The Gosnell Trial Is Producing Lots of News Coverage, Little News

The trial of Philadelphia doctor Kermit Gosnell has been sent to the jury for deliberations. The trial hasn't inspired a flurry of news articles, though — mostly because nothing much of interest is happening in the trial.

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The gruesomely detailed trial of Philadelphia doctor Kermit Gosnell has been sent to the jury for deliberations. This is the second-to-last point at which the media is likely to pay much attention to the case, but that hasn't prompted the flurry of updates media critics demanded a month ago. Mostly because nothing much of interest is happening in the trial.

When Gosnell was arrested at the beginning of 2011, investigators were stunned at what they found in the clinic where he performed abortions. We ran through the horrors in March, like fetus body parts stored in jars and bags around the office. Gosnell's alleged treatment of his patients was also horrible: improper administration of anesthetic — resulting in at least one death — and verbal and physical abuse. His staff was poorly trained; one was a high school student. The trial, however, focused on murder — allegations that Gosnell delivered live babies and then ended their lives. He originally faced eight charges of murder, including for the adult who died under anesthesia. A week ago, the judge reduced that to five.

But, beyond those revelations, though, there wasn't very much to cover. The machinations of a trial can be arduous and nuanced, rarely lending themselves to the sorts of articles that sell papers (or drive clicks). Most of the horrifying detail was released in the grand jury report that came out months ago, leaving little but rhetoric in the court room. The first quote from the prosecution's closing arguments in the USA Today report is: "He's the captain of that hell … It is time for us to extinguish that hell."

When the (primarily right-wing) media began calling for increased coverage of Gosnell earlier this month, prompted largely by an April 10 USA Today column by Kirsten Powers, the first step was to go back and read that grand jury report. Many members of the media hadn't read the details, apparently, and several (mostly ones who didn't cover such news stories) demanded more coverage. Some outlets complied; some reporters said they themselves would do better. Breitbart outlined some of those making such pledges: Megan McArdle of The Daily Beast, Dylan Byers of Politico, and the Washington Post, which pledged to send a reporter to the trial.

But that was the peak of interest in Gosnell. The most online search activity around the case corresponds with that flurry of meta-criticism from the media.

A survey of Nexis, an index of news articles, reinforces that it was the online criticism that prompted the most stories. Since March 1, there have been the following mentions of Kermit Gosnell:

  • Newspapers: 277
  • Blog posts: 401
  • Wire services: 150
  • Web-based publications: 54
  • News transcripts: 7

Compare that to the ricin case:

  • Newspapers: 321
  • Blog posts: 150
  • Wire services: 234
  • Web-based publications: 136
  • News transcripts: 33

45 percent of mentions of Gosnell occurred in blog posts. 17 percent of the mentions of ricin did.

That is also reflected in those who made a pledge to increase their coverage of the case. McArdle hasn't written about the case recently; nor has Byers. Politico's coverage has mostly come in briefs. The Post's has mostly been pick-ups of the Associated Press. Why so little interest? In part, because news is predicated on there being something new. There's not much new in the Gosnell case.

The Gosnell case became a celebrated cause for abortion opponents, as our Elspeth Reeve noted last week. The critique was used as a point of conversation about the practice, predicated on the perception that the media didn't want to cover Gosnell because it was trying to defend abortion. A Fox News survey found that people agreed that media bias was blocking coverage, since, as the survey put it, "[u]sually the media give murder trials a lot of coverage."

Not all of them, of course. Only if they're interesting. The trial largely stopped being interesting to readers — and reporters — once the grand jury report came out and was publicized—first by news outlets that covered its release and then again when they covered the so-called news blackout. Even the trial going to the jury prompted only tepid coverage. ( simply linked to a Fox News story about it.) When the jury renders its verdict, we'll have one more burst of coverage; if Gosnell's found guilty, one more at his sentencing. But the compelling part of the story is over. Regardless of how you feel about abortion.

Update, 4:30 p.m.: Breitbart also posted this story about the case going to the jury. It was not on the site's home page at the time of writing.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.