highlights, President Obama opposed restrictions on late term abortions when in the state legislature. “As an Illinois state senator, Obama opposed the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act,” reported John McCormack for The Weekly Standard. “Supporters of the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act wanted to require doctors to provide medical care to these infants, while Obama wanted to leave it up to the discretion of the abortionist to determine whether these infants had a reasonable chance of sustained life.”

“Part of the way [a local story] becomes a national issue is by asking national figures and asking people to respond to what’s going on,” said Hemingway on Megyn Kelly’s show. “And here we have a case where the President of the United States could be asked about this, since he fought against protections for these children that were born alive when he was in the Illinois Senate.”

Are the media no longer willing to ask the President to address issues about which he personally does not feel comfortable? Perhaps this is the largest elephant in the room.

The Washington Post reported that the White House had declined to comment on the trial because it is an ongoing legal proceeding. “Without commenting on the particulars of this case, the president should tell us whether he supports late-term abortions, opposes abortion regulations and now thinks his vote against ‘born-alive’ legislation in Illinois was wrong,” asserts Jennifer Rubin for the Post. The President reiterated the same points on NBC’s Today Show, citing the fact that the Gosnell trial is an active case. But, as Rubin points out for the Post, “Is that a post-Trayvon Martin rule? Hasn’t he been commenting morning, noon and night about mass shootings with ongoing legal proceedings?” Clearly, the President owes the public more of a response than that he believes abortions should be “safe, legal, and rare.”

Bethany Stotts is a freelance writer, and former staff writer for Accuracy in Academia. She blogs at

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