Monday, April 15, 2013

Media challenge their own

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

Kirsten Powers, a USA Today opinion writer, and Conor Friedersdorf, a staff writer at The Atlantic, proved their journalistic chops last week. The two writers challenged fellow journalists to give appropriate coverage to the horrific details of the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell in the City of Brotherly Love. The trial began March18.

Powers’ opinion piece was brief, about 600 words, but packed a wallop. Titled “We've forgotten what belongs on Page One,” it notes that the horror of barbaric, illegal, late-term abortions reached unprecedented levels for modern times in Gosnell’s Philadelphia abortion mill. It also argued that national media seem to be ignoring the ghoulish tale. Friedersdorf, in a more than 3,800-word essay, titled “Why Dr. Kermit Gosnell's Trial Should Be a Front-Page Story”  plows through a sickening grand jury report of the deaths of babies and women.

The grand jury report describes late-term babies born alive during abortion attempts, and then being “snipped,” the euphemistic word at the clinic to describe severing a child’s spinal cord from his or her brain. According to the grand jury report, Gosnell explained this was a way of “ensuring fetal demise.” It is breathtaking to read of the casual law-breaking and crass exploitation of poor women outlined in the report. Stunning too are the accounts of the bureaucratic neglect that permitted this to go on during the decades since Gosnell’s Women’s Medical Society was founded in 1979.

You’d hardly think it possible that the writers of USA Today and The Atlantic could do more than anyone carrying a gruesome sign outside a clinic could do:

1.    Make the reality of abortion, especially late-term abortion, real.

2.    Show the exploitation involved in targeting poor minorities for abortion services.

3.    Highlight the need to require abortion clinics to meet healthcare standards.

4.    Show that bias may run through mainstream media when the topic is abortion and the defense of innocent life.

Perhaps the solution to the problem of the huge number of innocent lives snuffed out annually lies not just in legislation and letters to Congress. It may also lie in hard-hitting and unbiased reporting.

On a personal note, I held off writing this piece because the grisly details from modern-day Philadelphia were hard to believe. I wanted to read the grand jury report myself .
It was worse than the news accounts.

In a bit of irony I read the macabre report on Sunday, April 14, when The New York Times, which hasn’t done much to cover Gosnell, ran a huge editorial titled “courage in Kansas.” The piece went on to laud the opening of a clinic in Wichita that will do abortions. I await the day we see courage at The New York Times when it comes to covering abortion. Maybe it is coming, given what Margaret Sullivan, the NY Times public editor, wrote on her blog April 15.

“The murders of seven newborn babies, done so horrifically, would be no ordinary crime. Any suggestion, including mine on Friday, that this is just another murder trial is a miscalculation,” Sullivan said. “Judged on news value alone, the Gosnell trial deserves more coverage than it’s had, in The Times and elsewhere.”

That’s news that’s fit to print.


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