The Gosnell Case and the Coverage Machine

Dave Weigel is right: the case of Kermit Gosnell is gruesome in the extreme. But the rapidly coalescing conventional wisdom on the right that there was some sort of deliberate conspiracy to ignore the concerted yelps of the conservative movement is bogus. Here’s Alex Seitz-Wald:

“I’m here today to talk about an uncomfortable subject which no one seems to want to talk about,” Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Scott Perry said on the floor yesterday. “The media doesn’t want to talk about it-not NBC, CBS, ABC, CNBC, not Fox, and not the leaders of our Nation, not the President.”

But where was Perry until Thursday? Or, for that matter, where the other two lawmakers who spoke out yesterday, Texas Republican Roger Williams and New Jersey’s Chris Smith? Where was Rep. Trent Franks, perhaps the most outspoken Republican on abortion, or Virginia Foxx or even Louie Gohmert, who never misses an opportunity to speak on hot botton social issues?

What about the conservative media? A search of TVEyes finds that Fox News mentioned the case just a handful of times. Special Report With Bret Baier included brief updates on the trail in their roundup of the day’s news on several nights over the past month, while Mike Huckabee aired a taped segment followed by a panel discussion on his weekend show late last month, but it’s hardly been leading news. The “Obama phone” got far more coverage.

Breitbartia, to their credit, have been all over the case, though they’re about the only one. Daily Caller had one piece before yesterday. Human Events had nothing. CBN had nothing. Fox News had a few pieces, but two of them are AP reprints.

I agree that it is somewhat strange that the Gosnell story has taken this long to develop into a national scandal. Normally cable news jumps at this kind of bloodstained detail like starving wolves after a bacon sandwich. But we don’t need to postulate implausible conspiracies to figure this out. (Indeed, lots of feminist bloggers covered the story when it first came out in January 2011.)

The parsimonious explanation for this paltry coverage is simply that people hadn’t heard about the case. The trial only began on March 18th. Like Dave Weigel, I didn’t hear about it until yesterday, and it’s my job to pay attention to the news all day. The media’s collective unconscious has a good deal of inertia—it takes some time for a new story to percolate to the top.

If anything, the true state of the media as far as stories covered is close to the opposite. The conservative movement is really good at pushing stories like this into the limelight. They just had barely tried before yesterday. Literally the day after they got the noise machine good and cranked up, everyone is talking about it.

In any case, one thing is clear: the right now has their wish. The Gosnell case is going to get wall-to-wall coverage. But can we dispense with the conspiracy theories, please?

Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper, a contributing editor of the Washington Monthly, is currently the Washington correspondent for The Week.