Political Animal


April 12, 2013 5:29 PM The Gosnell Case and the Coverage Machine

By Ryan Cooper

Dave Weigel is right: the case of Kermit Gosnell is gruesome in the extreme. But the rapidly coalescing conventional wisdom on the right that there was some sort of deliberate conspiracy to ignore the concerted yelps of the conservative movement is bogus. Here’s Alex Seitz-Wald:

“I’m here today to talk about an uncomfortable subject which no one seems to want to talk about,” Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Scott Perry said on the floor yesterday. “The media doesn’t want to talk about it-not NBC, CBS, ABC, CNBC, not Fox, and not the leaders of our Nation, not the President.”
But where was Perry until Thursday? Or, for that matter, where the other two lawmakers who spoke out yesterday, Texas Republican Roger Williams and New Jersey’s Chris Smith? Where was Rep. Trent Franks, perhaps the most outspoken Republican on abortion, or Virginia Foxx or even Louie Gohmert, who never misses an opportunity to speak on hot botton social issues?
What about the conservative media? A search of TVEyes finds that Fox News mentioned the case just a handful of times. Special Report With Bret Baier included brief updates on the trail in their roundup of the day’s news on several nights over the past month, while Mike Huckabee aired a taped segment followed by a panel discussion on his weekend show late last month, but it’s hardly been leading news. The “Obama phone” got far more coverage.

Breitbartia, to their credit, have been all over the case, though they’re about the only one. Daily Caller had one piece before yesterday. Human Events had nothing. CBN had nothing. Fox News had a few pieces, but two of them are AP reprints.

I agree that it is somewhat strange that the Gosnell story has taken this long to develop into a national scandal. Normally cable news jumps at this kind of bloodstained detail like starving wolves after a bacon sandwich. But we don’t need to postulate implausible conspiracies to figure this out. (Indeed, lots of feminist bloggers covered the story when it first came out in January 2011.)

The parsimonious explanation for this paltry coverage is simply that people hadn’t heard about the case. The trial only began on March 18th. Like Dave Weigel, I didn’t hear about it until yesterday, and it’s my job to pay attention to the news all day. The media’s collective unconscious has a good deal of inertia—it takes some time for a new story to percolate to the top.

If anything, the true state of the media as far as stories covered is close to the opposite. The conservative movement is really good at pushing stories like this into the limelight. They just had barely tried before yesterday. Literally the day after they got the noise machine good and cranked up, everyone is talking about it.

In any case, one thing is clear: the right now has their wish. The Gosnell case is going to get wall-to-wall coverage. But can we dispense with the conspiracy theories, please?

Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper


  • Anonymous on April 12, 2013 5:39 PM:

    But can we dispense with the conspiracy theories, please?

    Ha-haha-ha-hahahahahahaha! Good one, Ryan!

    The right wing will dispense with conspiracy theories when you dispense with oxygen. Because conspiracy theories are as important to them as oxygen is to you.

  • Lifelong Dem on April 12, 2013 5:41 PM:

    Sorry, did not intend to post that anonymously. It is mine.

  • roshan on April 12, 2013 5:45 PM:

    So what is the "story" in this story? I'm not talking about the actual gruesome details of the case but rather the "details" that the wingnuts want to publicize.

    I'm guessing that the "story" in this story is that abortion is murder and all abortion doctors are murderers, because Gosnell was a murderer. So it naturally follows that liberals are murderers because they are pro-choice.

    Is it safe to say that the wingnuts want to expound on their favorite fundie meme through this story?

  • Milt on April 12, 2013 5:54 PM:

    This story ranks with all the mass murders and it should be treated as such. The NRA falls all over themselves claiming gunmen are insane and so law abiding gun owners should not be held responsible for their actions. In the same light, law abiding, caring doctors should not be compared to this insane individual.

  • Josef K on April 12, 2013 5:58 PM:

    But can we dispense with the conspiracy theories, please?

    What makes you think the Breitbartians can actually communicate in any other language? They'd claim "2 plus 2 equals 4" is naught but a liberal campaign against the noble numbers 5 and 6.

    Put it another way: if they stop with the conspiracy theories, they'll have to start talking about actual policies and solutions, and we all know they either can't or don't dare to that.

  • Joe Friday on April 12, 2013 8:07 PM:

    What does any of this have to do with abortion ?

    If some heart surgeon were found to be intentionally killing people to harvest their organs, how would that be a justification for making heart surgery illegal ?

    RightWingers are simply forehead-smackingly STOOPID !

  • emjayay on April 12, 2013 8:12 PM:

    It seems to me that the real story here is the incompetence of whatever agencies or medical associations are in charge of this kind of thing in Pennsylvania. If the descriptions are true, Kermit Gosnell is a nut case. Not just any nut case, but one that was injuring and maybe killing women.

    Did any of these women complain to anyone? People in the medical field like nurses are generally doing that job to some degree at least because they want to help individuals. They expect to work in super clean environments. Did no employee ever go to any authorities either after seeing what was going on, both in terms of experience with him injuring patients and everything they could see around them?

  • Mimikatz on April 12, 2013 10:36 PM:

    The story here is that this is the kind of thing that happens when (1) right-wingers cause half the abortion clinics in a state to close and (2) prohibit any public funding to go for abortion. Then poorer women whose contraception fails or who have bad luck or a boyfriend who weasels out of responsibility Who want an abortion because they can't afford a or another child, given the shredding of the safety net, go to a butcher. Because that's what they can afford. If the people who pretend to be pro-life cared one iota for the post-born or even for pre-natal care we wouldn't have situations like this. And where were the appropriate state and county oversight agencies? Probably suffering budget cuts and starvation from low tax hypocrites in the state legislatures.

  • Designer Rants on April 13, 2013 3:17 AM:

    This thing was all over the news a couple years ago! I saw a segment about it even on the CBS show before Wheel Of Fortrune that usually focuses on celebrity gossip. NPR had several shows comment on it. Why is it that I can remember this narrative so clearly (I always forget media narratives!), yet both the conservative and (in reaction) liberal news suddenly pretends the gruesome "doctor" with fetuses in freezers is brand new news?

  • Jack Gibson on April 13, 2013 8:29 AM:

    I live in the Philadelphia area. This has been a big news story here since the day he was arrested.

    My guess is that in any metro area, there are equally bizarre crimes, which the local media thoroughly reports on, but which do not make the national news.

    The right-wing media is blowing this out of proportion because they can conflate it with their anti-abortion meme.

  • Neildsmith on April 13, 2013 8:42 AM:

    The press has been too busy with Jodi Arias to think about this case. Nancy Grace isn't going to touch this one with a ten foot pole. Can you imagine what that would be like?

  • skeptonomist on April 13, 2013 9:22 AM:

    When abortion is outlawed, only murderers will give abortions.

  • jpeckjr on April 13, 2013 10:43 AM:

    Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic has a great article on both the case and the coverage. He read the Grand Jury report that led to the indictment of Gosnells. He includes excerpts from it related to regulatory and oversight failures.

    I remember when this situation first emerged a couple of years ago. The time it took to gather evidence so the trial can begin may account for some of the "lack of coverage."

    The regulatory and oversight failures is mind-boggling. No one took the complaints seriously.

    Go to www.theatlantic.com. It's one of their top stories right now.

  • jpeckjr on April 13, 2013 10:51 AM:

    That would be "regulatory and oversight failures ARE mind-boggling."