“In Philadelphia today,” anchor Scott Pelley said on the May 13 CBS “Evening News,” there was a verdict in a murder trial that got national attention.” He was talking about the murder trial of Kermit Gosnell, and whatever “national attention” it received was given grudgingly by the media – including Pelley’s own network.
In fact, it took 56 days, multiple letters from members of the House of Representatives and a public demand from conservative groups, before all three broadcast networks reported on Gosnell.
Gosnell was found guilty of three counts of first degree murder for delivering babies and then killing them by cutting their spinal chords with scissors in his “house of horrors” Philadelphia abortion clinic. He was also found guilty of third degree murder in the 2009 death of a 41-year-old woman, as well as more than 200 lesser charges.
CBS “Evening News” devoted nearly two minutes to the story. NBC “Nightly News” gave the verdict 1 minute, 29 seconds, though the network continued its aversion to detailing Gosnell’s method of killing the infants and the other macabre practices at the clinic.
Most notably, ABC finally found its voice on the Gosnell trial during “World News with Diane Sawyer” May 13. The network had maintained its blackout of the case for the entire trial. But on May 13, Sawyer introduced the 1 minute and 51 seconds of coverage: “And now we turn to a verdict making headlines tonight fueling arguments on all sides about abortion in America” – arguments ABC had spent two months ignoring.
Terry Moran went in depth on the segment, and described Gosnell’s clinic as a “filthy house of horrors,” located in West Philadelphia, “a poor, mostly black neighborhood where doctors were scarce and patients were sometimes desperate.” He explained the defense's position as: “Gosnell's lawyer calls this prosecution ‘racist’ arguing his client served his community and never killed a live born baby.”
Moran said that “Opponents of legalized abortion seized on this case,” while the segment showed scenes of the March for Life (ironically, that’s more footage than ABC shows when covering – or not covering – the March for Life).
Americans United for Life Vice President of External Affairs and Corporate Counsel Jeanneane Maxon appeared in the report, emphasizing that “Gosnell’s not an aberration. Abortion clinics are unregulated across our country and every year we see the deaths of women inside these abortion clinics.”
But that’s information ABC and the other networks have scrupulously ignored. A lobbyist for the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates told the state legislature in March that the fate of an infant born alive in a “botched abortion” “should be left up to the woman, her family, and the physician.” In other words, the baby, a living, breathing, child, should have no legal protection from infanticide. The networks were too busy worrying about states passing “the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.”
And pro-life group Live Action has released disturbing undercover videos in which abortion providers counsel women about late term abortions and discussing the possibility of live births. The networks haven’t said a word about them.
Moran concluded, “But supporters of abortion rights argue that Gosnell’s shady, dangerous practices are exactly what women will face across the country if abortion is outlawed.”
If the Gosnell trial does anything to bring that about, it will be no thanks to the broadcast networks. For the first month of the trial, their blackout was complete (as it was on CNN and MSNBC). It took liberal columnist Kirsten Powers citing CMI research in her USA Today column to shame outlets like the Washington Post into covering Gosnell. Even then, there were just 12 – 15 reporters in the court.
NBC’s Savannah Guthrie asked Obama a question about Gosnell as part of a broad-ranging interview, and the network finally gave an actual report on the case on May 1. But the network that had reported on the smell of a decomposing body in the 2011 Casey Anthony trial couldn’t bring itself to describe the details of Gosnell’s alleged crimes. They were “too gruesome.”
What were the networks covering instead? In the case of ABC’s “Good Morning America” they were covering other trials – 109 minutes worth of them. The three networks spent 41 minutes in just a week on the Rutgers basketball scandal. Plus, there was important news like the original names of fictional characters and Internet cat memes. When NBA player Jason Collins announced he was gay, ABC scrambled its elite news team. George Stephanopoulos flew to Los Angeles for an exclusive interview.
So it’s heartening that ABC could spare nearly two minutes of its “news” programming to a child murderer who happens to be a symbol of one the nation’s most divisive issue.
Editor's Note: Matt Philbin also contributed to this report.