You would think the trial of a physician charged with eight counts of murder, conspiracy and other crimes might get some attention in the national news.
But unless you live in Philadelphia, you probably haven’t heard of the case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, who faces the death penalty. He operated abortion clinics. His victims included a mother and seven infants. Eight of his staff have pleaded guilty to a variety of crimes.
I did a news search and found only Fox News and CNN have done broadcast reports recently on the case. The Huffington Post had a few stories and The New York Times wrote one, which ran on Page 17. The only other news outlets I could find covering the story were in New Zealand and Canada.
Dr. Gosnell performed an estimated 16,000 abortions over 31 years in his West Philadelphia clinic. He became wealthy from his practice. Police found $250,000 in cash during a 2010 search of his home.
The grand jury report described how Dr. Gosnell’s patients were induced into labor with drugs generally considered dangerous and outdated. One woman died from the drugs.
Some abortions were done in the third trimester, which violated Pennsylvania law, by snipping the spinal cord of the infants with scissors in some cases. The grand jury report noted the staff included unlicensed medical students and an “anesthetist” who dropped out of school in the sixth grade. The clinic’s floors were covered with fetal remains.
The grand jury report also noted the Pennsylvania Department of Health had decided to stop investigating abortion clinics because “officials concluded that inspections would be ‘putting a barrier up to women seeking abortions.’”
Legal eagles Nancy Grace of HLN and Greta van Susteren of Fox News have focused recently on the trial of Jodi Arias, who is accused of killing her ex-boyfriend in 2008 in Mesa, Ariz. It was either a brutal murder or self-defense. Pennsylvania doesn’t allow cameras in the courtroom, but I think other reasons exist for the lack of coverage for Dr. Gosnell compared to the Arias trial.
The Arias case is about whites. Dr. Gosnell is a 72-year-old black man. He is charged with killing a black woman and seven infants. The charges easily qualify as mass murder under any definition.
Maybe black people don’t warrant prime-time coverage? They certainly didn’t merit state inspections in Pennsylvania of abortion clinics to make certain the staff had the proper training and the site met proper standards. Most mainstream media probably see the case as an aberration. All abortion clinics might be tainted by the news of one doctor run amok. You can read nonsense like a column from the former head of the NARAL-Post-Choice America, which blames the state government of Pennsylvania for its anti-abortion bias. Or, you can read a sensible editorial in The National Post of Canada, which is entitled “The right to choose, gone terribly awry,” puts the matter squarely on the shoulder of doctors.
“In [Dr. Gosnell’s] mind, as long as you call it an ‘abortion,’ killing live babies is a morally neutral activity. [T]he example of Dr. Gosnell — the mere fact that someone has a medical degree — does not change the fact that he or she is a fallible human.”
I find it surprising that no such editorials exist in the U.S. news media I surveyed.
The doctor’s attorney has described the trial as “a targeted, elitist and racist prosecution of a doctor who’s done nothing but give to the poor and the people of West Philadelphia.”
That’s nonsense. Philadelphia is a liberal city with widespread support for abortion. Journalists in Philadelphia, particularly Joseph Slobodzian of The Inquirer, have done a great job of covering the story, shining a light on the deeds of this man and what he is accused of doing to the weak and poor. I wish the national media had done the same.
• Christopher Harper is a professor of journalism at Temple University. He worked for the Associated Press, Newsweek, ABC News and “20/20” for more than 20 years. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.