After weeks of growing frustration, pro-lifers took to Twitter en masse Friday to express disbelief and outrage over media silence on the multiple-murder trial of American abortion provider Kermit Gosnell. And the media, at least some of it, seems to be listening.
The outrage was almost certainly precipitated by Kirsten Powers' Thursday USA Today column: Philadelphia abortion clinic: We've forgotten what belongs on page one. In it, Powers writes a scathing critique of news agencies for ignoring the story. She begins:
"Infant beheadings. Severed baby feet in jars. A child screaming after it was delivered alive during an abortion procedure. Haven't heard about these sickening accusations? It's not your fault. Since the murder trial of Pennsylvania abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell began March 18, there has been precious little coverage of the case that should be on every news show and front page."
None of the three major television networks in the United States had mentioned it. Nor had major newspapers like the Washington Post published any original articles on the trial. This despite the fact that testimony (and the Grand Jury report leading up to the trial) has been horrifying: teenagers being told to administer anesthetics without medical training; aborted infants stored in the refrigerator next to employees' lunches; accusations of preferential treatment for patients based on race; babies born alive who had their spines subsequently snipped by Gosnell and his staff; 17 years of government, accrediting agencies, and hospitals looking the other way despite numerous complaints of medical negligence at the clinic.
Following the publication of Powers' article, Get Religion's Mollie Ziegler Hemingway (who had earlier in the week noted the lack of Gosnell coverage) took to Twitter, directly asking reporters why they and their news agencies were ignoring the story. Other Twitter uses started doing the same. And pro-life agencies began organizing a "Tweetfest" for Friday, asking people to highlight media blackout on the story by using the hashtag #Gosnell.
It seems that some media agencies were listening. The Atlantic posted an article Friday by Conor Friedersdorf entitled Why Dr. Kermit Gosnell's trial should be a front-page story. In it, he states he was unaware of the story until Powers' column. He thus agrees that "the story has been under-covered," and proceeds to write some of the best coverage of the case and its policy implications to date. He details the various news-worthy aspects of the trial, concluding that "this story has numerous elements any one of which would normally make it a major story." "The news value is undeniable," he writes. "Why isn't it being covered more?"
Slate also picked up on the story with an article by David Weigal entitled Kermit Gosnell: The alleged mass-murderer and the bored media. He attributes his awareness of the story to Hemingway's Twitter question campaign. He admits that because national political reporters have a tendency to be, "by and large, socially liberal," suggesting that self-imposed "bubble" led them to ignore the story. "Horror stories of abortionists are less likely to permeate that bubble than, say, a story about a right-wing pundit attacking an abortionists who then claims to have gotten death threats," he suggests. But he too concludes that the media have ignored a major story with the Gosnell trial: "The question, raised by pro-lifers, is this: Explain to us why Gosnell isn't a national story. Somebody else can try. I can't explain it." He sums it up bitingly: "Maybe it's not a raw political story. It's just the story of a potential mass murderer who operated for decades as government regulators did nothing."
A little later in the day, Megan McArdle published an article for The Daily Beast entitled Why I didn't write about Gosnell's trial -- and why I should have.
She confesses that she and others haven't written on the topic not because it isn't newsworthy, but because it's unpleasant. "The truth is that most of us ('pro-choice mainstream journalists') tend to be less interested in sick-making stories -- if the sick making was done by 'our side.' " She agrees the media have been remiss in ignoring the trial. "This story should have been covered much more than it was -- covered as a national policy issue, not a 'local crime story.' The press has literally been AWOL."
Finally, the Washington Post's executive editor Martin Baron weighed in with the following statement late Friday: "We believe the story is deserving of coverage by our own staff, and we intend to send a reporter for the resumption of the trial next week... we should have sent a reporter sooner."
In the past few days, others have followed suit: CNN and CBS have both aired segments on the story.
It seems, then, that the Tweetfest has succeeded in its goal of making the mainstream media end its blackout of the Gosnell trial.
Powers' original column and the subsequent Twitter campaign that followed it might seem like a story in itself: "Social media little-guys make big news listen," and all that. But the real story here is that it took a Twitter campaign at all; major news outlets should have been covering this trial from the get-go.
Mathew Block is communications manager for Lutheran Church-Canada, editor of The Canadian Lutheran, and a blogger with First Things (where this article first appeared). Block lives in Winnipeg.