Gosnell Murder Case

Some people have said the Kermit Gosnell murder case should receive more attention.  Salon’s Irin Carmon disagrees:

This week, the right wing has been working the refs, demanding to know why the press has been allegedly silent on the trial of Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia doctor who allegedly committed horrific acts against his patients with impunity for years.

The media of course determines what issues get covered, and how much- it can make sure everyone knows about something, or it can ensure that those with niche interests know about it, or that almost nobody knows about it.  The phrase “working the refs” implies that the media does this task not arbitrarily, but according to a set of objective criteria; that these criteria are by definition legitimate, like the rules of a basketball game; and that while the media may make mistakes, it is at least devoted to conscientiously following whatever the criteria are, and has no agenda of its own, whereas media critics are the equivalent of Phil Jackson, having an obvious agenda.  So Irin Carmon puts us immediately in a frame of mind suggesting the media is presumptively right.

Carmon then denies the story has been shut out.  There has been “copious coverage by pro-choice among pro-choice and feminist journalists,” he writes, which he proves by linking to a non-mainstream source, an opinion piece, and two Philadelphia local news blogs, and says if you don’t know about the story, you haven’t been paying attention.  All of this only proves that you have to actively pay attention in order to know about the story- the media is treating this as a niche story, of special interest perhaps to feminists, and keeps it far away from mainstream coverage.  The whole point is that this is a story you have a choice not to pay attention to, unlike, for instance, the Newtown shooting.  The fact that people presenting the story come with a Feminist label only proves that the media, in its faux-objective, referee role does not deem the story important. 

Carmon’s next argument is to note that most objecting to the lack of mainstream coverage are male.  She then links to mainstream news organizations devoting a few paragraphs to the story somewhere on their websites.  She argues that because of the lack of public funding and access to abortion, it is natural that “the vacuum was filled by a monster.”   

The facts that some critics are pro-life males, that some feminists have covered the story, and that the story can be interpreted to have feminist implications, have nothing to do with the question of whether there has been enough coverage, but these arguments are designed to discredit the messenger.  It is pro-life people arguing that the media ignores the issue, but feminists (the opposite side!) are interested in the issue, so pro-lifers must be wrong, is how his logic implicitly runs- and when you think about it explicitly, it doesn’t make much sense.

I think the reason the media is ignoring the case is that they don’t think of the killing of unwanted babies as that big a deal.  Insofar as something is wrong, it is a women’s health issue- this was a back-alley abortion clinic.  If someone kidnapped newborn babies whose mothers wanted them, and beheaded them, it would absolutely dominate the news- even if it were a “local crime story.”


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