Friday, April 05, 2013

Newtown and Gosnell: A tale of two massacres


You might not know it, but there's a mass murder trial going on in Philadelphia. There has been plenty of courtroom drama, and the death penalty remains a possibility.

The media are seldom shy about such sensational affairs, but they have been with one. Perhaps it's because the accused mass murderer is an abortion doctor, who along with his medically untrained staff is accused of killing a female patient and several babies who had already been born, alive and breathing.

Doctor Kermit Gosnell's preferred method of killing these latter, according to witnesses, was to sever their spinal cords. Upon his arrest in January 2011, his urine-scented and blood-soaked clinic was deemed a "house of horrors." (I will spare readers further details, which are far worse.)

This trial's gruesome revelations are emerging at almost the same time as new details about the loathsome and cowardly murderer who killed his own mother and then 26 others at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., late last year.

Some will find the comparison inappropriate, but from a political perspective, Gosnell's trial is to abortion what Sandy Hook is to gun ownership.

Both are emotional cases with horrific details that cry out for public policy debates. And in each case, the debate pits public safety against something widely considered a constitutional right.

The two cases are different in that Sandy Hook received wall-to-wall coverage and thus facilitated a national conversation about mental health and gun control -- a debate whose outcome is yet to be determined.

Not so with the Gosnell trial, which has been completely blacked out by the media. The American people are now like a jury, shielded from relevant information because judges (read: editors) decided it might prejudice their views -- in this case, against lightly regulated abortionists.

Whatever one's position on gun control, the appropriately heavy coverage of the Sandy Hook massacre at least served a public purpose by starting a discussion about mass shootings.

At its most thoughtful, the debate considered what measures might have prevented the massacre and which could be squared with Americans' constitutional rights.

At its worst, the debate suffered from media cheerleading for panic gun control legislation -- as in, "pass something, anything!" -- including but not limited to such left-leaning figures as CNN's Piers Morgan.

In stark contrast, television coverage of Gosnell's trial has been "hard to find," as the Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan put it very charitably last Sunday on "Meet the Press."

In fact, not counting Noonan's allusion, Gosnell's case has not been mentioned even once on any of the three major networks in the last month (his trial began March 18).

It has received only seven mentions on cable television since it began, one on CNN and six on Fox News. In print, Gosnell's case has been largely ignored outside of local media outlets in Pennsylvania and Delaware.

It's not as though there isn't an obvious connection between the Gosnell case and public policy. Legislators in some states (including Pennsylvania and now Alabama) have acted since Gosnell's arrest to crack down on the next abortion quack.

The media have collectively and perhaps deliberately failed to draw the obvious connection between the two stories.

The month after Gosnell's arrest, Virginia's legislature approved new health and safety rules for abortion clinics on a nearly straight party-line vote in 2011.

Gov. Bob McDonnell, R, approved the new rules three months ago. Last week, amid Gosnell's trial, abortion rights groups unashamedly announced they had submitted thousands of comments in opposition. The state Board of Health is expected to hand down a final decision next week.

Many have asked what kind of law they could pass to prevent the next Newtown. Few are writing about how to prevent the next Kermit Gosnell.

Given the frequent claim that abortion is safer for being legal, and the eagerness of the abortion rights lobby to distance itself from Gosnell, why such incredible and inflexible resistance to basic safety regulations?

The gun lobby is often accused of resisting any new gun law as if it were the proverbial camel's nose under the tent. The liberal editors who are keeping Kermit Gosnell's case off the air should ask themselves whether they aren't taking sides in the culture war.

Or can public health, public safety and public debate be subordinated to the question of whose camel's nose is going under whose tent?

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