An awkward silence over murder trial of Kermit Gosnell in Philadelphia


In this March 8, 2010 photo, Dr. Kermit Gosnell is seen during an interview with the Philadelphia Daily News at his attorney's office in Philadelphia. Gosnell, an abortion doctor who catered to minorities, immigrants and poor women at the Women's Medical Society, goes on trial Monday, March 18, 2013, on eight counts of murder, but prosecutors say he's not the only person to blame for the deaths. (AP Photo/Philadelphia Daily News, Yong Kim) MANDATORY CREDIT, NO SALES (Yong Kim/AP)

Media organizations including The Washington Post have been several weeks late in covering the murder trial of a Philadelphia doctor accused of killing seven newborns and an adult patient at his abortion clinic. The Associated Press reports:

In testimony during the past month at the capital murder trial of Kermit Gosnell, eight former employees said they performed grueling, often gruesome work for little more than minimum wage, paid by Gosnell under the table. Three have pleaded guilty to third-degree murder. . .

“Gosnell recklessly cut corners, allowed patients to choose their medication based on ability to pay, and provided abysmal care — all to maximize his profit,” prosecutors wrote in the 2011 grand jury report. “He was not serving his community. Gosnell ran a criminal enterprise, motivated by greed.”

Four states have adopted restrictions on abortion in the past six weeks, and Juliet Eilperin writes that Gosnell’s case could influence those debates:

It’s too early to tell how the attention around Gosnell, who is now standing trial for the deaths of one woman and seven infants, will affect elected officials as they consider an array of new restrictions on abortion providers. But the shocking nature of Gosnell’s alleged crimes has provided abortion opponents with new ammunition as they seek to impose new regulations on abortion clinics across the country.

Eilperin adds that Gosnell is accused of violating laws that already exist, and better enforcement, rather than new laws, would have been necessary to prevent those alleged crimes.

Jennifer Rubin, like many observers, argues that the lack of reporting on the trial reveals a bias in the media:

Why in the world did it take so long? It is not as if the story wouldn’t have drawn readers and viewers. The mainstream media would have had a sensational trial to cover. Gosnell’s butchery would have kept readers and viewers transfixed. And late-term abortion is clearly a matter of public interest. Moreover, the mainstream press extensively covers restrictions on abortion facilities — such as The Post did Friday on its homepage.

The only logical conclusion for the absence of coverage is the obvious one: the mainstream media’s overwhelming bias in favor of the pro-choice position. The Gosnell story is the pro-choice movement’s worst nightmare.

Paul Farhi, surveying news organizations on why they have not covered the story, writes that a systematic bias in favor of abortion rights is not the only explanation for the lack of coverage:

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. (Read the rest of the article here.)

Melissa Henneberger argues that journalists simply aren’t accustomed to writing stories about abortion without an antiabortion group as antagonist:

I say we didn’t write more because the only abortion story most outlets ever cover in the news pages is every single threat or perceived threat to abortion rights. In fact, that is so fixed a view of what constitutes coverage of that issue that it’s genuinely hard, I think, for many journalists to see a story outside that paradigm as news. That’s not so much a conscious decision as a reflex, but the effect is one-sided coverage.

Discuss this topic and other political issues in the politics discussion forums.

Max Ehrenfreund is a blogger on the Financial desk and writes for Know More and Wonkblog.
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