The Washington Post

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 writes for Wonkblog and compiles Wonkbook, a daily policy newsletter. You can subscribe here. Before joining The Washington Post, Ehrenfreund wrote for the Washington Monthly and The Sacramento Bee.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Comments
Show Comments
The Democrats debated Thursday night. Get caught up on the race.
The Post's Chris Cillizza on the Democratic debate...
On Clinton: She poked a series of holes in Sanders's health-care proposal and broadly cast him as someone who talks a big game but simply can't hope to achieve his goals.

On Sanders: If the challenge was to show that he could be a candidate for people other than those who already love him, he didn't make much progress toward that goal. But he did come across as more well-versed on foreign policy than in debates past.
The PBS debate in 3 minutes
Quoted
We are in vigorous agreement here.
Hillary Clinton, during the PBS Democratic debate, a night in which she and Sanders shared many of the same positions on issues
South Carolina polling averages
Donald Trump leads in the polls as he faces rivals Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz heading into the S.C. GOP primary on Feb. 20.
South Carolina polling averages
The S.C. Democratic primary is Feb. 27. Clinton has a significant lead in the state, whose primary falls one week after the party's Nevada caucuses.
62% 33%
Fact Checker
Trump’s claim that his border wall would cost $8 billion
The billionaire's claim is highly dubious. Based on the costs of the Israeli security barrier (which is mostly fence) and the cost of the relatively simple fence already along the U.S.-Mexico border, an $8 billion price tag is simply not credible.
Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio
Upcoming debates
Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

March 3: GOP debate

on Fox News, in Detroit, Mich.

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands
Most Read

politics

Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.