Better Late than … Look Who’s Discovered the Gosnell Story

Media begins reporting, but scoffs at bias charges.

You can’t get anything past those intrepid newshounds at CNN. CBS, MSNBC and The Washington Post, too. A month into the trial of Kermit Gosnell for the alleged murders of seven infants and one woman in his “house of horrors” abortion clinic, they’ve finally discovered the story. This Philadelphia courtroom drama, with barbarous crimes committed in conditions the sickest Hollywood horror maven couldn’t have conjured, somehow escaped the notice of a 24-hour news network, all three broadcast networks and one of the biggest American newspapers for nearly five weeks.

It isn’t that the networks are shy about reporting on abortion. Since the Gosnell trial began in mid March, ABC CBS and NBC have reported on abortion 20 times. CBS finally got around to the story this morning, April 15. CNN’s silence was particularly incriminating, since it’s not as though Gosnell’s alleged crimes weren’t unknown at the network. CNN’s website ran a 666-word (fittingly) article on March 4, and Jake Tapper gave the case 24 seconds on March 21, noting that “The evidence in the case is so gruesome some jurors have been seen covering their mouths.” 

But last Friday, April 12, Tapper opened the flood gates. MRC’s public demands backed by some striking CMI research, along with a conservative Twitter initiative to shame the media into covering Gosnell, had borne fruit. CNN’s Erin Burnett (almost) admitted as much Friday night, saying The Gosnell trial “came to my attention on Twitter this week. Some of you said look at this story.”

Burnett’s colleague Anderson Cooper tweeted on Friday “Reading the grand jury report on the #Gosnell case. Where was the state oversight of this house of horrors? Details tonight on @AC360 8p/10p” We could all relax. Cooper was finally on the case.

Since then, MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” covered it, and CBS “This Morning” had a report. The Washington Post ran an article by Paul Farhi. On Monday, reporters from The Wall Street Journal and USA Today were spotted in the Gosnell courtroom’s heretofore deserted press benches. 

On Friday, Tapper interviewed Joseph Slobodzian of the Philadelphia Inquirer. The host introduced the segment, calling it “Our ‘Buried Lead.’ This is a story that we think is not getting enough attention. We covered this case when it began in March [that would be the 24 seconds of coverage] and after a week of horrifying testimony we're coming back to it.” Tapper noted without apparent irony that Slobodzian “has been sitting in the courtroom every day of this excruciating trial.” Excruciating and lonely. 

Cooper and Burnett each discussed the media blackout, each professing ignorance as to why such an important story had been buried. “And frankly, it hasn't gotten much attention in the media at all it seems. A lot of people are asking why.” 

Yes, it’s a real puzzler. And one best hashed out with a panel of liberals eager to divert attention from dead babies, leavened by the non-confrontational presence of a domesticated “conservative.” CNN contributor Reihan Salam, the supposed conservative, told Burnett “a lot of folks who cover reproductive rights have actually been aware of the story for while.” But, “here is a situation which low income, poor, extremely vulnerable women were just not considered much of a story.” This would become one of the standard media excuses.

Burnett then lobbed a slow, giant softball to writer Irin Carmon, asking how she’d respond to conservative charges that the media buried the story, Carmon hit an class- and culture-war homerun. “I would tell them, you know … We're talking about health disparities all the time,” she said. “The reason that women went to this clinic is because they did not have – they felt they didn't have an alternative. Even though abortion is legal, it cannot be covered by Medicaid. As a result, even though, you know, abortion is safer and cheaper when it takes place early in gestation, these women felt they had no choice but to go to an unsafe provider. Again this is a story about health care.”

Liberal Donna Brazile said she rejected it because, “The mainstream right-wing media with all of their various platforms online and other places, Breitbart was only online institution that covered it.” Not true, but its neat to be there at the birth of a liberal talking point – one that spent some formative time with CNN’s Howard Kurtz before coming of age Monday in the Washington Post’s “Style” section.

There, writer Paul Farhi denied liberal bias, said conservatives weren’t covering it either, and let his boss Martin Baron, executive editor of one of the nation’s most important newspapers, claim to have been unaware of the story until Thursday night. It’s an interesting defense, one his health reporter Sarah Kliff should have thought of on Thursday, instead of dismissing Gosnell as a “local crime” unworthy of her time as someone who writes on policy, and further outraging conservatives on Twitter.

Back at CNN Friday, legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin pooh-poohed the notion of an ideological blackout. “Well, the people making those criticisms by and large are conservatives, who are saying the liberal media is trying to protect abortion rights by not showing this horror show. I don't buy that at all,” Toobin sniffed.

CBS “This Morning” had reporter Jan Crawford warning that “some of the details you are about to hear are very disturbing” and “there are almost no words” to describe what witnesses said happened in the clinic. One quote in the story had a man saying “the grand jury went to the scene wearing Hazmat suits.”

That’s pretty sensational. You might get ratings from stories like that.

While CBS acknowledged there was a debate over the media coverage, it leaned on the fact that it had covered Gosnell’s initial arrest in 2011, and leaving out how CBS had ignored the story ever since, admitting “his trial has received little national news coverage.”

Yes, better late than never. But the sight of so many elite media types scratching their heads over how Gosnell eluded their attention is laughably dishonest and insulting to their audience.