April 3, 2013 (Newsbusters.org) - The Big Three networks' morning and evening newscasts still haven't covered the murder trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell as of Monday morning. ABC, CBS, and NBC have maintained their coverage blackout despite the graphic witness testimony and the in-your-face courtroom antics of Dr. Gosnell's defense attorney during the first two weeks of the proceedings. The Philadelphia physician is charged with murdering seven newborn children at his decrepit abortion facility.

This glaring omission by the broadcast networks would have continued, if Peggy Noonan hadn't provided the first mention of the murder trial on Sunday's Meet the Press on NBC. The Wall Street Journal columnist spotlighted the "haunting and disturbing story of this doctor", and pointed out how coverage has been "hard to find."

Fill-in host Chuck Todd raised the abortion issue during a panel discussion on the Sunday morning show that included Noonan, senior Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod, the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson, and former Republican Congressman Tom Davis. Todd first hyped how "North Dakota's Republican governor, Jack Dalrymple, signed one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country" and how "there's been a lot of movement, and they're all in red states...of banning abortion at certain times – at 20 weeks or less."

The NBC journalist then turned to the former Reagan speechwriter and wondered if "abortion and the life movement could be what motivates evangelicals again" as same-sex "marriage" becomes an issue that is "splitting Republicans a little bit". Noonan replied by shifting the discussion away from the recent state-level restrictions on abortion and bringing up the decades-long moral debate, with the Gosnell case as prime example:

PEGGY NOONAN: Actually, that's not my question. Here's the thing: this issue will not go away – abortion. It is a – a constant agitating of the American soul. You mentioned the – the legal move that was made in one of the states to cut off abortion after six weeks. The real story this week is the haunting and disturbing story of this doctor in Philadelphia, Gosnell, who is being tried this week. And if you wanted to watch the testimony, it was hard to find, but if you wanted to have a sense what was happening, you could find it on the Internet or in the local papers.

This was a man who had an abortion mill that was, in fact, a death mill for babies essentially born. He's being tried now. We'll see how it goes. But this is a story that is haunting about the implications of decisions made by courts. This decision – the abortion issue will not go away if you think it is the taking of a human life. And so, it's going to stay there and get itself worked through in the courts again and again.

The columnist is on the mark about the difficulty of finding news coverage of the Gosnell trial. The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of the few outlets that has provided regular reporting since the trial began on March 18, 2013. In a March 30 report, correspondent Joseph A. Slobodzian documented the confrontation between Jack McMahon, Gosnell's attorney, and Assistant Medical Examiner Gary Collins during the latter's testimony: "The byplay between Collins and McMahon got steadily more heated until Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart had to warn them. McMahon appeared to be seething when at one point, Collins stood, ripped one of the lawyer's charts from an easel, and began creating his own exhibit." A few days earlier, McMahon and the prosecutor shouted back and forth at each other over the issue of a toxicology report, as reported by NBC Philadelphia.

Later in the segment, Todd asked Axelrod a slanted question about the 2012 presidential race: "The issue of reproductive rights was something you exploited in your campaign in Colorado and Virginia in particular. That's probably why you carried those two states in your opinion, right?" He also wondered, on the broader question of social issues, whether "Republicans [are] pushing the envelope too much, and is there going to be – you saw it as a snap back."

However, when former Rep. Davis highlighted that "actually, the country has moved slightly right" on the abortion issue, the NBC host replied by acknowledging that "technology...had moved the country right." In other words, it's gotten harder for pro-abortion activists to dehumanize the unborn because of the advent of detailed ultrasound scans.

The transcript of the relevant portion of the panel discussion from Sunday's Meet the Press:

CHUCK TODD: If it wasn't for gay marriage this week, what happened in North Dakota on abortion – and I want to get all – all of your takes on this – would have been, I think, the big social issue. North Dakota's Republican governor, Jack Dalrymple, signed one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country – six weeks – would ban abortions. Now, when he signed it, he admitted that legally, it probably is not going to stand up to a legal challenge, but I want to show you there's been a lot of movement, and they're all in red states – David Axelrod, by the way – on this issue of – of banning abortion at certain times – at 20 weeks or less. That's the map we have, on the board, of all the states that have done 20 weeks or less – an abortion ban. Every single one of them, by the way, were states that were carried by Mitt Romney.

[NBC News Graphic: "States That Have Passed Legislation Banning Abortion At Or Before 20 Weeks: ID, AZ, ND, NE, KS, OK, AR, LA, IN, AL, GA, NC; The Washington Post/Guttmacher Institute/NARAL Pro-Choice America"]

Peggy Noonan – this issue of abortion – as gay marriage falls as an issue, that maybe it's now splitting Republicans a little bit. You could see Jeff Flake was uncomfortable just talking about the issue. Abortion and the life movement could be what motivates evangelicals again, could it not?

PEGGY NOONAN: I don't know. Actually, that's not my question. Here's the thing: this issue will not go away – abortion. It is a – a constant agitating of the American soul. You mentioned the – the legal move that was made in one of the states to cut off abortion after six weeks. The real story this week is the haunting and disturbing story of this doctor in Philadelphia, Gosnell, who is being tried this week. And if you wanted to watch the testimony, it was hard to find, but if you wanted to have a sense what was happening, you could find it on the Internet or in the local papers.

This was a man who had an abortion mill that was, in fact, a death mill for babies essentially born. He's being tried now. We'll see how it goes. But this is a story that is haunting about the implications of decisions made by courts. This decision – the abortion issue will not go away if you think it is the taking of a human life. And so, it's going to stay there and get itself worked through in the courts again and again-

TODD: I was going to say, it does seem that there is a strategy now that Republican governors and these Republican-controlled legislatures are basically trying to push the Supreme Court to retake up abortion in some form.

EUGENE ROBINSON: Well, yeah, I think they want the Court to retake up abortion. And, look, I think Peggy is right that abortion won't go away the way gay marriage, I think, will go away in a few years. And I think – and we'll get past immigration. The best we ever get to on abortion is a truce. The country is – is divided-

TODD: What's the new truce?

ROBINSON: Well, we're in one of those periods where, maybe, the – the, sort of, truce line –  people are trying to move it one way or the other. But ultimately, people who are opposed to abortion, because they believe it's murder – it's very hard to compromise on that. It's very hard to say, well, you know, you go ahead and murder, if that's what you believe. That's not what I happen to believe, but it is what people-

TODD: And yet, David Axelrod, the issue of reproductive rights was something you exploited in your campaign-

DAVID AXELROD: Yes-

TODD: In Colorado and Virginia in particular-

AXELROD: Yes-

TODD: That's probably why you carried those two states in your opinion, right?

AXELROD: Yes – well, and you look at the gender gap in – in the election and so on. These were motivational issues for people on our side as well.

Let me make a final point on your first point, though, about all these social issues. What's interesting to me is these were once wedge issues for Republicans. Now, some of them are working as wedge issues against Republicans, and it shows a shift of attitudes. Now, abortion is a separate discussion for the reasons that Gene just mentioned, but generally, there's been a drift on – on some of these other issues.

TODD: That – Tom [Davis], I have to say, that does seem as if every other time the culture war has percolated over the last two – generation, it was something that would favor Republicans. Does it? It's not necessarily something that favors Republicans-

DAVIS: No. In politics, it's race, ethnicity, culture before you get to economics at this point. And even many groups who agree with Republicans on some of these social issues – the branding on ethnicity, and if we talk about immigration – is so bad, they won't even look at Republican candidates. So, it works in the Democrats' favor in many of these cases. Abortion is a different matter. You look at abortion – actually, the country has moved slightly right, and Americans are very conflicted.

TODD: Technology would move – it had moved the country right.

DAVIS: Of course-

TODD: The question is, are – are Republicans pushing the envelope too much, and is there going to be – you saw it as a snap back.

NOONAN: Look, Ruth Bader Ginsberg herself last week was quoted as saying she thought Roe versus Wade – I'll miss the word – was a bit of an overreach, in terms of – of the way the Court did it, leaving this issue not settled democratically; not settled in legislatures and by the people and referenda; but being imposed on them. When you have a great, terrible moral issue, and you impose a certain thing on people, you will cause a half century's riling.

TODD: Well, yeah, I'm going to – go ahead, David.

AXELROD: No. I mean, I think it's a polarizing issue; it's a difficult and troubling issue; but I think the politics are more complicated, and there will be a backlash to those kinds of initiatives.

TODD: And it's – it's polarizing within the party sometimes as well. Thank you all for part one of this roundtable.