On one hand, you might be surprised that the horrible news about Kermit Gosnell’s abortion clinic hasn’t gotten more attention. We are talking about a serial killer and his crew cutting the spinal cords of infants. That seems like a much more obvious news hook than the opaque and interminable immigration reform negotiations. But we shouldn’t be shocked at the relatively light media treatment of the Gosnell murder story. We should learn some lessons about how pro-lifers can advance their arguments.
I can understand why news outlets that have predominately liberal-leaning staffs would want to minimize this story – even if it means choosing against the incentives for sensationalism. They don’t want to embarrass Democrats like Barbara Boxer who was unclear about whether parents had the right to destroy newborns prior to taking them home. It would raise uncomfortable questions about President Obama, who voted against a law that would have forced doctors to medically treat infants that survived abortions and then lied about the reasons for his vote. It would get people thinking about late-term abortion more broadly. One of Gosnell’s employees reports that one of the infants screamed while being killed. That horror is enough, but that killing would have been legal on that same day if Gosnell had been more competent and killed that child in utero before they had the chance to breathe air and scream.
And it isn’t just the liberal-leaning media. I don’t remember Fox and Friends opening the show this week with the Gosnell murders. Maybe they did and I just don’t remember (I am only able to listen to the first ten minutes or so in the morning.) You can see why they wouldn’t want to push the issue too prominently. It doesn’t go well with breakfast. It is much easier, and you will get much less grief if you lead with a story about the MSNBC personality who said children don’t belong to their parents.
The most surprising and damning failure here is not the media’s. It is the vast coordination failure of those millions and millions of Americans who identify as pro-life. The Gosnell case is a ready -made moment for teaching not only about those children who were killed in the office of an incompetent, but also for how it is legal to destroy those children at-will. The problem is reaching people. The liberal-leaning media which reaches most people has strong ideological incentives to ignore or minimize this issue. The populist conservative media can get a charge out of its audience by pushing other issues and the conservative media has limited reach in any case.
The Gosnell scandal was good place for a well constructed and well funded paid media campaign. The Gosnell case and what it tells us about the state of American abortion law is not something most people want to think about, but political change doesn’t just come from offering people attractive policies that they already agree with or might come to agree with. It also means presenting the truth of evils that people would rather keep out of mind.
A media campaign built around late-term abortion on-demand would not get the immediate thanks of many. It would educate people about the legality and horror of the process, that the screaming baby could have legally been destroyed with a needle through the heart in utero and no law would have been broken. It would educate people about the politicians who want to maintain the legality of the horror. It would make it easier for pro-life politicians to advance incremental reforms. And some nontrivial fraction of the population would never look at Obama the same again. We just have to solve the coordination problem.
Or we could just give Karl Rove a bunch more money to run even more futile election year ads.