with Colin Casey, Asst. Sports Editor
Dr. Kermit Gosnell was a licensed abortion doctor. However, he has been accused of using unlicensed assistants for more than 30 years and routinely ignoring safety and sanitary regulations in the clinic. These problems reportedly caused dozens of deaths, including two mothers. Despite his crimes, Dr. Gosnell’s trial reached the news media a month after his trial began. The Current’s writers debate the meaning of the media coverage of the case.
Colin: There was a complete lack of a national media presence at Gosnell’s trial. Crimes such as Gosnell’s would usually have a high media presence, especially in a highly populated East Coast city such as Philadelphia. I think the lack of coverage at the trial is the latest episode in a new media trend to move away from the divisive abortion issue and toward other facets of social justice. Even though Gosnell is being charged with murder, the fact that he is an abortion doctor by trade pushes coverage of his trial into the growing media taboo of critiquing abortion.
Ethan: I agree, negative abortion coverage is one of the media’s great taboos. Reporters are either throwing around abortion problems to condemn pro-choice positions or ignoring the need for more government oversight, saying that further regulation restricts abortion access. This was how the Washington Post reported on the Virginia Board of Health’s new regulation. The regulation requires abortion clinics to have the same facilities as outpatient surgical centers and would put most abortion clinics in the state out of business. In the case of Dr. Gosnell’s clinic, those measures would have helped save lives. Dr. Gosnell faces a murder charge for a woman who died because it took EMTs 20 minutes to leave the clinic.
Colin: The issues presented by a story like this could fracture the political landscape. The media has a duty to report the news, but the outlet’s place on the political spectrum determines what’s reported. The two national sources talking about the trial were the conservative news outlet Fox News and an op-ed at USA Today. Nearing an election year, the media delves into ethical issues, such as gay marriage in last year’s election. I’m not insinuating that Fox is only covering this to create an ethical conversation on abortion before a congressional election, the cycle seems to expose a moral issue in the interests of generating interest in the topic on a national scale.
Ethan: Moral conversations are routine in the news media these days. The ideal of an unbiased national news source “reporting the news” is gone. Each news outlet has its opinion. Just as conservatives brought the Gosnell trial to the national media, liberals highlight issues too. Trayvon Martin’s death wouldn’t have reached the national media without ideological reporting. Media observers have to be smart about who they go to for news and know what issues will and will not be vigorously covered. This problem doesn’t have a readily applicable solution, minus news organizations choosing to internally diversify their viewpoints. That is already happening at the New York Times. Ross Douthat is their self-appointed conservative opinion columnist.
Colin: Maybe that is the answer, diversifying choices of media. If you watched CNN during the Boston coverage you would have seen confused reporters left out of the loop as Anderson Cooper tried to make sense of the developing story. It is up to the viewer to be well informed about news sources in order to develop their opinion. The national media has to keep up its end too. It needs to keep to the ethics and codes established for journalists instead of using their First Amendment rights to pander and speculate about the news. It may be a 24-hour news cycle today, but there should always be time to get the story right.
Ethan: If only we lived in a dream world where government media regulation would actually work and not infringe on the 1st Amendment. Or maybe that other dream world where all the respected national news organizations would see the value of diversifying opinions and reported stories. But those are fairy tales that would take away the burden off being a prescient reader of the national news media. The most we can hope for is that angry complaints and bad reputations can spur more actions like those undertaken by the New York Times. In the meantime, there will always be some amount of overlooked ethics in the dog-eat-dog world of the national news media.