The trial details are nothing short of sensational: A doctor accused of killing seven newborns and a young woman at a filthy Philadelphia clinic strewn with body parts and described as a "slaughterhouse."
It's big news in Philadelphia, but nationally, not so much. The lack of coverage is a problem for a growing chorus of conservative and media critics, who allege that the scant national media attention can be attributed not to the courtroom drama but the politics of abortion.
Dr. Kermit Gosnell was an abortionist, meaning that any coverage of the trial risks painting the pro-choice movement in an unflattering light. In a statement issued last week, 20 conservative leaders called for an end to what they described as a "media blackout" and "censoring" of the trial for political reasons.
"The horrific excesses of the abortion industry exemplified by Gosnell and Planned Parenthood are major, national news stories any way you look at them. But the pro-abortion liberal media are determined to hide them from the public," said the April 4 statement led by the conservative Media Research Center and signed by former Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer, columnist Kellyanne Conway and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.
"The media have a solemn duty to the American people to report the news, not just news that helps the positions they support. It's unprofessional, it's disgusting, and it's inhuman," the statement said.
MRC also reports that there has been no network coverage on ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, NPR or PBS, and just one brief mention on CNN.
"It's unbelievable that Dr. Gosnell's trial for his actions inside his 'house of horrors' haven't drawn one network story," said Media Research Center President Brent Bozell in a March 26 column decrying the lack of coverage.
Forbes columnist Mike Ozanian said that the controversy surrounding Rutgers University basketball coach Mike Rice, who was shown on video abusing players and using vulgar language during practice, had received far more national attention than the Gosnell trial.
"What troubles me is why Rice and Rutgers deserve more attention from the media than the trial of doctor Kermit Gosnell," he said. "How much of this story have you seen on the evening news? I bet not nearly as much as you have seen about Rice."
Not every murder trial receives prominent national coverage, but the Gosnell case would seem to contain all the ingredients of must-see television: a formerly respected community leader accused of unspeakable acts; the death of a young immigrant woman; a parade of former employees offering graphic testimony on the gruesome deaths of more than 100 just-born infants; and even the implication by the doctor's lawyers that the charges have been motivated by racism. Dr. Gosnell is black and his clinic was in a mostly minority neighborhood.
Assistants said the babies were effectively decapitated after the doctor snipped their spines with scissors. One assistant said a newly delivered baby was "big enough to walk around with me or walk around to the bus stop." Another employee said she heard a baby "screaming" after it was born alive after a botched abortion attempt.
"The mainstream media has been studiously avoiding the trial of abortion butcher Kermit Gosnell, despite the kind of stomach-churning testimony that would normally attract headline coverage," John Hayward said in a column Monday in Human Events.
Critics also say there is a glaring double standard involved in the treatment of the Gosnell trial. Stories that place the pro-life movement in a negative light are much more likely to receive coverage, such as an NBC News report in November about a woman who died in Ireland after being refused an abortion in a Catholic hospital, said Mr. Bozell. Pro-lifers also note full coverage on the several occasions when abortionists have been killed.
The trial is being covered by The Associated Press, and AP wire stories have appeared on network websites. The proceedings also are receiving heavy coverage on pro-life and religious websites such as LifeNews, as well as newspapers and television in the Philadelphia and Delaware markets.
The Media Reseach Center has received no reaction from the networks about the statement, said Dan Gainor, vice-president for business and culture.
"Journalists hate to have anybody question anything they do, no matter how egregious," said Mr. Gainor.
Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, said extensive national coverage is essential in order to prevent more situations like the one at the Women's Medical Society of Philadelphia.
"They need to do their jobs of reporting the news and not rely on the pro-life movement to do their jobs for them," she said.
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