Sensational abortion murder trial largely ignored by major media

Published: Thursday, April 11 2013 9:20 p.m. MDT

In this Friday, Jan. 21, 2011 photo, Davida Johnson, 30, relates her story of her 2001 abortion at Dr. Kermit Gosnell's clinic during an interview with the Associated Press in Philadelphia. Johnson believes she contracted a venereal disease while undergoing the abortion at Dr. Gosnell's clinic, and says she has since had four miscarriages. Gosnell was arraigned Thursday on eight counts of murder in the deaths of seven babies and one patient.

Matt Rourke, Associated Press

If it bleeds it leads, is the news industry axiom. But the collective yawn from major media sources over horrors of a Philadelphia abortion clinic and the resulting criminal trial has been met with curious silence, Kirsten Powers argues in USA Today.

If you haven't yet heard of the trial of Kermit Gosnell, the 71-year-old Philadelphia clinic doctor charged with third-degree murder in the death of one female patient and first-degree murder in the death of seven live-born infants, "It's not your fault," Powers wrote.

"Since the murder trial of Pennsylvania abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell began March 18," Powers wrote, "there has been precious little coverage of the case that should be on every news show and front page. The revolting revelations of Gosnell's former staff, who have been testifying to what they witnessed and did during late-term abortions, should shock anyone with a heart."

"Network TV coverage of the trial?" asked Lifenews.com. "Zero on ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, NPR and PBS. CNN’s entire coverage seems to be one sentence from Jake Tapper on March 21." Life News also noted that the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post and USA Today have also been AWOL on covering the trial.

The New York Times wrote one story on it, before the trial began, but buried it on Page A17. On Thursday, the Washington Post did run an AP story on the last day of the trial, and earlier carried a similar AP story.

And when the AP did go there, Powers said, it went out of its way to neutralize the story's impact: "Here is the headline the Associated Press put on a story about his testimony that he saw 100 babies born and then snipped: 'Staffer describes chaos at PA abortion clinic.’ ”

But neither of the nation's two leading hard news organizations did any original reporting or gave the story prominent coverage.

On Wednesday, the prosecution wrapped up its case with testimony from Lynda Williams, a clinic employee who has already pleaded guilty to third-degree murder in the case.

The avoidance, Powers suggests, is driven in part by discomfort with the underlying logic of the trial, where killing a baby born outside the womb is a crime, but killing it moments earlier inside the womb is not.

"Regardless of such quibbles, about whether Gosnell was killing the infants one second after they left the womb instead of partially inside or completely inside the womb — as in a routine late-term abortion — is merely a matter of geography," Powers wrote. "That one is murder and the other is a legal procedure is morally irreconcilable."

The dispute on Wednesday centered on "whether the child whose neck Lynda Williams said she 'snipped' at Kermit Gosnell’s abortion clinic was alive or dead at the time," Delaware's News Journal reported.

The death of the woman occurred, prosecutors argue, when she was fatally anesthetized. The other charges center on the clinic's alleged common practice of inducing birth of live babies before they were aborted.

"And the standard procedure at Gosnell’s clinic when a patient delivered like that was to 'snip' the neck of the fetus, Williams said, according to the News Journal report.

Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at eschulzke@desnews.com.

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