A staffer at Salon.com, Irin Carmon, has weighed in on the Kermit Gosnell story. Specifically, she has weighed in to try and refute the idea that the story has not gotten the level of media coverage one would expect for a story this sordid. Briefly, Dr. Kermit Gosnell is accused of killing newborn babies at his abortion clinic and keeping body parts. Those arguing that the story has not gotten the coverage it deserves are claiming (I think rightly) that the liberal media has declined to focus on the story because it involves something very negative about an abortion doctor. Ms. Carmon presents several arguments to attempt to counter these allegations, but in each case she either winds up making the conservatives’ case or striking out in her response altogether. Let’s take a look at her arguments.
Carmon’s first argument is that the story has not been ignored. To buttress her argument, she provides six examples of stories covering the incident. Those stories came from therealitycheck.org, thegrio.com, Philly Now, Philadelphia Weekly, The Nation and CBS News. All of the stories were from when the charges were first brought to light in January of 2011. None were reports about the trial underway, where many gruesome details have emerged.
With the exception of ABC News, none of the cited articles is from the mainstream media. They are local news stories or were produced by feminists who cover these types of issues. Carmon even says that she “can’t speak for big news organizations like CNN and the networks.” But this is precisely the point the conservatives are making. Nobody cares if this story is covered locally or by the industry which it affects. That a doctor could murder 8 people in a city and not get at least local coverage would be beyond absurd.
Carmon’s second argument is that there are many other stories which are ignored that are much more important. That may be the case, but it is a complete non sequitur to argue that just because more important stories (in her opinion) get ignored that this story is not being ignored because of a liberal bias. The relevant issue is that stories of this type generally garner huge amounts of media coverage, regardless of triviality. Therefore, we should expect to see this instance also garner huge media attention. It’s as if the only papers that had covered the Newton shooting was the local rag and a few gun magazines or if OJ’s trial was only mentioned in the American Bar Association’s magazine.
Carmon points to stories she feels are more important, such as health disparities in the system and vulnerabilities of the poor and the marginalized and says that these stories aren’t given “wall-to-wall, trial-level coverage.” This has to be the most amusing of all of her arguments because she actually refutes her own point by her choice of words. Yes, she is correct that the stories she thinks are important are not given the “wall-to-wall, trial-level coverage,” but isn’t that precisely because they aren’t trials? In this case, we are actually talking about a trial. Therefore we should expect to see “wall-to-wall, trial-level coverage.” It’s a tautology! Carmon may be right that it is wrong that these types of trials get more coverage than what she views as much larger issues, but that in no way refutes the conservative argument that this particular trial is not getting the coverage it should, given the basic parameters of how such stories are covered today.
Argument 4 is an argument for something, but it does nothing to support Ms. Carmon’s thesis that media coverage has been sparse. Carmon points out that Virginia has passed a new law which requires abortion clinics to meet building codes as if they were hospitals with, she alleges, the intent of restricting abortions. She next points out that Pennsylvania passed a similar law. She then observes that after Pennsylvania’s law was passed the number of abortion clinics went from 22 to 13. Finally, she concludes with the analysis that that is what drove the women whose babies were murdered to seek out Dr. Gosnell.
Let’s just give Ms. Carmon the benefit of the doubt and assume what she says is true. So what? Does that somehow take away from the newsworthiness of the story? This is a doctor who murdered infants on a routine basis. The fact that the law may be unfair and that women should have more options in no way detracts from the particulars of this case, nor does it excuse the doctor’s behavior. Moreover, it most certainly is a complete non-answer to the charge that the media has under-covered the story.
Is it too much to ask that journalists to put aside their personal feelings and biases when analyzing a story? This was an opinion piece, but that doesn’t excuse the shoddy reasoning behind it. Not one of Carmon’s arguments even comes close backing up her central thesis – that social conservatives are wrong in believing the story has been under-covered. Instead, there is polemicization against the conservatives and in favor of more freely available abortions. I don’t have a problem with that – Ms. Carmon should feel free to advocate for her position. However, if that is what she is going to do she should make that the subject of her column. Instead, she has allowed her feelings to cloud her judgment to such a degree that she cannot analytically confront any aspect of the abortion debate without turning it into an attack on those who disagree. In the case of the narrow question of whether the media has under-covered the story, the answer to me seems to be “yes”, given that it was (1) infants slaughtered, (2) by a doctor in (3) a gruesome manner. There may be good arguments as to why this is not enough to justify more coverage, but Ms. Carmon has failed to proffer even one.