Editorial: Gosnell trial sparks media frenzy

Posted By Horizon Staff April 30th, 2013 in Editors Pick : 0 COMMENTS

Horizon Staff

A week ago, searching the name “Dr. Kermit Gosnell” on most major news sites would have yielded zero results. Yet, this man allegedly performed scores of late-term abortions with sub-standard equipment and assistance (to water it down) before being caught in 2010 and charged with seven counts of murder. As his trial began on March 18, 2013, media attention on this doctor took a backseat to other news stories as editorial boards and investigative journalists have simply failed to give the case the attention it deserves.

Now, this trial has garnered national attention, partly because this is a grisly case, but more because it touches on one of the great taboo topics in American media. The abortion debate in America is dominated by its ideological fringes. Polling by Gallup showed that disagreement, on the whole, between pro-choicers and pro-lifers is fairly small, but you wouldn’t know it from the debate. This does not excuse the media silence on the Gosnell trial, but it does put some crucial light on a major problem. Editorial boards and investigative journalists across America were either wilfully blind or inattentive in part because covering abortion is taboo and oftentimes simply miserable.

Conor Friesdorf’s article in “The Atlantic” points out that writing about the topic guarantees “(a) extreme abuse from readers no matter where you come down; (b) extreme, tedious scrutiny of every word you write; (c) certain knowledge that personal friends and family members will find themselves in strong, emotional disagreement with you; (d) the discouraging impression that no fact or argument presented will change anyone’s mind; and (e) the accusation that you are complicit in something even worse than what Hitler did, or else that you hate women and want to control their bodies, or both.” With a situation like this, the media’s failure to cover the Gosnell trial is still shocking, but it should hardly be surprising.

That said, allegations that the media were engaging in a massive pro-choice conspiracy to silence coverage on the topic are absurd. The most obvious reason the trial failed to get media coverage was the simple fact that the judge issued a gag order for everyone involved in the trial. No outlet, conservative, liberal or centrist, had given the trial the coverage it deserved before Ms. Powers’ piece in “USA Today”. Papers like the “New York Times” and the “Washington Post” apparently ignored the case because, for a whole slew of reasons, it never went on their radar.

The real problem with Gosnell’s case is one of the journalistic duty to pursue news stories, even when they venture into taboo or uncomfortable territory. Reporters, editors and publishers cannot let potential discomfort skew their willingness to inform the public. “The Horizon” asserts that such practices reject the very foundation of journalistic ethics. We concede that for human reporters, true objectivity is impossible; yet, especially when matters of basic human rights are at stake, it is the reporters’ responsibility to present the public with comprehensive, honest coverage. Any other action rejects the ultimate goal of journalism itself.

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