Tim Graham absorbs his fair share of media in his job as director of media analysis at the Alexandria, Va.-based Media Research Center and as senior editor of its publishing outfit, NewsBusters. The formula goes pretty much like this: Watch, read, listen, groan—and write up lightning-quick blog posts exposing the excesses of mainstream media organizations. If Chris Matthews says something slightly excessive; if Brian Williams says something that’s not quite right; if PBS misfires — NewsBusters is there to commemorate the occasion.
Yet as Graham points out, catching stupid outbursts isn’t necessarily the core of the MRC/NewsBusters mission. MRC Founder and President L. Brent Bozell III, says Graham, has instructed his staffers to tease out something else. “Brent has been insistent with us that we are to focus on omissions, which is tough,” says Graham. “Sometimes he’ll say, ‘Is this an omission?’ And we’ll say no.’…Omissions that carry the most weight is when it is total.”
And that totality, argues Graham, is precisely how the media has not reacted to Kermit Gosnell, the 72-year-old abortion provider who is now on trial for murder stemming from the deaths of seven babies and a woman who was a patient at his West Philadelphia clinic. A massive grand jury report spells out the horrific nature of the case.
After the release of that grand jury report—back in January 2011—Bozell was already alleging media lapses: “Apparently, just about nobody in the national media really cares about who dies at an abortion clinic, whether it’s a child or a mother. But kill a killer of babies – and that’s headline news. That’s why tens of thousands clog the streets to protest – not just the killing, but the radio silence.”
And recently, with the Gosnell trial underway, Bozell & Co. continue stacking up the blog posts, lamenting how the big broadcast networks and other outlets refuse to put this story on a national pedestal. Though it’s hard to exactly “break” the media story of the Kermit Gosnell trial, MRC/NewsBusters has been at the forefront of what now looks like a journalistic upheaval. The Washington Post has gone on record lamenting that it didn’t send a reporter to the trial sooner. The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf has ruled that this is a front-page story, anywhere. Twitter is exploding with talk of the case and the media.
Several outlets continue in silence—at least vis-a-vis this blog—about their coverage calculus vis-a-vis Gosnell. No surprise there. Over nearly two years in this position, the Erik Wemple Blog has sampled a great deal of what comes out of the MRC/NewsBusters operation. Much of the time, it’s ticky-tack stuff — some fool misspeaks, another moron takes to Twitter, another lame-o imprudently generalizes about something. And then sometimes, it’s a bona fide media question.
On those occasions, the Erik Wemple Blog brings the matter to the attention of any allegedly offending news organization or journalist. At that point, a pretty common transaction unfolds. We are not at liberty to quote news organizations or journalists, but we can say that, when presented with questions that have their origins in MRC/NewsBusters research, the typical response is something along the lines of “Get out of my face with this agenda-driven stuff, and come back when you have a real story.” In fairness, we do get similar responses to research from the watchdog on the other end of the “mediological” spectrum – Media Matters for America.
Reading through NewsBusters content yields the impression that the outfit suspects that lefty bias lies at the root of most mass-media screwups. In the Gosnell case, however, a fascinating debate has developed over whether it’s bias or, perhaps, the media’s indifference to stories about the disadvantaged and isolated people in low-income communities.
Says Graham: “I am always willing to entertain, as a conservative media critic and as a former White House reporter, that there are many reasons why you don’t do a story.” But, says Graham, “our first job is to say it’s not being covered.” The first job of the media, it would appear, is to hunker down.