The media’s disparate treatment of abortion-related stories: Savita vs. Gosnell
During the past couple of weeks there has been a concerted effort by pro-lifers to get the mainstream media to cover the ongoing trial of notorious late-term abortionist Kermit Gosnell. Mollie Z. Hemingway at GetReligion has been especially active, tweeting at a number of reporters and mainstream-media outlets who were not covering the case. In response, Sarah Kliff who covers abortion policy for the Washington Post tweeted that she had not written about the Gosnell trial because she covers policy “not local crime.”
Many conservatives were quick to criticize Kliff. However, what she said contained an important insight. The mainstream media views the Gosnell trial precisely the way Kliff described it — as a local crime story. As I pointed out in my CatholicVote.org article last week, the mainstream media sometimes does cover misconduct in the abortion industry. However, typically these are reported as isolated, local crime stories. Rarely do media outlets use these stories to engage policy questions involving either the legality of abortion or the regulation of abortion clinics.
For example, the Washington Post, to its credit did cover the tragic death of Jennifer Morbelli, who died after a late-term abortion performed by Leroy Carhart. However, all of the Post’s coverage appeared in the Metro section, not the main section. Furthermore, the Washington Post did not use her death to grapple with questions involving the safety of late-term abortions.
Conversely, the media’s coverage of the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland was considerably different. Savita was 17 weeks pregnant when she died, and some argued that her death was caused by Ireland’s restrictions on abortion. Her death received international media attention with countless commentators calling for the legalization of abortion in Ireland. Furthermore, violence against abortion providers always results in stories about the supposed extremism of pro-lifers and the need for improved security at abortion clinics.
The Gosnell tweetfest last week did generate some much-needed coverage of the Gosnell trial. This is a positive development and it shows how pro-lifers can effectively use blogs, Twitter, and alternative media outlets to influence the mainstream media. However, the goal of pro-lifers should be to convince the mainstream media to use the graphic evidence of gross misconduct and real human suffering to generate serious dialogue and discussion about abortion policy in the United States and elsewhere.
— Michael J. New is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Michigan — Dearborn, a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, and an adjunct scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New