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?
That’s the way the Media Research Center, a conservative watchdog group based in Alexandria, has framed it. In multiple commentaries published since last month, the group has hammered the lack of coverage, citing it as evidence of liberal media bias. “The media elite are passionate about abortion and passionate about defending it,” says Tim Graham, the MRC’s director of media analysis, in an interview. “This is a story that threatens the abortion rights agenda. . . . It’s bias by omission.” Neither Graham nor any of the other critics have offered evidence for their suspicions.
Media representatives offer several rationales for their inaction: that other stories were commanding their attention and resources, that the lack of cameras in the courtroom diminished TV interest in the story, that the Gosnell trial was simply overlooked.
Moreover, some commentators have pointed out, greater media attention to the trial might help, rather than hurt, abortion rights advocates. They say the graphic testimony about illegal late-term abortions, unlicensed staff and shockingly unsanitary procedures and conditions at Gosnell’s Women’s Medical Society clinic strengthens the case for keeping abortion safe, legal and affordable, particularly for the poor women who sought Gosnell’s services.
The charge of liberal media bias is perhaps undercut by the fact that a number of conservative media outlets — and conservative leaders — overlooked the story, too, until a flood of tweets and commentaries about it began late last week.
The Weekly Standard and the National Review, two leading conservative magazines, for example, hadn’t published anything on the trial, according to a search of the Nexis database. The New York Post’s conservative editorial board has written one commentary — an editorial lamenting the lack of coverage, which, although it doesn’t mention it, includes its own paper. The Washington Times has published five staff-written articles and guest commentaries on the matter, all focusing on the absence of press coverage.
Fox News has been the only consistent national TV source on the story, having run 11 news reports or commentaries on it over the past month. Among national print outlets, the Associated Press has covered the trial extensively. The story has been prominently featured in the Huffington Post and discussed on its Huffington Post Live webcast. The Huffington Post is generally considered a liberal news organization.